Cross-dressing and Gender Fluidity in 1933 Germany



Growing up, I was encouraged to watch musicals…many, many musicals. If Julie Andrews was in it, it was to be absorbed and re-watched.

That is, unless she was in drag. That movie I was to avoid.

The movie I’m looking at today isn’t her movie but it is the source material on which that 1982 film was based. Victor and Victoria, a 1933 integrated musical is now out from Kino Classics and it’s a delightful, fanciful look into performance culture. But what is being performed?

Certainly, this was just about as late as a film this daring would be received in its home country of Germany. Hitler’s conservatism was already on the rise in the years following the permissive 1920s, but Schunzel flouts convention on multiple occasions in a way that intrigues viewers and gets them in a place where they can begin to question how gender roles actually function.

The story is straightforward: man and woman are auditioning for parts at a theatrical agency. Man sometimes does drag to pay the bills and man decides that woman just might pass as a man pretending to be a woman. They meet with success and go from having to pinch pennies to being on stage in London, able to stay at the best hotels.

But now, there’s a man that Victoria is drawn to. This is complicated for obvious reasons but the suspension of “what has this guy figured out about Victoria” with “but there’s this whole jealousy subplot!” makes for a delightful evening in front of the screen. The picture quality is good and the sound is crisp…all of the pictures in this review are from the Blu-ray disc.

There are even fun moments that make one think one is in a Busby Berkeley film!
They’re in the money…they’re in the money…
Two bros…sittin’ in a barbershop…

The film is every bit as transgressive in gender norms as its successor from 1982. Having never before seen the 1982 film, I watched it after having viewed the 1933 film a few times. What I can tell you is that both films compliment each other beautifully and I think I appreciate them both more having seen both of them.

Bonus features are sparse but do include both English subtitles and a wonderful commentary track from film historian Gaylyn Studlar, who is currently teaching at Washington University in St. Louis. Her insight helped me process a lot of what I was seeing onscreen and her book This Mad Masquerade: Stardom and Masculinity in the Jazz Age has been a delight so far—I’m about a third of the way through it.

Beautiful flowers for a beautiful lady

It’s a fun romp of a film that can either be received passively as fun entertainment or a springboard to questions of attraction, gender, and performance. It’s a great disc for any collector.