Funny Girl (1968)

A woman, viewed from behind, pauses to see her name up in lights at the New Amsterdam Theatre. FANNY BRICE. A moment later, the title of the show flickers into life, ZIEGFELD FOLLIES. Brice continues, with camera following behind her, down a side alley. Entering the theatre, she walks past the desk clerk. Both remain silent. She pauses once again, changes direction and walks back stage. Finally we see a partially obscured view of the woman as she catches a glimpse of her reflection in a mirror. Brice pulls down the collar of her fur coat and wistfully greets herself…  “Hello gorgeous”. Thus the move-going public was introduced to Barbra Streisand.

The self-deprecating humour continues throughout the movie, which soon flashes back to Brice readying herself for an audition. While friends burst into "If a Girl Isn’t Pretty", her mother cradles her face singing “Is a nose with deviation, such a crime against the nation?“. Post audition Brice laments in the song "I’m The Greatest star” that nobody notices her because she's not beautiful. Into her life comes professional gambler Nick Arnstein, who sees both her talent and her beauty, and Florenz Ziegfeld who signs her up for his stage show. Yet Brice’s self-doubt remains, concerned that with success coming so easily, something else is bound to fail.

Such is the strength of Streisand’s voice that her gifts as a comedienne are often overlooked, but here in her screen debut both talents are on full display. In the First Act (yes, there’s an Intermission) she is not only laugh out loud funny, but also get to perform “People”, “Don’t Rain On My Parade” and two of Brice's hits, “Second Hand Rose” and “I'd Rather Be Blue Over You”. Though the second half isn’t as memorable musically, it does finish with a rousing rendition of Brice's “My Man”. Lovingly framing her from the first rear shot to her closing silhouette is veteran director William Wyler. Surprisingly, he was not nominated for an Academy Award for his first musical and penultimate film.

 

Barbra Streisand was… and she won, tying with Katherine Hepburn for Best Actress in a Leading Role. As she looked down at the statuette she greeted it with two words. “Hello gorgeous”.

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Film makes no mention of Fanny Brice’s first marriage nor the fact that Nick Arnstein was still married when he met Fanny Brice. 


Brice met Arnstein while she was touring in a Shubert Brother's revue, not backstage in a burlesque theatre. 


Arnstein did not disappear for a year after their first meeting. Instead he became Brice’s companion while on tour, after which they lived together for six years.


During this time Arnstein served fourteen months in prison for swindling. Brice visited him every week.


After Arnstein’s divorce came through, naming Brice as ‘the other woman’, the two married shortly afterwards. Their daughter Frances was born two months later.


Film infers Arnstein turned to crime so he could financially contribute to his household. In reality he had no qualms living off his wife’s fortune.


Far from pleading guilty to his crime, Arnstein went into hiding for four months and then fought the charges for another four years.

Biopic ends before Fanny Brice's film career starts.

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