Set in 1934 Paris, the film opens with Richard di Nardo, a young hustler, emerging from the bed of gay middle-aged Carroll Todd (Robert Preston), a.k.a. Toddy; Richard dresses, takes money from Toddy's wallet and leaves Toddy's apartment. Going about his day, Toddy, a performer at Chez Lui in Paris, sees Labisse, the club owner, auditioning a frail, impoverished soprano, Victoria Grant (Julie Andrews). After the audition, Labisse drily writes her off, and she responds by sustaining a pitch to shatter his wine glass using resonant frequency. That night, Richard comes to Chez Lui as part of a straight foursome and Toddy incites a brawl by insulting Richard and the women in his group. Labisse fires Toddy and bans him from the club. Walking home, he spots Victoria dining at a restaurant, and she invites him to join her. As neither of them can pay for the meal, she dumps a cockroach in her salad to avoid paying their check, but it escapes and the whole place breaks out in havoc.
The duo run out through the rain to Toddy's, and he invites her to stay when she finds that the rain has shrunk her cheap clothes. The next morning Richard shows up to collect his things. Victoria, who is wearing his clothes, hides in Toddy's closet. When she thinks that Richard might harm Toddy, she ambushes Richard and literally kicks him out. Witnessing this, Toddy is struck with the inspiration of passing Victoria off as a man (the illusion convinced Richard who stumbles downstairs to his friends waiting in the car claiming a strange man wearing his clothes hit him) and presenting her to Andre Cassell (John Rhys-Davies), the most successful agent in Paris, as a female impersonator.
Cassell accepts her as Count Victor Grazinski, a gay Polish female impersonator and Toddy's new boyfriend. Cassell gets her a nightclub show and invites a collection of club owners to the opening. Among the guests is King Marchand (James Garner), an owner of multiple clubs in Chicago, who is in league with the mob. King attends with his ditzy moll Norma Cassidy (Lesley Ann Warren) and burly bodyguard Bernstein (Alex Karras), a.k.a. Squash. Victor is a hit, and King is smitten, but devastated and incredulous when she is "revealed" as a man at the end of her act. King is convinced that "Victor" is not a man.
After a quarrel with Norma and his subsequent failure with her later that night, King sends her back to America. Determined to get the truth of Victor's gender, King sneaks into Victoria and Toddy's suite and confirms his suspicion when he spies her getting into the bath. He keeps his knowledge secret and invites Victoria, Toddy, and Cassell to Chez Lui, where Toddy is now welcomed due to Victor's status as a big star. Another fight breaks out with exactly the same foursome as before; Squash and Toddy are arrested with the bulk of the club clientele, but King and Victoria escape. King kisses Victoria pretending that he does not care about Victoria's gender (although he of course actually knows that she is a woman), leading them to get together.
Squash returns to the suite and catches King with Victoria in bed. King tries to explain, but soon receives a shocker himself - Squash reveals himself to be gay. Meanwhile, Labisse hires a P.I., Charles Bovin, to investigate Victor. Victoria and King live together for a while, but keeping up the public act of Victoria being a man strains the relationship and King ends it. Back in Chicago, Norma tells King's club partner Sal Andretti (Norman Chancer), that King is having an affair with Victor.
At the same time that Victoria has decided to give up the persona of Victor in order to be with King, Sal arrives and demands that King transfer his share of the empire to Sal for a small portion of its worth. Squash tells Victoria what's happening, and she interrupts the paperwork signing to show Norma that she is really a woman, and prevent King from having to lose his stake. That night at the club Cassell tells Toddy and Victoria that Labisse has lodged a complaint against him and "Victor" for perpetrating a fraud. The Inspector tells Labisse that the performer is a man and Labisse is an idiot.
In the end, Victoria joins King in the club as her real self. King is stunned, as moments earlier, the announcer had said that Victor was going to perform. Toddy is revealed as the performer, having masqueraded as "Victor" to fool the Inspector. After an intentionally disastrous, but hilarious performance, Toddy claims that this is his last performance. The film ends with King, Squash, Victoria, Cassell and the public applauding enthusiastically.
The vocal numbers in the film are presented as nightclub acts, with choreography by Paddy Stone. However, the lyrics or situations of some of the songs are calculated to relate to the unfolding drama. Thus, the two staged numbers "Le Jazz Hot" and "The Shady Dame from Seville" help to present Victoria as a female impersonator. The latter number is later reinterpreted by Toddy for diversionary purposes in the plot, and the cozy relationship of Toddy and Victoria is promoted by the song "You and Me", which is sung before the audience at the nightclub.
- "Gay Paree" - Toddy (music composed by Henry Mancini)
- "Le Jazz Hot!" - Victoria (music composed by Henry Mancini)
- "The Shady Dame from Seville" - Victoria (music composed by Henry Mancini)
- "You and Me" - Toddy, Victoria (music composed by Henry Mancini)
- "Chicago, Illinois" - Norma (music composed by Henry Mancini)
- "Crazy World" - Victoria (music composed by Henry Mancini)
- "Finale/Shady Dame from Seville (Reprise)" - Toddy (music composed by Henry Mancini)
Occasionally, Victoria and Toddy sing "Home on the Range" when they are in the hotel.
The film's screenplay was adapted by Blake Edwards (Andrews' husband) and Hans Hoemburg from the 1933 German film Viktor und Viktoria by Reinhold Schünzel. According to Edwards, the screenplay took only one month to write. There was also a 1935 remake named First a Girl, made in the United Kingdom and directed by Victor Saville, about a woman who stands in for a female impersonator and becomes a hit. Julie Andrews watched the 1933 version to prepare for her role. The film had been planned as early as 1978 with Julie Andrews to star alongside Peter Sellers, but Sellers died in 1980 while Andrews and Blake Edwards were filming S.O.B. (1981), so Robert Preston had to be cast in the role of Toddy that originally was envisaged for Sellers.
The costume worn by Julie Andrews, in the number "The Shady Dame from Seville" is in fact the same costume worn by Robert Preston at the end of the film. It was made to fit Preston, and then, using a series of hooks and eyes at the back, it was drawn in tight to fit Andrews' shapely figure. Additional black silk ruffles were also added to the bottom of the garment, to hide the differences in height. The fabric is a black and brown crepe, with fine gold threads woven into it, that when lit appears to have an almost wet look about it.
Julie Andrews and James Garner played romantic leads in two other films together, Paddy Chayevsky's The Americanization of Emily (1964) and the TV movie One Special Night (1999).
Victor/Victoria received a 96% 'fresh' rating on review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes, with the consensus "Driven by a fantastic lead turn from Julie Andrews, Blake Edwards' musical gender-bender is sharp, funny and all-round entertaining."
Victor/Victoria won the Academy Award for Best Original Song Score and its Adaptation or Adaptation Score. It was also nominated for:Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Robert Preston)
Best Actress in a Leading Role (Julie Andrews)
Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Lesley Ann Warren)
Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (Rodger Maus, Tim Hutchinson, William Craig Smith, Harry Cordwell)
Best Costume Design
Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium
Julie Andrews won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Comedy or Musical. Other nominations included:Best Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical
Best Actor in a Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical
Best Actress in a Supporting Role - Motion Picture
Best Original Score - Motion Picture (Henry Mancini)
In 2000, American Film Institute included the film in AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs (#76).