on January 30, 2004
"The Great Ziegfeld" is a biographic film on Broadway impressario, Florenz Ziegfeld Jr., the man who "glorified the American girl". Determined to squeeze every last ounce of opulence from its coffers, MGM spared no expense in retelling what is essentially a melodrama with musical numbers tossed in for good effect.
Flo (William Powell)is a cheap carnival barker when he crosses paths with Anna Held (Luise Rainer). Their chemistry is instant and through her talent as an artist, fame comes to them both. However, all bliss is fleeting and their marriage ends when Flo takes up with a chorus girl. But he ditches her for sassy Billie Burke (Myrna Loy) and then proceeds to create a series of lavish spectacles that only MGM could afford to do justice to. The most spectacular of these remains "A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody"; a gargantuan revolving platform covered in dancers and art deco magificence.
Aside: Flo's second wife, Billie was a contract player at MGM during this time. Her best known role is as 'Glinda' the witch of the north in "The Wizard of Oz".
TRANSFER: Surprisingly smooth and very well balanced black levels and a good gray scale are the real selling features of this 3 hr. plus spectacle. Unfortunately an excess of age related dirt and scratches greet the viewer throughout the first hour of running time. However, things get cleaned up half way through for a really stunning transfer. Shadows and contrast levels are exemplary. The audio is clean, well balanced and quite simply, one of the best you are likely to encounter for a film of this vintage.
EXTRAS: A couple of featurettes that round out the history of the film - all too briefly.
BOTTOM LINE: Next to "Yankee Doodle Dandy" - another show folk bio with guts, "The Great Ziegfeld" is most readily recognized as one of the best! Add it to your film library!
on September 14, 2005
Covering forty years of a man's life from 1893 until 1932 in a hugely engrossing 184 minutes of screen time (plus intermission), THE GREAT ZIEGFELD (1936, MGM) is the summit of the so-called Golden Age of Hollywood, a "guilty pleasure" masterpiece, and a richly deserved Best Picture Oscar winner. Nothing could be more suitable for family viewing now, except for the length with working people and students who have to get to bed after homework. Maybe a Friday or Saturday night. The life story of Broadway showman Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr. (a wonderfully cast William Powell), the film opens at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair with a young Ziegfeld ("Flo") promoting a strong man named Sandow (Nat Pendleton). His main competition across the midway is Billings (Frank Morgan) with a dancing girl named Little Egypt. Billings and Flo will become lifetime friends from this beginning.
Around the 45 minute mark of a slow first hour, undeserved Oscar winner Luise Rainer shows up as Gay 90s European singer Anna Held. (Rainer is very good in the supporting role, but no match for Best Actress competitors Greta Garbo in CAMILLE or Carole Lombard in MY MAN GODFREY.) Held's big number is "It's Delightful to be Married." Off-stage, she seemingly becomes Ziegfeld's first wife.
THE GREAT ZIEGFELD becomes absolutely spectacular in its second hour-and for a full hour. Dazzlingly choreographed back to back musical numbers include the Oscar-winning "A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody", "You Never Looked So Beautiful Before", and the mind-blowingly lavish "Wonderful You". Only one studio in Hollywood could have made this fabulously entertaining movie that keeps topping itself with musical numbers for half an hour on either side on a theatrical intermission. (Entr'acte and prologue music have been restored to the VHS tape version I am reviewing.) It is all enthralling and exhausting.
At the beginning of the third hour, second-billed Myrna Loy finally shows up as Billie Burke at a party and soon marries Flo. (This confuses me. The real Burke was still alive in 1936. She was the Good Witch three years later in THE WIZARD OF OZ. Why didn't she play herself here?) Billings is still around as a pleasant pest to borrow money for rival stage productions. For Barbra Streisand fans, the real Fanny Brice shows up for a few fun scenes. And Anna Held divorces Flo over seeming adultery with a vain showgirl named Audrey (Virginia Bruce). Then she has a telephone scene that is one of the most overrated scenes for me in Hollywood's history as she congratulates Flo on his marriage to Billie. (One undistinguished telephone scene, and she wins a Best Actress Oscar over Garbo and Lombard?!)
The last 45 minutes of THE GREAT ZIEGFELD has Harriet Hocter play herself for another opulent musical number, "A Circus Should Be Bigger in a Ziegfeld Show." A young lady from the film's first half hour, Sally, gets a show named after her. We are up to the 1920s, and Ziegfeld has four shows running on Broadway at the same time. (One, RIO RITA, he personally supervised the 1929 film of. It shows up now and then on Turner Classic Movies.) Billings and Flo both go broke in The Great Crash. The movie ends with the great showman's poignant death in 1932.
This MGM blockbuster, mammoth even by today's standards, was produced by Hunt Stromberg, directed by Robert Z. Leonard, and written by William Anthony McGuire. In 1936, William Powell appeared in not just this cinematic sparkler, but also AFTER THE THIN MAN (also with Loy), MY MAN GODFREY (Oscar nomination), and LIBELED LADY (again with Loy). It is a stupendous product of the Hollywood factory and star systems, and again it is about perfect for family viewing--complete with an intermission if you need to do its 184 minutes in two nights.
(Reviewed from restored roadshow VHS videocassette.)
on July 14, 2002
I can't quite remember how old I was when I first saw this film, I must of been 4 or 5, all I remember was I didn't attend school yet, but, "The Great Ziegfeld", was the ultimate movie of my childhood. It's what first put the thought of making films in my head. Recently I viewed the movie again, and it's still as charming and as wonderful as ever! Just about every momemnt of it brought enjoyment.
It's not hard to see why this movie won the best picture Oscar in 1936. The big sets, the lavish costumes, beautiful women, and the all-star cast headed by William Powell (whom sadly wasn't given a nomination for this film, but, was up that year anyway, for "My Man Godfrey")and including Myrna Loy (Whom has acted with Powell in "The Thin Man" in 1934, I think), Luise Rainer (Who won an Oscar for her role, she also won the following year for "The Good Earth"), Frank Morgan & Ray Bolger (Both probably best known for their roles in "The Wizard of Oz" Morgan - Oz, Bolger - The Scarecrow), Fanny Brice, and Virgina Bruce, are just a few of the famous face who appear in and out of this movie. One can only imagine, since I wasn't even born yet, what kind of reaction this film was received with when first released. I can only guess people were truly taken away with it. It really must of been something special to see this back then. This isn't really a great film. I enjoy it true, and I will continue to watch it again and again. But, this movie is just like the shows put on by Florenz Ziegfeld himself, an extravaganza! It "pretty" to watch. It's fun to go back in time and relive the past. To see what entertained people back then, but otherwise, this is not a "best picture" type of film. But, like I said, it's understandable as to why it won back then. People, I assume must of never seen a big, splashy movie like this before. And even in the modern world, I'm still amazed by it. Then again, I'm a bit bias towards these movies. I love films from the 30's and 40's. They're part of my childhood. Even though I'm 19.
"The Great Ziegfeld" tells the story of America's greatest showman, Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. (William Powell). We see him at the Chicago World Fair in the late 1890's. He's struggling with a "world's strongest man" act. His main competition is Jack Billings (Frank Morgan), who also happens to be a close friend. He has a "women's show" called "Little Egypt". We see Ziegfeld, then turn himself into a great showman. By playing the press. He creates stories to keep his talent in the papers, then he gets a break. It meets Anna Held (Luise Rainer, and I agree with everyone on here, her performance is a standout. It's truly unforgettable). Who he opens a lot of doors for and she for him. But, it's not untill he gets an idea to do a "women's show" "glorifying" the everyday women, "The Ziegfeld Follies", that he achieves his greatest success. I really don't want to spoil too much of the film for those who haven't seen to film yet, but, that was a brief description of the events that take place.
"The Great Ziegfeld" went on to earn 7 Oscar nominations, and won 3;"Best Picture", "Best Actress" & "Best Dance Direction". The film's highpoints for me include the big elegant dance number of "A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody" which goes into a medley including Puccini's Un Bel Di Verdremo, and closing with Gershwin's "Rhpasody In Blue". Then there's Ray Bolger's song and dance to "She's A Follies Girl". His dancing is really amazing and proves what type of talent he was. I also enjoyed seeing Buddy Dolye impersonate one of my favorites Eddie Canntor singing "If You Knew Susie". Seeing Fanny Brice sing "Yiddle On Your Fiddle" and "My Man" was also wonderful. There's a nice set piece when Vigina Bruce sings "You Never Looked So Beautiful" and hearing "You" put a smile on my face.
If you enjoy classic films, than this should please all filmbuffs. It's nice knowing, that while Hollywood can't make 'em like this anymore, I'm still able to revisit my childhood as long as we have these tapes.
Bottom-line: The ultimate movie of my childhood is one of the great early movie musicals of all time! Big and splashy it shows us what Hollywood was once like, and what it can never be like again. This is one to watch for it's "time capsule" purposes mostly.
on February 3, 2004
"The Great Ziegfeld" is a biographic film based on the life of Broadway impressario, Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. Brimming with stellar performances by William Powell, Myrna Loy and Luise Rainer (who walked off with the Best Actress Oscar)a wonderful score and mind-boggling production values, this is one heck of a good time for a night's entertainment!
TRANSFER: Unfortunately, Warner Brothers gives us a somewhat tired looking print of this classic film. Though the gray scale is generally well balanced, some of the picture appears to be out of focus while other portions are filled with excessive film grain. Dirt, age related artifacts and an incredible amount of scratches in some scenes really detract from the over all visual presentation. The audio is MONO and, as with the picture, is not adequate. During some of the songs the background hiss is excessive.
EXTRAS: A flimsy featurette that all too briefly attempts to "sum up" the film and the real life of one of the 20th century's greatest showman.
BOTTOM LINE: Because you are not likely to see this film revisited in a Deluxe Edition I am recommending to add it to your library. But it in no way stands up to Warner's previous DVD mastering efforts on "Now Voyager" or "Mildred Pierce".
on August 20, 2009
THE GREAT ZIEGFELD (1936)
What a spectacle this film is! I had seen clips of certain scenes before when watching bios on MGM or in things like THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT, but I finally sat down and watched it tonight and it was excellent. I'm not a huge fan of "musical" themed films. I'm downright picky actually. But the production in this film is really something to see.
