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October 4, 2015

Movie Review: Funny Lady (1975, Twilight Time)

Directed By Herbert Ross

Movie Review by Greg Goodsell

“Here, maybe this will keep you away from strange men,” Billy Rose Jimmy Caan), the harried husband of Broadway star Fanny Brice (who else -- Barbara Streisand) says as he hands her a wad of magazines to read before he departs on a business trip. “Are there any other kind?” Brice - Streisand replies without missing a beat. This is just one of the thousands of myriad pleasures had in Funny Lady, the 1975 sequel to Funny Girl in 1968, which introduced Streisand to an eternally grateful movie-going audience.

As the title implies, Funny Lady sees vaudevillian Brice as sadder and much wiser to the ways of the world. Dumped by her no-good first husband Nick Arnstein (the recently departed Omar Sharif), left with a daughter to raise alone, Brice is on shaky ground as Flo Ziegfeld closes the curtain on his latest production at the height of the Great Depression. Brash hustler Billy Rose (Caan) offers Brice his services to mount the lavish musical “Crazy Quilt” with her in the lead. An inexperienced producer, the over-produced spectacle (which includes a live buffalo!) flops terribly – until Brice wises Caan to showmanship. They retool the show, and it’s a big hit. Wedding bells ring for Brice and Rose, but life is complicated …

Where to begin? Knockout musical production numbers, lavish costumes and sets, hilarious routines – and not a misstep found anywhere. Along with Singin’ in the Rain (1951) Funny Lady can be recommended to those who don’t necessarily like musicals.   

Moreover, check out those songs -- “How Lucky Can You Get,” “More than You Know”, “It's Only a Paper Moon,” “Am I Blue”, and “(It's Gonna Be A) Great Day,” all worthy of their place in the American Songbook. Streisand does a show-stopping turn with “How Lucky can You Get,” which is sung against a stark theatrical backdrop when she feels anything but lucky.

Without question, Funny Lady resides on Streisand’s shoulders. While the “Funny Lady” has rubbed several people the wrong way in both real and reel life, Streisand offers up a portrayal of Brice that is just as much her as the revered stage diva. If Streisand comes off as pushy, self-centered, and demanding, it is because both she and Brice had to be at that point in American history. You cannot help but admire her, if not like her.

Caan makes for an impressive song-and-dance man, and at this point in his career, he was usually cast as a macho, take-no-nonsense man in mostly action pictures. Caan does comedy very well. Sharif is only in a few scenes, but oozes his typical oily charisma. Roddy McDowall, as Streisand’s fey manservant offers good support, but is given little to do.

Another winner for Twilight Time, which is limited to 3,000 copies, the extras are plentiful. There are three brief documentaries. The first, “In Search of a Star” is a nine-minute short that focuses on the casting of James Caan and how he measured up against Streisand. There is the five-minute “The New Look of Barbara in ‘Funny Lady,’” which concentrates on the film’s sumptuous wardrobe design. There is also the brief, three-minute short “Dancing on the Water,” which shows the efforts of the synchronized swimmers used in a campy Esther Williams-inspired production number that occurs in the film’s final third. The Original Domestic Theatrical Trailer and Original International Theatrical Trailer are also provided, as well as the delightful liner notes from Julie Kirgo included in the disc’s booklet.

Grey skies outside? Nothing to do on a dreary afternoon? You need to become acquainted with this Funny Lady post haste.

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