Streisand's film debut tells the story of comedienne Fanny Brice's rise to stardom
Comedienne Fanny Brice's rise to stardom, via her tempestuous relationship with gamester Nick Arnstein.
Fanny Brice should have been the Talkies' first female star. However, she didn't conform to Hollywood standards of beauty and she's best known now through this musical biopic, which earned the debuting Barbra Streisand an Oscar (in a Best Actress tie with Katharine Hepburn for The Lion in Winter).
In many ways, Streisand's rise to the top mirrored that of Brice, whom she had played in the original stage version of Isobel Lennart's play. But, she was much more fortunate in her transition to films, as director William Wyler had guided 40 stars to Oscar-winning performances from 125 nominations. Moreover, cinematographer Harry Stradling was sufficiently skilled to find the photogenicity in her famous facial features, while costumer Irene Sharaff, choreographer Herbert Ross and co-stars Kay Medford (as mother Rose Brice) and Lee Allen (as mentor Eddie Ryan) were reprising their Broadway roles.
Streisand was even lucky in the fact that she fell in love with her leading man, Omar Sharif, and their romance certainly enhanced their on-screen chemistry. However, he was anything but first choice to play gambler Nicky Arnstein, with Frank Sinatra, Rock Hudson, Tony Curtis, Marlon Brando and Gregory Peck all passing before Columbia hired the then-hot Egyptian star of Doctor Zhivago (1965).
The Cairo press were less than enamoured by the casting, however, and castigated Sharif for sharing the screen with a Jew around the time of the Six Day War. But, despite all the negative publicity, the film became one of the top 10 box-office hits of the 1960s. Streisand proved to be equally adept at comedy and drama, but she best captured Brice's gauche charm while singing Ziegfeld tunes like `My Man' and `Second Hand Rose' or such Jule Styne-Bob Merrill originals as `Don't Rain on My Parade' and `People'.
In 1975, Streisand starred in the sequel, Funny Lady, with James Caan as second husband, impresario Billy Rose. However, it felt very much like an afterthought.
One of those films where it doesn't really matter what gets written here - you will have made your mind up about Babs one way or the other, but for the rare uninitiated, this is a fine introduction to her talents.
Reviewed by David Parkinson
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