Towards the end of the "This Heart of Mine" number, as Astaire and Bremer begin to dance back to the palace, dancers in the background (screen left) are clearly struggling to stabilize some of the antler-tree props. See more »
Florenz Ziegfeld Jr.:
Ah... Saturday, September twenty fifth. Another heavenly day. Ah, yes. Always a heavenly day.
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Let's give this movie credit for one thing: it doesn't claim to be anything other than what it is: an unconnected series of musical numbers and comedy sketches, meant to honor the late Florenz Ziegfeld. So, if that is what you want, terrific. If a particular scene bores you, you can fast-forward through it without missing anything.
The strength of the film was the wise decision to let Fred Astaire appear in more than one number. His dancing and on-screen personality are always delightful, because his joy in performing is obvious and catching. The highlight of the movie comes in the last performance, when he performs a wonderful tap-dance and singing number with Gene Kelly. They are so palpably having a good time that you almost forget how dreary so much of the rest of the film was!
The comedy sketches are absolutely the most miserable and un-funny things ever captured on celluloid. Painful, painful, painful. Good grief, do they drag on forever. Keenan Wynn performs an old Vaudeville sketch in which a man cannot get the operator to put his call through to a nearby number, while a parade of other characters have no problem putting calls through to the most obscure and distant locations on the planet. Potentially funny, yes? Well, yes, when Lou Costello did it two years earlier in "Who Done It" - that was the definitive version of the sketch. It is one of the funniest things Lou ever did. Why in the world would MGM have Wynn try to do the same sketch - he tries very hard to mimic Lou Costello's facial contortions and grunts and squeals of frustration - but it stinks.
And the "Pay him the two dollars" routine with Victor Booth and Edward Arnold - well, if this represents Vaudeville at its best, then I guess I don't regret not having been alive to see it after all. And Victor Hume takes a rare stab at comedy too; he appears to be trying to mimic Shemp Howard, and none too well at that.
The musical numbers in general are what you would expect from MGM - lavish, expensive-looking, and otherwise spectacular.
While it may not be everyone's cup of tea, I actually enjoyed the claymation at the beginning of the movie. One of the most bizarre and surreal scenes in any MGM movie ever has to be the 45 seconds of Eddie Cantor, in glorious claymation, and in blackface, for goodness sake, singing "If you knew Susie". It is hilarious, and the claymation really captures Cantor's performance style to a Tee - for comparison, I strongly suggest you watch "A Few Minutes with Eddie Cantor" (1923, in sound) on Youtube.
And speaking of classic Hollywood racial insensitivity, a long "drama in pantomime" features Fred Astaire and as a Chinese, stalking another white actress pretending to be Chinese. You really have to shake your head. And are Fred and Gene dancing in front of a statue of Civil War General Nathan Bedford Forrest? Perhaps not, but he sure looks Confederate....
Like I said, Ziegfeld Follies gives you get exactly what it claims to give you. But have the fast-forward ready.
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