Fashioning a Lady
Ray Stark felt that there was another movie to be made about the later career of his legendary mother-in-law Fanny Brice that would follow the events depicted in his stage and screen megahit Funny Girl. He also had one more movie to go in his five-film Rastar Productions pact with the incredible talent he introduced on the movie screen, Barbra Streisand. The Academy Award®-winning actress was ambivalent about revisiting Fanny; she had grown more confident and personally empowered than the insecure fledgling her original Fanny was. But then she read the somewhat factual but wittily fictionalized screenplay by Jay Presson Allen and Arnold Schulman that portrayed the more mature Fanny as a dynamic, independent woman and treated her romantic and professional affiliation with flamboyant showman Billy Rose as a meeting of equals, and decided to take the dive…in full aquacade fashion. James Caan, not really looking much like the original Billy Rose but coming off intensely dramatic and/or frenetic assignments in Brian’s Song, The Godfather, Cinderella Liberty, The Gambler and Freebie and the Bean, thought he could have some fun playing the pugnacious producer-songwriter as “a schmateh salesman on 37th street, the kind that’s always bending over when he’s talking to ya, always pulling at your sleeve.” Herbert Ross, the celebrated Broadway choreographer who staged the musical numbers in the film Funny Girl and whose first movie as director was the more sedate, largely “interior” musical version of Goodbye, Mr. Chips, hadn’t yet done a glamorous full-throttled movie musical. These ripe ingredients, plus fondly remembered Rose trunk songs mixed together with new tunes by John Kander and Fred Ebb, were whipped together into the razzle-dazzle layer cake called Funny Lady (1975), which opened 41 years ago this week. Though it couldn’t help but echo Funny Girl in some moments and its worth as biography is shaky, it nonetheless is a snug fit in the show-biz spectacular tradition of The Great Ziegfeld, Rhapsody in Blue, Night and Day and others of its ilk. Though the film of Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret three years before pioneered a pungent new direction for movie musicals, it was a sturdy box-office performer and pleased audiences as melodic entertainment with a dollop of schmaltz, a pinch of edgy sarcasm, some unexpectedly easygoing Streisand/Caan chemistry, lush and jazzy musical arrangements by Peter Matz (with additional contributions from recent three-time Oscar® winner Marvin Hamlisch), splendidly rich costume designs by Ray Aghayan and Bob Mackie and a lustrous shimmer courtesy of cinematographer James Wong Howe. Spilling over with vintage featurettes that chronicle how the creative team pulled it altogether, Funny Lady puts a spring in your step on Twilight Time’s gorgeous hi-def Blu-ray. As the hit song says, How Lucky Can You Get. For the full waterworks background on five-time Academy Award® nominee Funny Lady’s production and release, check out the Barbra Streisand Archives coverage here: http://www.barbra-archives.com/films/funny_lady_1.html.