Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, August 14, 2014


Fanny Brice almost steals the picture
THE GREAT ZIEGFELD (1936). Director: Robert Z. Leonard.

Florenz Ziegfield (William Powell) has a lot of great ideas and enthusiasm for the theater but is generally low on money. He finally hits it big with his Follies, with its beautiful show girls and elaborate production numbers, which had a new edition for 24 years. Powell married the French singer Anna Held (Luise Rainer) -- today it's still not clear if they actually tied the knot or were common-law -- but fell in love with actress Billie Burke (Myrna Loy; Burke herself was 52 at the time of filming). Just when everyone thinks Ziegfeld is washed up, he rebounds with such hits as Show Boat, but then there's the stock market crash to deal with and his own fading health... This biopic of the famous showman is almost as long as Ben-Hur, with an intermission and an entr'acte, and is composed of facts, myths and invention in equal measure. Despite Powell's good performance, Ziegfeld never seems entirely dimensional because he's defined by his shows and libido more than anything else. Luise Rainer won an Oscar, which has generally been attributed to her scene on the telephone when she congratulates Flo on his marriage to Burke even though her heart is clearly breaking; in general Rainer is quite good. Loy doesn't make the mistake of imitating the flighty, downright weird Burke, and also gives a very good performance. Wisely the producers chose to cast the real Fanny Brice as herself, and she almost walks away with the movie. The production numbers, like the movie itself, go on too long, but there are some highlights, such as one number that combines all kinds of different musical styles from jazz to opera in a surprisingly tuneful blend; and a bit with some cute dogs who nearly manage to stay stock still as dancers cavort among them on the stage. Frank Morgan [The Good Fairy] plays a friendly business rival of Ziegfeld's and Virginia Bruce [Pardon My Sarong] is a calculating dancer-turned-star.  Will Rogers is played by A. A. Trimble, while an unimpressive Ray Bolger plays himself. Dennis Morgan [River's End] sings one number but appears to have been dubbed by Allan Jones.

Verdict: Goes on and on and on and on but is often entertaining ... **1/2.

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