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

Thursday, July 7, 2016


HIGH CAMP: Judy Garland on top of poles
ZIEGFELD GIRL (1941). Director: Robert Z. Leonard.

Three young ladies are chosen to join Ziegfeld's Follies (Ziegfeld himself is never seen): Sandra (Hedy Lamarr), who is married to a jealous, out-of-work violinist, Franz (Philip Dorn) but is courted by the handsome singer, Frank (Tony Martin); Sheila (Lana Turner), who has a truck-driving boyfriend, Gil (James Stewart) but who is drawn to the wealthy Geoffrey (Ian Hunter); and Susan (Judy Garland), who has been working for years with her has-been father, "Pop" Gallagher (Charles Winninger), who is afraid he'll be nothing without her. Pop tries to get Susan to sing in a hokey, super-fast, old-fashioned style -- as the director, John (Paul Kelly) puts it "they quit beating a song to death ten years ago" -- but when she delivers "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows" as a ballad the whole audience is moved. (Of course, it makes little sense that the diminutive Garland would ever have been hired as a showgirl, and in one scene in fact she is told that she is not a showgirl, so I'm not certain what she was supposed to be doing before her singing talent was discovered.) This is one of probably dozens of films that look at the trials and tribulations of three women hoping for success in show business -- you can even include Valley of the Dolls in the bunch, for that matter -- and while the melodramatics are cliched and not that interesting, the picture is still quite entertaining. Busby Berkeley put together the production numbers, the best of which is Garland's "Minnie from Trinidad," which definitely turns into high-camp when Garland is lifted high above the stage atop poles at the finale! Garland is swell, Lamarr is beautiful and effective, and Turner isn't quite up to her more dramatic scenes, in which she tends to over-act, to put it mildly. Turner is chosen to be the gal who nearly winds up in the gutter, but even when she becomes a drunk she still looks glamorous! Jimmy Stewart is miscast and somewhat perfunctory in this, although he gets plenty of scenes. Eve Arden shows up once or twice doing her usual schtick; Fay Holden appears briefly as Lana's mother ("I didn't raise my boy to be a Ziegfeld girl," she says to Jackie Cooper when he imitates his sister); Paul Kelly orders the show girls around but isn't really given a character to play; and Tony Martin has a handsome face, a beautiful voice, and is charmingly smarmy as Frank. There are notable if quite small, supporting performances from Rose Hobart as Martin's neglected wife, and Renie Riano [Nancy Drew -- Detective]  as Annie, Lana's wise-cracking maid. I've no doubt Ziegfeld gals, especially the more popular ones, were paid comparatively well, but Lana's apartment looks like something a major film star like Joan Crawford might have lived in! But that's the movies! NOTE: Not to be confused with The Great Ziegfeld in which the great Ziegfeld actually appeared.

Verdict: Likable musical with attractive players. *** out of 4.


angelman66 said...

This one really is a lot of fun, if you bypass the obvious plot and character deficiencies, as you note. (Diminutive Garland as a 4'11" showgirl really is a hoot! And Lana's apartment is MGM-rich indeed!) But the musical numbers are awesome, Jimmy Stewart and Jackie Cooper are adorable, and Lana and Hedy Lamarr is drop-dead gorgeous. "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows" is one of Judy's finest numbers.

I recently bought a DVD collection of the Rooney-Garland-Busby Berkeley pictures, and am very excited to rewatch and write about them. This post is inspiring me to do so, as you so often do!

William said...

Thank you, and I'm looking forward to what you have to write about these musical classics. Go to it!