81 Days With Oscar And Me

Every Academy Award-Winning Movie, Back to Back, Starting With the First

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Great Ziegfeld, The

August 28th, 2009 · 3 Comments · 1936, Biopic, Black and White, Great Ziegfeld, M-G-M Studios, Musical, Original Screenplay, Powell and Loy

The Great Ziegfeld When I found out this was a musical of sorts, I was fully prepared to dislike it.

(You see, I’m not a big fan of musicals.)

The Great Ziegfeld is the semi-autobiographical story pf Florenz “Flo” Ziegfeld (1867 – 1932), the American Broadway “impresario” best known for his series of theatrical revues, the Ziegfeld Follies (1907-1931). So I was ready to groan – especially when I read the DVD case and saw that the movie is 185 minutes long (that’s over three hours to you and me).

The movie stars William Powell and Myrna Loy, paired as the devilishly witty duo Nick and Nora Charles in the hugely popular Thin Man movies in the 1930s and 1940s. Powell and Loy shared the screen a lot. They are known as one of Hollywood’s most prolific on-screen pairings, appearing in 14 films together.

What’s that? You don’t know about The Thin Man series?

Just who are you people, anyway?

The Thin Man (1934) “was the first of six comic detective films starring William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles, a flirtatious married couple who banter wittily as they solve crimes with ease. Nick is a hard drinking The Thin Manretired detective and Nora a wealthy heiress. Their dog, the Wire-Haired Fox Terrier Asta, played by Skippy, was also a popular character,” according to the entry on Wikipedia.

Now you know about the series of Thin Man movies. I recommend you buy them. They’re extremely entertaining.

But, let’s get back to The Great ZIegfeld, which is also – as it turns out – extremely entertaining.

(Yeah. I know I wrote I wasn’t a big fan of musicals. Sue me.)

William Powell
Myrna Loy
Luise Rainer
Robert Z. Leonard
Frank Morgan – Fannie Brice
Virginia Bruce – Reginald Owen
Ray Bolger
Ernest Cossart
Directed By
Robert Z. Leonard
Screen Play By
William Anthony McGuire
Suggested By Romances
And Incidents In The Life Of
America’s Greatest Showman,
Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr.
Dances and Ensembles Staged
Seymour Felix
185 Minutes

The Great Ziegfeld isn’t just a musical. It’s a production. Not all of the stage routines are songs. Some are incredibly elaborate, massive, grand, glorious, lavish production that screams for color. Alas, it’s in black and white. It’s also a great story well played by Powell, whom I always considered “a leading character actor.” Not quite a Clark Gable. But a step above a Sydney Greenstreet. Powell is remarkable in this film.

Also appearing in the movie are Ray Bolger (1904 – 1987), who went on to play the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz, Frank Morgan (1890 – 1949), who also later appeared in The Wizard of Oz. (He played the carnival huckster “Professor Marvel,” the gatekeeper of the Emerald City, the driver of the carriage drawn by “The Horse of a Different Color,” the armed guard leading to the wizard’s hall, and the Wizard himself), Luise Rainer (1910 – ), who won an Academy Award in this movie, and Fanny Bryce (1891 – 1951).

Here’s another connection to the movie The Wizard of Oz. In real life Flo Ziegfeld married actress Billie Burke (played in the movie by Myrna Loy), who later starred as Glinda the Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz.

Some of the musical numbers in The Great Ziegfeld are so lavish that they bordered on ridiculous, but were always mesmerizing. Articulating stages, flamboyant costumes, silk curtains raising and lowering in a breathtaking fashion – if Ziegfeld’s Follies shows were really like that, it’s no wonder they were the talk of the town.

Ray Bolger’s dance number defies description and demands I create a few new adjectives in the attempt to do so. He dances like a cross between the power of Gene Kelly and the precision (and comedy) of Donald O’Conner. Bolger’s routine was a show stopper.

Ziegfeld died in 1932, virtually penniless after the stock-market crash wiped him out. This movie was made just four years after his death. So Ziegfeld and the events of this movie were still fresh in people’s minds. Essentially, then, this movie was a tribute to him and his life.

I loved this movie, even though – at over three hours in length – it’s not one I can watch more than once per day. The scenes of the lavish productions seemed long. But the dialogue sounded real.

That’s something worth mentioning…

This movie, like It Happened One Night and Mutiny On the Bounty, looks and sounds like a real movie, like the folks in Hollywood finally figured out movies are a spectacle for the eye, but they don’t have to look like filmed stage plays. Moreover, they don’t have to sound like stage plays. The actors don’t have to over-act and over-project their voices to get their lines and emotions across. Actors figured out how to reveal much by revealing not as much.

So The Great Ziegfeld, despite its length, isn’t tedious. And, despite its subject matter, it isn’t corny or hammy.

It’s too bad this wasn’t filmed in color, though. Some of those stage productions would have looked spectacular in color.


3 Comments so far ↓

  • John Douglas

    Dear Bill With-His-Eyes-Popping-Out-Of-His-Head,
    You did good mentioning the drapes. The drapes in the “A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody” scene are at the heart of the movie.
    John Douglas

  • Lisa

    I was wondering what your review said knowing you do not like musicals. I enjoyed it, but wished they had cut some of the musical part.

    I loved Powell’s portrayal, but not Rainer’s so much.

    Eh, I guess I am a bit wishy-washy.

  • Bill

    William Powell is always terrific. He made acting look easy. And very suave. His work with Myrna Loy was priceless in the Thin Man series.

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