Funny Lady (1975)
Seven years after the successful film adaptation of the stage play Funny Girl, Barbra Streisand returned to role of Fanny Brice in a sequel written specifically for the screen. Also returning was Omar Sharif in greatly reduced role, and choreographer Herbert Ross in a greatly enhanced role. Now serving as Director, Ross added more authenticity to the production but lost the romance, humour and stand-out songs of the original. More fatal is the missing pep and verve of Streisand’s debut performance.
Once again opening outside the New Amsterdam Theatre, Funny Lady picks up where Funny Girl left off. Ziegfeld Follies is coming to an end and Fanny has just been served with divorce papers from Nick Arnstein. Filling the void both professionally and personally is songwriter Billy Rose. After a disastrous opening night of his revue 'Crazy Quilt', Fanny whips the show into shape and “falls in like” with the budding impresario. Yet like all good like stories, true like never runs smooth.
A criticism levelled at 'Crazy Quilt' throughout this film is that it was over-produced, and the same could equally be said of Funny Lady. Aspects which made Funny Girl so successful feel forced in its sequel. Comical stage routines, though seemingly faithful to the original material, barely raise a chuckle. Musical productions of Billy Rose’s songbook are exceedingly garish, while Kander and Ebb’s “Let's Hear It for Me” is embarrassingly reminiscent of “Don’t Rain On My Parade”. In contrast, another of Kander and Ebb’s contributions, “How Lucky Can You Get”, works best because of the simplicity of its staging.
James Caan brings a much needed ease to his performance, but his co-star seems immune to his charms, both in on-screen chemistry and by the requirements of the plot. While Nick Arnstein still holds sway over Fanny, the intervening years have not been kind to him. Still very much alive when the original stage play was produced, the writers favoured Arnstein with a sympathetic portrayal. No such constraints existed for this film, resulting in a far more accurate depiction.
Not only is Arnstein’s playboy persona given greater emphasis but his dereliction as a father is also covered. No doubt this correction was important to producer Ray Stark, who was married to Arnstein and Brice's daughter, Frances.
When Brice and Rose reunite at the end of the movie, Brice recalls how they were married for four years and asks how much his second wife got in their divorce. Actually, Fanny Brice and Billy Rose were married for nine years, and Eleanor Holm divorced Rose three years after Fanny Brice's death.
Though biopic depicts Brice's stage and radio appearances, no mention is made of her film career.