It's not just mind boggling production and great music either, even though the film has plenty of great Irving Berlin music in it. There are some great performances by Powell as Florenz Ziegfeld, Luise Rainer as Anna Held, his first wife (common law wife in real life) and Myrna Loy as second wife Billie Burke. Frank Morgan is also fun in this as the longtime friend, competitor and financial backer of Powells "Ziegfeld". Powell is really good and I'd have to rate this as one of his best films.
The film is a fictionalized, glamorous account of Ziegfelds life. It shows Ziegfeld as a small time carnival barker and stage manager who rises to become the master showman of the Broadway stage. There are bits of historical accuracy thrown in such as Anna Helds "milk baths" that Ziegfeld publicized to great effect and which makes for a funny scene in the film between Powell and Rainer. It also shows the constant ups and downs of his financial situation and how he was wiped out in the stock market crash of 1929. But the real treat in this film is the outrageous spectacle of the production number that we see at the end of the first half of the film. It's one of the most amazing technical achievements in both production and camera work that I've seen.
The film won the Best Picture Oscar as well as Best Actress (Rainer) and Best Dance Direction. The real Billie Burke was a technical advisor on the film and for her efforts was rewarded by Louie B. Mayer with a seven year contract at MGM where she would go on to do some of her better known film roles like Wizard of Oz and Topper. Other fun performances worth mentioning are Fanny Brice and Ray Bolger playing themselves. The movie runs just over the three hour mark (this includes the overture and intermission music), but it is pretty fast paced and engrossing with really great visual eye candy. And just for laughs you can try to find former first lady Pat Nixon who plays one of the many uncredited "Ziegfeld Girls".
on October 30, 2005
What a great and wonderful film. Lately i've been in love with "Ziegfeld Girl" playing "You stepped out of a dream" and the Lana Turner sequence at the end over and over again. But this film "The Great Ziegfeld" is now my new favorite. I use to work at Radio City Music Hall under Leon Leninoff who designed all the stage shows production numbers in the earlier days. This film captures and reminds me so much of the old days at the "hall." If you love lavish production numbers, wonderful music, beautiful costumes then this film is for you. I can just imagine what it would have been like to be a Ziegfeld girl. The production number "A pretty girl is like a melody" was all shot in one take according to the extra that is on the DVD. Even if your not of that time (which i'm not) this movie is so great you can't help falling in love with it. It comes complete with Overture, Intermission, Entrance and Exit music. Unfortunetly this could never be filmed correctly today and there isn't the talent to create such a film anymore. So sit back and enjoy this one. You won't be sorry.
on January 28, 2014
What a great movie! I never realized how absolutely handsome William Powell was! It's a classic black and white, but I kept finding myself wondering what it looked like in color (as they were shooting it). Wonderful sets, music, dialogue and dancing. He was such a genius, too bad he couldn't reel in his compulsive spending.
Fair warning - it's a long movie, about 3 hours. Take advantage of the "Intermission" segment. :-)
on January 11, 2014
A period piece that is fun only if you're into such movies. It's corny as all get out, but it is what it is: a fictionalized biography of Flo Ziegfeld's life as a promoter and showman. I bought it primarily for the production musical numbers which are perfect examples that nothing succeeds like excess. Ziegfeld spared no expense—something his creditors apparently hounded him about trying to get him to pay his bills. Comments on his extremes are quickly followed by in-your-face examples—blatant foreshadowing with instant payoff, if you will. Relationships are very nearly all caricatures, and the scenery must have tasted very good for all the chewing it receives. Yet I enjoyed it—well, parts of it, and will look at those extravagant musical numbers repeatedly, though I'll never watch the entire movie. I recommend it only with a strong caveat. Consider yourself warned.
on January 12, 2006
This movie is great family entertainment. It keeps your attention the whole way through the picture. The stars include William Powell, Luise Rainer, Frank Morgan, Fannie Brice, Ray Bolger and others. The movie has comedy, drama, romance, it has it all. The production number at the end of the first half of the film is well done. It shows a large cake design that revolves slowly and on the top is seen a girl dressed as a queen with a sky of stars in the background. One stage number shows many balloons floating slowly towards the camera and behind them is one scene after another of beauty. Another number shows a line of dogs standing still while girls dance around them. Another great number shows couples living in fancy houses, but the scenery is on moving platforms, three of them, and each one moves at a different time. The couples are singing in this scene. Then is seen a large number of tapdancers dancing on these moving platforms. There is also a fashion show with girls wearing very costly gowns and large plumes on their heads. If you like MGM musicals, you should see this one. You wont be dissappointed. The movie centers around the life of Florenz Ziegfeld. When you watch this movie for the first time, you will want to watch it again and again.
on May 5, 2016
eat film and William is wonderful. I bought this for my daughter in law. She adores Powell and Loy. She loved the film. Powell never won an Academy Award which is a shame. He was soooo good. Maybe to good. But a treat and pleasure to watch...