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Starring William Powell, Myrna Loy and Luise Rainer
Hold onto your hats fellas, this girl is going to explode! All the emotion, the creative genius. Welcome to the movie that is, The Great Ziegfeld.
This fictional biography follows the life and career of Florenz Ziegfeld Jnr. Ziegfeld was a Broadway producer, known mostly for The Ziegfeld Follies; musical productions performed on Broadway from 1918 until 1920. These were big, huge, out of control productions. Beautiful women in elaborate costumes donned the stage as famous performers entertained the audience. Names such as W.C Fields, Fanny Brice (who makes a cameo appearance in this movie) and Marilyn Miller were some of the names that drew the crowds. This film looks into what the ‘Follies’ were really like.
It all begins with Ziegfeld (Powell) himself, an ambitious producer down on his luck. He hears his arch enemy, Billings (Frank Morgan), talking about signing French entertainer, Anna Held (Rainer). With wiggly, evil fingers and a glint in his eye, Ziegfeld decides to snap her up before his foe. Though he has no money he has loads of charm which convinces the witless Held to sign with him. Anna Held is an emotional helium balloon. She is full of high pitched air, floating around with eyelashes flapping. She is almost manic with her moods, altering by the minute.
They eventually marry but jealousy grows as Ziegfeld plans a new project with a new leading lady. This results in divorce and Zieggy marries his new leading lady, Billie Burke (cool name by the way!). The Ziegfeld Follies are thus born and thrust into the history books of popular culture. In the end, Zieggy retires to his grave a desperately sad man. His ambition drives him to succeed but is ultimately defeated by the Stock Market Crash in 1929.
This film thrives on drama. Luise Rainer’s performance is quite moving, depicting a flighty starlet on the edge. Unless, of course, Rainer was simply playing herself. It is that convincing, I wonder. The rest of the cast is fine and the story ok. Not sure if it is Oscar material, though. This film does not stand out for me as one of the best of all time. Perhaps it was the era or the melodrama or the story. It is entirely watchable but not spectacular.
The Great Ziegfeld Trivia:
Let us know what you thought of this long-winded melodromatic piece of film hysteria… or should that be history? Next time we delve into The Life of Emile Zola, starring Paul Muni and Gloria Holden.