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Florenz Ziegfeld Jr.:
Ah... Saturday, September twenty fifth. Another heavenly day. Ah, yes. Always a heavenly day.
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Ziegfeld Follies, seeing it again takes me back to the first time I did see it. At the old Ziegfeld Theater now converted to a movie house where for $2.00 I could spend the day with Ziegfeld. A triple feature ran that day. The Great Ziegfeld, Ziegfeld Girl, and Ziegfeld Follies ran back to back. Things started around 10:30 am. and I didn't leave the theater until 7:30 pm.
This film was MGM's attempt to create the Ziegfeld Follies and what it was like to see it on stage. At a time when every studio was creating all star musical films as morale boosters for the war, Ziegfeld Follies is the only one of the whole bunch that has absolutely no mention of the war. In fact it's a one and only throwback to the all star musical films that sprouted out at the beginning of the sound era. It more properly belongs with films like Paramount on Parade, Fox's Movietone Follies, and The King of Jazz.
MGM had more musical talent at its studio than any other and in Ziegfeld Follies they used it all and then some. The introduction is provided by William Powell reprising his role as Florenz Ziegfeld. He's in his heavenly digs now, reminiscing about the great times on earth and the great shows he put on. If he were doing a show today, he'd first begin it with a great star like Fred Astaire. Then Fred takes over and the show begins.
Arthur Freed who also contributed some lyrics here as well, produced Ziegfeld Follies and under his banner various directors and writers and performers all got to do their thing. Two performers Fanny Brice and Victor Moore got to do some of the comedy they did back on the stage and for Ziegfeld. It's a pity Eddie Cantor who was still alive and very much active couldn't be brought in. He's only seen at the beginning in an animated version. W.C. Fields who also starred in the Follies as well on stage probably was in bad health, bad temper or both.
I'm sure that Ziegfeld would have loved the talent assembled here. It ranges from the Metropolitan Opera's James Melton to vaudeville's Red Skelton. In fact my favorite comedy number from the film is Red Skelton doing the Guzzler's Gin Program and lamenting the fact that next time he gets oatmeal for a sponsor.
My favorite musical number is Lena Horne singing the song Love in a Caribbean setting. One of Ziegfeld's famous headliners was the famous black comedian Bert Williams. To not have a black performer in this cast would have been an insult to Ziegfeld's memory as well as a whole race of people. Lena Horne's act isn't exactly the same as Bert Williams's, but her singing of Love is the musical highlight of the film.
Until That's Entertainment II, Ziegfeld Follies was the only film in which Fred Astaire got to dance with Gene Kelly. Although Astaire has a few numbers here, this is Kelly's only appearance. They do George and Ira Gershwin's The Babbitt and the Bromide which Astaire did with his sister Adele back in the Twenties. It's not the best work for either of them, still it's a twice in a lifetime treat.
Films like Ziegfeld Follies can never be done again because the studios that had all that talent under contract are gone. But Arthur Freed shot almost double the amount of numbers and many things were cut. I think it would be great if we could get the footage restored if MGM bothered to save it.
A director's cut Ziegfeld Follies. To really fill your day with the magic of a Ziegfeld show.
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