Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Great Ziegfeld (1936)

“This is about talent”

            The Great Ziegfeld is the story of the man who knew how to put on extravagant shows Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. The film begins with Ziegfeld’s start as a sideshow runner at the 1893 World’s Fair where he gets his start and taste for exploitation shows. It touches on Ziegfeld’s famous marriages to Anna Held and Billie Burke.
            Ziegfeld was a shrewd business man. He stole many things from his rival a man named Billings including the actress Anna Held. All he wanted was bigger and better. When he saw that Held was not doing well on stage by herself in America he started putting more dancers around her and would later become his famous Follies.
            Of course there are recreations of his famous musical numbers. They were very extravagant and absolutely perfect for MGM to produce since they seemed to have a monopoly on extravagance back in the day. I found the numbers boring and way too long but they had to be shown because that was what Ziegfeld did.
            If it had not been for the great cast I would have found this film so unbelievably boring. Of course I watched this for the William Powell and Myrna Loy pairing but their paring does not come until over two hours into the film. This was my first film seeing Powell and Loy outside of the Thin Man films. Loy plays Billie Burke (for those of you who do not know she played Glinda the Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz) who Ziegfeld marries after his divorce from Anna Held. I found it funny that Loy out of all the other cast members who are in the film for much longer than she gets second billing. Powell and Loy were a draw from their Thin Man films so they both had to get top billing. The pair does have one of the best scenes in the film though. The scene is of them sitting by a river and just talking, you can just see their great chemistry. Powell is amazing as Ziegfeld this was truly his film. There is a famous saying about Powell “William Powell is to words what Fred Astaire is to dance” and it could not be more true. Loy was very good as Billie Burke. I was so used to seeing her as Nora Charles who is so witty that it was really nice to see her acting kind of dramatic. At the time of filming Billie Burke was still alive. Loy in her book said it was odd that she should be playing Burke when the real actress was still alive and able to play the role. But apparently Burke really liked Loy playing the part because she kept bringing her friends to the set to meet the actress.

            I was not to thrilled with Luise Rainer who played Anna Held. She won an Academy Award for her role but I really was not impressed with her and for goodness sake she beat out Carole Lombard and Irene  Dunne who were ten times the better actresses than her. From what I have read though Louis B. Mayer had some voting power for the awards and he swayed a lot of people to vote for Rainer. Her scene she won the Award for is alright to me it is nothing fantastic it is something all actors and actresses should be able to pull off. Rainer did play the scene with great emotion but I do not believe it was enough to beat Lombard for her role in My Man Godfrey which is considered her signature role as well as Irene Dunne for Theodore Goes Wild  (Rainer beat out Dunne again the following year which Dunne should have won for her role in The Awful Truth). Loy also says in her book that Mayer would always threaten her if she did not take a role that he would put either Rosalind Russell or Luise Rainer in the film instead but she said she did not care most of the time because she was friends with both actresses.
with Luise Rainer

            It was very interesting to see Ray Bolger and Frank Morgan in the film because three years later along with Billie Burke would make The Wizard of Oz.

            The comedian Fanny Brice makes an appearance as well. She was discovered by Ziegfeld in the early 1900s and was part of his shows.
            The Great Ziegfeld won the 1936 Academy Award for Best Picture. The film deserved the win it was very elaborately made and excellently acted by the whole cast. William Powell is amazing as Florenz Ziegfeld he is worth watching the film for alone. The film is long and becomes tedious after a while. I wound up fast forwarding some of the musical numbers they seemed to be the longest parts. The Great Ziegfeld is worth sitting through at least once; it is one of the great MGM movie extravagances that should not be missed.