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My review of The Great Ziegfeld

April 28, 2014
Tonight I watched The Great Ziegfeld, the musical biopic and Best Picture Oscar winner from 1936. It starred William Powell as the great showman Florenz Ziegfeld, Luise Rainer (Who, at 104 years old, is still with us) as his first wife, Anna Held, and Myrna Loy as his second wife, Billie Burke (Yes. THAT Billie Burke – Glenda, the Good Witch from the Wizard of Oz). Powell was his typical charming self. I’ve always loved the way he spoke: Sophisticated, but rapidly, and clipped. Rainer and Loy were both especially lovely. Luise Rainer had big, beautiful, doe eyes. Myrna Loy was sleek and sexy. Rainer gave a partly comical, partly heartbreaking performance as the initially wishy-washy, eventually lovelorn first wife. Her first scenes with Powell were actually quite funny. Loy was her usual, dependable self, lending support to Powell. The musical scenes, though stage-bound, were interesting to watch due to the elaborate production design of the stages, especially the “A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody” number, set on a large, revolving staircase, covered in silk and beautiful women. Though the dance numbers aren’t terribly imaginative, the dancing girls were quite attractive. There were some additional familiar names and faces: Frank Morgan, the Wizard of Oz himself, played Ziegfeld’s longtime friend, rival, and business partner. Fanny Brice played herself. Other actors played Will Rogers, Eddie Cantor, and the world-famous strongman, Sandow. Ray Bolger, the Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz, also played a part as a prop boy turned tapper. Overall, I think the movie was fine. It didn’t really feel like its 3 hour(!) length. There was a little melodrama thrown in, but not enough to sour me on it. Now, did it deserve to win Best Picture? No, probably not. It was big and splashy for the time, but there were a handful of better movies that came out that year, including other movies with some of the stars like Libeled Lady starring Powell and Loy along with Spencer Tracy and Jean Harlow, My Man Godfrey starring Powell and Carole Lombard, Wife vs. Secretary starring Loy and Clark Gable, Follow the Fleet with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town with Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur, and my favorite movie from that year, Modern Times, starring Charlie Chaplin. All in all though, The Great Ziegfeld was a very decent movie. Next up, 1937’s Best Picture winner, The Life of Emile Zola.
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