Funny Face

FUNNY FACE, one of ten musicals released in 1957, will please loyal fans of Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire simply because they’re in it and together (ignoring the 29-year age dif, easier to do since Fred doesn’t move like your average 57-year-old) and because it’s set in Paris with music by the Gershwin’s. The stars have their charisma, and the city is shown to good advantage, but the fashionista storyline is about as substantial as a coffee-dunking wafer that’s expensive because it has a name emblem stamped on it, and of the ten songs (and two reprises) only one has much lilt (“‘S Wonderful”); the rest just filler and coverage excuse for the dancing. Stanley Donen directed (he pulled a 3’fer that year, with the zesty musical The Pajama Game and the lame comedy Kiss Them For Me), Leonard Gershe wrote it, Adolph Deutsch scored, George & Ira Gershwin and Roger Edens provided the tunes.

Fashion mag publisher/editor/imperious queen bee ‘Maggie Prescott’ (Kay Thompson) wants a new look for “Quality” magazine, showing models can be smart as well as sleek and sexy. She and ace photographer ‘Dick Avery’ (Fred) discover what they need in bookstore clerk and philosophy muse ‘Jo Stockton’ (Audrey), and proceed to turn the shy sparrow into a chic swan. Will Dick and Jo get together? It’s a musical: hazard a guess.

Though much racket is made to hard-sell the story, and the jeer-take on “intellectuals” isn’t as twee clever as it thinks, the plot shenanigans are just an excuse for elaborate sightseeing, stylized dance moves and lavish splashes of eye candy. For sure a riot of color is soaked into the set design, costuming and Parisian backdrops. Hepburn looks stunning, dances well—her beatnik nightspot number is a winner—and does her own singing, which will please those who know her vocals were later needlessly dubbed in My Fair Lady. The movie is also notable for one of just two film appearances from the multi-talented Kay Thompson, who did her character as a takeoff on design divas like Diana Vreeland. Astaire’s photo-genie borrows from Richard Avedon, who contributed the slick main title sequence. *

Oscar-nominated for Screenplay, more deservedly for Cinematography, Costume Design and Art Direction, it initially wasn’t the box office winner it needed to be to cover the $3,000,000 laid on, nesting 30th place for the year. A later reissue bumped the gross up to an eventual $7,100,000. Astaire did another musical that year, Silk Stockings, a so-so remake of Ninotchka, while Hepburn graced the also Paris-set May-November comedy Love In The Afternoon.   

Also cast: Michel Auclair, Robert Flemyng, Dovima, Jean Del Val, Ruta Lee and Suzy Parker. 103 minutes.

* Thomson’s character was also a riff on Harper’s Bazaar’s legendary editor Carmel Snow, who hired Vreeland. Thomson’s doyen is obsequiously attended by lesser mortals but is not the malicious maven who’d later show up in fashionable fests like The Devil Wears Prada and Cruella. Snow’s mission statement for Harpers: “well-dressed women with well-dressed minds”.



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