Does a Great Ziegfeld mean a Great Movie?
The Great Ziegfeld is a 1936 musical drama film directed by Robert Z. Leonard and stars William Powell, Myrna Loy, and Luise Rainer. The film won three Academy Awards for Best Actress, Best Dance Direction, and Best Picture. Over a thousand people were employed in the making of the film.
William Powell plays the titular character, Florenz "Flo" Ziegfeld Jr., a Broadway impresario, and an outgoing womanizer. He puts on a stream of successful shows throughout his career, most notably The Ziegfeld Follies. Ziegfeld, however, keeps finding himself in trouble financially, frequently asking his friendly rival Billings for money. The film follows Ziegfeld from his early works at the 1893 Chicago World Fair, to his marriage of Anna Held and their work on Ziegfeld's musical shows, and later to his second marriage and his accumulating financial struggles, as well as his shows beginning to go downhill.
I have watched a decent number of 3 hour movies in my lifetime, and my impression is that you'll either find them to be very absorbing experiences, or a torturous life sentence, if you have the audacity to not walk out early. Surprisingly, I found Ziegfeld to be right in the middle. Though I did not find the film to be an unforgettable experience, I did find it to be a pleasant flashback to the Golden Age of Hollywood. Due to my general life schedule, I did not watch the whole film in one sitting. I watched until the intermission one night, and then watched the rest in the middle of the afternoon the very next day.
- The movie is visually ambitious, and it succeeds with its lavish music and dance numbers. The most famous sequence in the movie is the musical number that takes place right before the intermission. It features many singers and dancers on a giant, spinning volute that looks as if it is shot in one take. It's a pleasing sight, especially when we see everyone and the whole structure in a wide shot right before the curtain closes. There is also a dance number featuring several women singing and dancing on beds. The beds move back and forth on platforms while the women are dancing. I couldn't help but think afterwards that the filmmakers watched The Broadway Melody beforehand and wanted to one-up it however they could. Unlike The Broadway Melody, the music, singing, and dancing all have energy and purpose. Good luck getting "It's Delightful to be Married" out of your head afterwards.
- The characters of Ziegfeld and Anna Held. To be fair, the film shouldn't be entirely to blame for my disdain for these characters, since Ziegfeld and Held were real people. Still, I could not get behind either of these two. Ziegfeld is a man who believes he can get just about anything he wants, particularly any woman he desires to be with. We all know you can't get everything you want, and Ziegfeld must deal with this truth as the film progresses. He does acquire most of what he longs for, but his financial troubles constantly haunt him. He continuously begs others for loans and assistance with paying his bills, and for whatever reason people continue to do so is beyond me. Is Ziegfeld really THAT great? He sounds like a desperate freeloader.
Anna Held has an awkward love-hate relationship with Ziegfeld. When Ziegfeld asks Held to come work for him, he is upfront with her. She appears swooned by him, but then the next moment, she is yelling at him to get out, only to call him back in to tell Ziegfeld she appreciates his honesty, and then she is yelling at him again. Later on when the two are married, she seems madly in love with him, only for her to leave and divorce him (for a reasonable purpose I won't share). Then, a while later, she tries calling him as if she wants to make up with him. Afterwards, she isn't seen again. Her romance with Ziegfeld is unpredictable due to her sporadic emotional state, and I found myself believing she was simply a nutcase.
One of the main critiques nowadays of The Great Ziegfeld is its excessive length at 3 hours, which I somewhat agree with. Many of the music and dance numbers go on far longer than they need to, even though they are a treat for the eyes. Despite its length, The Great Ziegfeld is able to move at a steady enough pace to keep it from dragging along. Although Ziegfeld and Held can be unlikable characters, there's plenty of music and dancing to feast your eyes on. A watch of The Great Ziegfeld is something you may not end up regretting when all is said and done.
Recommend? Yes, if you have the time to set aside
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: