Friday, June 15, 2012

Ziegfeld Girl (1941)



“Mr. Ziegfeld says, if I don't watch my figure, no one else will.”

Everyone has a fantasy of being plucked from obscurity and into notoriety by the most off and whimsical chances. The best story I have ever heard of someone being famous (or in this case well known) is of the photographer Lee Miller. While walking in New York City one day she did not notice that cars were coming as she began to cross the street. Luckily for her a man pulled her back and saved her. The man took a look at her, told her she was pretty, and to come to his office the next day. The man turned out to be Condé Nast the owner of the publishing firm of the same name who ran Vogue and Vanity Fair. Miller went on to become a popular model photographed dozens of times by Edward Steichen, moved to Paris where she became Man Ray’s muse, and became a photographer/correspondent during World War II for Vogue. Too bad something like this would not happen today! How awesome would that be?!
            In the 1941 film Ziegfeld Girl two girls are picked for their beauty by a lightning strike of luck and the third is picked for her incredible stage talent.
            Shelia Reagan (Lana Turner) is an elevator operator in a department store. She lives in Brooklyn with her mother, father, and brother. She dreams of becoming a Ziegfeld girl or anything just to get out the live she is living now. Sheila has a nice caring boyfriend named Gilbert (James Stewart) whose main goal in life at the moment is to own some big trucks that will allow him to carry more and earn more money. Ziegfeld himself was in the department store that day, saw Sheila and said that she should come to his office. She naturally did not believe him but then begins to torture herself thinking if the man really was him. At the top floor Ziegfeld’s over worked assistant Noble Sage (Edward Everett Horton) goes to Sheila and tells her that Mr. Ziegfeld is indeed interested for her and wants her to come to his office the next day.
            A young girl named Susan Gallagher (Judy Garland) grew up performing in vaudeville with her father. They have an act that attracts Ziegfeld’s attention and he has Sage hire Susan and unfortunately only Susan. At first she does not want to sign with the great entertainer if her father cannot join but her father says she has a great opportunity.
            Sandra Kolter (Hedy Lemarr) is backstage of Ziegfeld’s theater with her husband Franz. Franz is a violinist on an audition. Sandra is approached by Sage who takes one look at her beautiful face and signs her up. She does not know what do since she and Franz are struggling for money. Franz does not get a spot in the orchestra. Sandra tells him about what happened to her and refuses to let her do it even though they have no money, he does not want to see her parading around in skimpy costumes for other men.
            Opening night, the stage manager tells all the girls that along the way some of them will become famous and either fall off the wagon, get married, or become huge stars with a comfortable career and to remember that those three things may have happened to them sometime in their lives not just because they are Ziegfeld girls.
            Sheila becomes glamorous and famous and unfortunately an alcoholic. Gilbert, rejected by his true love, becomes a bootlegger attached to a gangster. After going on the stage when she was told not to for being a drunk gets kicked out of the Follies. Her life spirals out of control and she is left with none of her fortune and even becomes sick from a weak heart.
            Sandra has also become well known. She begins to see a man attached to the show even though they are both married. The man’s wife comes to see Sandra one day. Sandra realizes how much she loves Franz and would give up everything for him. She has their friend Mischa fake the need to go away for a few days so Franz can take his place. Sage hears Franz play and gets him a job performing at Carnegie Hall. Sandra leaves the show to follow Franz wherever he may need to perform.
            Susan is given the chance to audition for a solo in the show. Her father wants her to sing an old song in a fast tempo. When she auditions the stage manager says that the song is old and has been done a million times that way. Sheila comes to Susan’s side and begs the manager to give the girl another chance. Susan has the orchestra play the song in a slower tempo. The manager likes what he hears and gives Susan the solo and even her own show when the current one ends.
            I liked this story from three different perspectives and three different female characters. It was interesting to see how fame either changed them or made them realize things they did not before.
            Despite the fact that James Stewart, Judy Garland, and Hedy Lemarr are billed as the main three stars, this is truly Lana Turner’s film proving from her first scene to her very last perfectly. Turner was amazing as this sad dramatic character. She was so beautiful. I liked Turner’s scenes at the beginning when she is just snarky young elevator girl. James Stewart is barely in the film and he is not one of my favorite classic actors so I really thought nothing of him. Besides that his character was a bit mean and testy! This is the first film I have ever seen Hedy Lemarr in. Goodness was she gorgeous! Lemarr in her few scenes acted very well, I look forward to seeing more of her films. Judy Garland was bubbly and cute as she always is in her early films. She, of course, blew her big musical number at the end out of the water. Eve Arden pops up in a few scenes as an older seasoned Ziegfeld girl who has been through the ups and downs. Arden was one of those second tiered actresses from the era who could steal a whole film with just one look or line and she pretty much does in this film. She was snarky and quick witted.
            Adrian designed the costumes for the film. I love all his designs even the simplest ones he had on the girls at the beginning and end. His Ziegfeld show costumes were incredible.
            Ziegfeld Girl is a great mix of drama, comedy, and musical numbers. These are not three genres you think would work well together, it actually sounds like they would be a disaster together, but they come together very nicely. I believe these genres work well as one because of the different actors that were in the film: James Stewart could pull of comedy and drama Judy Garland of course can sing and was very funny, and Lana Turner and Hedy Lemarr were two of the most popular dramatic actresses in the 1940s. Ziegfeld Girl is a very good film and one I feel that is highly overlooked for being an MGM musical.