FUNNY GIRL was a big hit, #2 in 1968, earning $56,100,000, winning 26-year old Barbra Streisand an Oscar for Best Actress in her film debut as well as nominations for Best Picture, Supporting Actress (Kay Medford), Cinematography, Music Score, Film Editing, Song (“Funny Girl”) and Sound. Like all the musicals of its era, it’s big (costing $14,000,000), lengthy at 155 minutes and, as directed by the renowned William Wyler, very well done. How much you like it depends on your fealty to or stamina quotient for Barbra Streisand. *
Fanny Brice (1891-1951) was a musical-comedy star from the days of the Ziegfeld Follies. Producer Ray Stark (Brice’s son-in-law), and screenwriter Isabel Lennart jumped through fact-twisting hoops backwards to tell a fanciful version of the Brice ‘legend’, including her marriage to notable gambler Nick Arnstein (Omar Sharif). Laughs, tears, the whole schmear, with 13 belted vocal numbers, including “Second Hand Rose”, “People” and “Don’t Rain On My Parade”.
While there are other cast members, and Sharif manfully holds his own, it’s ALL FANNY/BABS, ALL THE TIME, so you’ll either be in buttery nirvana or teeth-gritting numbness as Streisand buzz-saws her way through & over everyone. Walter Pidgeon adds what dapper distinction he’s allowed as Florenz Ziegfeld, 4th-billed Anne Francis is all but cut out so as not to take any focus off Our Star (she sued to have her name removed from the credits). Partly because she’d done the part 798 times on stage, partially out of immense lifelong insecurity, substantially out of sheer off-putting nerve, the celebrated singer but novice movie actress made headlines over on-set clashes with cast and crew (Sidney Lumet quit, replaced by Wyler, screenwriter Lennart called it “a deflating, ego-crushing experience”) that rivaled and shaded the historically imperious demands of filmdom’s august battery of dominating princesses. They should have called it ME!
Scene by scene, it works, and she has her stuff down, but ya really gotta like it a lot to like it a little. With Lee Allen, Mae Questel, Gerald Mohr (last film role for a familiar bad guy, here as a decent fella: he died right after it came out, 54), Frank Faylen, Mittie Lawrence and Thordis Brandt. Jule Styne made the music, Bob Merrill the lyrics. “Second Hand Rose” is a heckuva tune, but to my Babs-boxed ears that “Don’t Rain On My Parade” number is like an angry elephant charging at you.
* Talent she has to spare, but I’m not a fan: it took me a mere 49 years to sit still and watch this (I won’t make it to On A Clear Day You Can See Forever). I enjoyed What’s Up, Doc? and The Way We Were and the generally ignored All Night Long, but in the main her obliterating EGO bursts through so much, so often that I can’t easily put it aside.
Moneywise, Funny Girl ranks as the 10th most successful musical ever. It lost the Best Picture Oscar that year to another top-rated addition to the fading genre, Oliver! (a better, and much more bearable film): others vying for high notes got low marks—Star!, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Finian’s Rainbow and The One And Only, Genuine, Original Family Band failed critically and commercially. Yellow Submarine scored a win, in part because it was more in line with the spacey tempo of the year shown in the years #1 hit— 2001: A Space Odyssey— as well as items like Rosemary’s Baby, Candy, Planet Of The Apes and Barbarella. Good as she admittedly was, I’d give the patience-shredding Streisand’s Oscar, which she famously shared with Katherine Hepburn’s for The Lion In Winter, to fellow nominee Vanessa Redgrave for her splendid job as Isadora. Bab’s legions will have none of it. At the site Musicals 101.com, John Kenrick offers some factoids about the real Brice.