fans can now officially rejoice! The Criterion Collection has produced a
fabulous Blu-ray edition of Sydney Pollack’s outstanding laugh riot, Tootsie, although one could safely say
the picture not only belongs to Pollack, but to Dustin Hoffman, the movie’s
star. It was his baby all the way, from its conception to its final,
brilliantly written, acted, and directed finish. The American Film Institute
voted Tootsie to be the Number 2 best
comedy of all time (after Some Like it
Hot, coincidentally another film in which men dress up as women!); whether
or not you agree with that ranking, you have to admit it is a virtual lesson in how to make a good, funny
story is already well-known: struggling middle-aged actor Michael Dorsey
(Hoffman) decides to dress up as a woman to audition for a soap opera, and he
gets the part; thus he has to continue the charade in order to keep his job.
Complications ensue when he falls in love with Julie (Jessica Lange), another
actor on the soap. The story only gets more “nutty” (as uncredited but
hilarious co-star Bill Murray calls it) from there.
what the movie is really about—repeated by several of the picture’s creators in
the several excellent extras on the disc—is how a man learns to become a better
man by being a woman. This is not a “feminist” film. It’s indeed a movie about
the sexes, but its message is for men on
how theyneed to get their act
together before they can successfully relate to women in a positive way.
the many displays of genius that Hoffman has brought us over the years, Tootsie is easily in the top handful. His
performance, nominated for an Oscar, is the crux of the film’s success—if he
hadn’t been believable, if the cross-dressing hadn’t been convincing, if he
hadn’t gone for the absolute truth of
the role, the picture would have fallen flat. Luckily, Hoffman IS Tootsie.
that’s not to downplay the strength of all the other actors—Lange (who did win an Oscar for Supporting
Actress), Teri Garr, Bill Murray, Dabney Coleman, Charles Durning, and even
director Pollack, who is fabulous as
Hoffman’s agent—are all great; I can’t imagine the movie with anyone else in
their respective roles.
Tootsie had a long and
difficult gestation period. As we learn from the documentary extras, Hoffman
and playwright Murray Schisgal had been working on a story about a
cross-dressing man who was a tennis pro, but they couldn’t get it to work. Then
they came across Don McGuire’s play about an actor who cross-dresses to get a part, so the rights were
purchased, they changed the protagonist’s profession, and voila—they had the workings of Tootsie.
Hal Ashby was originally set to direct and had begun shooting tests of Hoffman
in makeup, but the studio ultimately didn’t want him. Enter Sydney Pollack, who
brought in Larry Gelbart to bring more humanity and drama to the script. Then
Hoffman brought in Elaine May to work on the female roles (why May isn’t
credited for the screenplay along with the other three writers is a mystery).
The script took forever to get right,
but once it was to everyone’s satisfaction, the production went ahead. The
conflicts between Hoffman and Pollack are legendary, but in the end it was
Hoffman who wanted Pollack to play Michael Dorsey’s agent because the
characters’ relationship in the story reflected the real-life rapport between
actor and director.
new 4K digital restoration looks gorgeous,
but that’s what we expect from the Rolls-Royce of Blu-ray labels. The audio
commentary is by the late Pollack. Included are new interviews with Hoffman (in
an especially touching and revealing piece) and comedy writer Phil Rosenthal
(who tells us exactly why Tootsie is
a great comedy); a vintage interview between “Dorothy Michaels” and critic Gene
Shalit that was deleted from the film; a vintage “making of” documentary and a
longer, more detailed “making of” doc from 2007; deleted scenes; and screen and
wardrobe test shoots shot by Hal Ashby. The booklet contains an impressive essay
by critic Michael Sragow.
Tootsie is one of those
pictures that stands the test of time and gets funnier with subsequent
viewings. Get it now on Blu-ray—it’s a must for anyone who likes to smile.