At the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, sideshow barker Flo Ziegfeld turns the tables on his more successful neighbor Billings, and steals his girlfriend to boot. This pattern is repeated throughout their lives, as Ziegfeld makes and loses many fortunes putting on ever bigger, more spectacular shows (sections of which appear in the film). French revue star Anna Held becomes his first wife, but it's not easy being married to the man who "glorified the American girl." Late in life, now married to Billie Burke, he seems to be all washed up, but...Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
An actor portraying composer Jerome Kern is seen in an office playing "Look for the Silver Lining" on the piano, but he is not mentioned on any cast list for this film. He is simply called "Jerry" by the other characters in the scene. See more »
The DVD release runs 185 minutes, and includes the overture, entr'acte and exit music, as presented in the original "road show" version of the film. See more »
Sometimes you see classic films and they disappoint. I had the opposite reaction here, it far exceeded my expectations.
I had seen "Ziegfield Follies" and I thought it was a great variety show, but nothing much more than what you could have seen on television in any week in 1963 when Bob Hope, Jack Benny, Red Skelton, Ed Sullivan, Jerry Lewis, Danny Kaye, Jackie Gleason and Judy Garland all had weekly variety shows.
I was expecting "The Great Ziegfeld" to be on the same level. It is not. The staged musical numbers are as spectacular as anything Busby Berkeley ever did and it is an absorbing biographical story with many excellent performances.
The movie has a great deal in common with "Wizard of Oz." Frank Morgan, who played the Wizard" plays Ziegfeld's rival and friend "Billings" with the same warmth he put into the Wizard character. Ray Bolger who played the "Scarecrow" does an incredible Scarecrowesque dance number. We have Myrna Loy doing a nice turn as "Billie Burke" who played "Glenda the Good Witch." It would have been nicer to have had the real Billie playing herself, but she apparently did a lot of behind the scenes work to insure that Ziegfeld (her late husband) was treated well in the bio. The art director Cedric Gibbons and costume designer Adrian Greenberg also did Wizard of Oz.
It is delightful seeing Fanny Brice in a small ten minute part. Virginia Bruce does a surprisingly good mean-girl gold-digger role. William Powell plays Ziegfeld with a charming light humorous touch.
However actor honors has to go to the amazing Louise Rainer, who won the Academy Award for her performance as Anna Held, Ziegfeld's French common-law wife. It is a performance that looks back to the expressionist performances of German cinema and looks forward to the naturalistic method acting performances of the 1950's. This performance is a link. Despite it only being a relatively small part of about 25 minutes, she did deserve the Academy Award for it. (Incidentally, Ms. Rainer turned 101 this year.)
Each of the dance numbers are fanciful and extravagant, capturing hopefully the actual stagings of Zeigfeld's shows. At least they seemed authentic to me. There is one number "Pretty Girl" that is done in one take and involves a revolving stage for about 10 minutes. Apparently, it cost $200,000 and took months to film. It is one of the great shots-dance numbers in cinematic history. It has an hypnotic effect.
To sum up, a witty, intelligent script, great art direction, great costumes, a dozen excellent dance numbers with one fantastic one and half a dozen fine performances and one amazing one.
The Great Ziegfeld is great and a must see for any real film buff. I would put it in the top ten of all time film musicals and right next to "Yankee Doodle Dandy," "Golddiggers of 1933" and "SwingTime" as the best of the golden age of Hollywood.
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