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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Funny Lady (1975)


How Lucky Can You Get

When Barbra Streisand played Fanny Brice in Funny Girl, she brought to life a sympathetic yet strong-headed performer of stage and radio. In the sequel, Funny Lady, Brice comes off as a harsher woman, slightly bitchy, without the tremendous charm she possessed in the first film. Herbert Ross takes over as director (William Wyler oversaw Funny Girl), and the film just seems to get away from him. This sequel picks up during the Great Depression, when even the great star Fanny Brice is suffering. Along comes Billy Rose (James Caan), a small-time hustler who's out to make it big in show biz. The two pair up, both professionally and romantically, although things are uncertain when her first husband, Nick Arnstein (Omar Sharif), reappears on the scene. Much to the movie's detriment, Funny Lady concentrates more on Brice's professional life than on her personal life, as the first film does. The songs are elaborately staged numbers that Brice performs in the theaters, and while they are visually lush and spectacular, they lack conviction. Caan is solid in his role as the bumbling producer, but overall, the film is a disappointment. If you want more Barbra and Brice, rewatch Funny Girl. --Jenny Brown

Barbra Streisand doesn't talk about FUNNY LADY that much. She did not include any songs or references to it in her 1992 CD collection "Just For The Record". (The FUNNY LADY soundtrack was not recorded for her record label - another possible reason why it was not included).

Several of the Streisand biographies "quote" Streisand as saying that Ray Stark (the producer behind the successful FUNNY GIRL) would have to drag her to court in order to make FUNNY LADY. It is also said that Streisand's burgeoning love affair with former hairdresser Jon Peters sustained her during the filming of FUNNY LADY - as if the the romance made up for the fact that the work on a FUNNY GIRL sequel was unfulfilling.

Whatever the true story is, we now have a brand new FUNNY LADY DVD from Columbia Pictures. For people like me who made the jump from VHS to DVD (and skipped the laser disk revolution in the 90's), it is wonderful to finally view this film in all its WIDESCREEN glory! James Wong Howe (no relation, although I'm proud to share his surname) photographed FUNNY LADY, and it looks good! The color palette utilized by the film's designers is a bit bawdy for my tastes. In some scenes, though, the design is wonderful - especially in the "Clap Hands" musical number with Ben Vereen.

As for FUNNY LADY, the movie, it has held up well. Some Streisand fans jokingly refer to the Fanny Brice character in FUNNY GIRL as "good Fanny" and the character in FUNNY LADY as "evil Fanny". The script for FUNNY LADY completely changes the character. Fanny, grown up, is shrewd, cynical, and curt. She calls everyone "kid". After not having seen this film for several years, I think Streisand does a great job! "Fanny Brice" in FUNNY LADY is a true character that Streisand plays with an edge. She's not a particularly attractive character - a little annoying - but, nonetheless, a fully realized character. I think some FUNNY GIRL fans want the melodramatic Fanny back for FUNNY LADY. They want more suffering and torch songs and romance. The love affair in FUNNY LADY is not combustible. James Caan (as Billy) is a schmuck. Fanny sings a song called "Isn't This Better?" One of the lyrics says: "Passion is fine, but passion burns fast. Passion's design seems never to last." FUNNY LADY, I think, is about Fanny's decision to love again, but in a different, "safe and serene" way than she loved Nick in FUNNY GIRL.


Pictures are from another source.

Clip from Funny Lady


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