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Damn Good for a Film Biography of a Theatrical Giant
theowinthrop12 November 2007
Warning: Spoilers
I suspect that had Dashiell Hammett never written a successful comic pot boiler detective story called THE THIN MAN, William Powell's best remembered role would be as Florenz Ziegfeld in THE GREAT ZIEGFELD. Here he captured that brilliant showman's vision and drive with just the right degree of sophistication. I can't think of few others - maybe Robert Montgomery, but I sadly doubt it (he seems too young) - who could have done as first rate a job.

It is really rare for a theatrical presence to maintain himself or herself decades or centuries after their death. Prior to the invention of motion pictures it was impossible (except for the late 19th Century crowd, starting with Edwin Booth, Sir Henry Irving, and Ellen Terry - they had some phonograph recordings) for actors to preserve their personas. Photo stills helped but did not leave much. Occasionally one would "accomplish" something for good or ill that people would recall (i.e., John Wilkes Booth), but that was a rarity. Movies changed that by allowing the audience to stretch from the contemporaries to the future ones. There are actual movies of Flo Ziegfeld at work on Broadway. Unfortunately he did not look like Bill Powell (Flo was somewhat fat), but those surviving newsreels showed his energy with his casts and productions. Powell got that side of him right.

THE GREAT ZIEGFELD traces the showman from his start as the publicity manager of Eugene Sandow (Nat Pendleton) from the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 to his rise as a major Broadway impresario from 1900 until 1930. Only the Great Depression destroyed Ziegfeld's career (he lost most of his fortune in the crash). Significantly his fall is showed by the lights of his four currently big shows (including SHOWBOAT, RIO RITA, and THE THREE MUSKETEERS) all fading out one after another. It not only destroyed his career, but it helped kill the poor fellow (he died in 1932). But by that point his historical reputation was established by his series of spectacular Broadway "Follies" shows with the likes of Ed Wynn, Fanny Brice, W.C.Fields, Will Rogers, Bert Williams, Walter Catlett, Leon Erroll as the comic leads, and music by such composers as Jerome Kern, Victor Herbert, Irving Berlin, and even the Gershwins. But better was Ziegfeld's use of women - his "Glorifying the American Girl" reviews did precisely that, affecting taste in theater spectacles and taste in what beauty in women should be.

He had his rivals as pointed out in other reviews here. Among them were the Shuberts, possibly the most successful in the long run (but only because there were several of them, and they did not go bankrupt). Earl Carroll did produce his "Vanities", and George White did do the "Scandals", but in retrospect (for all the talent they brought to their shows) these were pale imitations. In Carroll's case he skirted the level of decency by suggesting his chorus girls were naked in some of the sketches. Ziegfeld was no saint but he knew what was acceptable behavior in theatrical production on stage.

This film had a good cast. Besides Powell, the women in his life (Anna Held, his chorus girl girlfriend, and Billie Burke) are played well by Louise Rainer, Virginia Bruce, and Powell's movie "wife" Myrna Loy. Rainer (as the betrayed Anna) got her first "Oscar" for this role, most likely for the emotional "telephone" scene. Her part is actually a substantial one, but due to the size of this film it has always been seen as a short supporting bit. This is a trifle unfair. Virginia Bruce brings a nice calculating eye to her performance, undermining the Ziegfeld - Held relationship, but slowly losing the showman due to her increasing alcoholism. Loy was really lucky. Once she got the role she contacted the living and active Billie Burke and had discussions about how to accurately portray the second Mrs. Ziegfeld. She wisely does not try to imitate Billie's familiar syrupy upper register voice.

Frank Morgan appears as a friendly rival or Ziegfeld's, both in business and in the boudoir. One likes him as one usually likes Morgan's comic characters. My favorite performance is that of Fanny Brice playing herself. The film was made the year after the death of Will Rogers so that he was not around (he possibly could have been borrowed). Fields was out - Ziegfeld had had plenty of trouble with that curmudgeon on Broadway, and MGM probably knew that Fields would have demanded equal billing to Powell. Wynn was mostly still on Broadway. One does wish Catlett and Erroll might have been used. But we have Fanny in her glory, culminating in her singing her most famous number - "My Man". That alone is worth watching the film for. As for the showcase production number on the spiraling tower, it is quite impressive (I doubt if Ziegfeld could have put it on the stage of his New Amsterdam Theater), but I agree that the dubbing of Dennis Morgan's voice by Allan Jones is totally inexplicable to this day.
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What A Lovable Dinosaur
Lechuguilla13 February 2005
Like some huge, lumbering, Paleozoic beast with a heart, nothing like this film has existed in a long time. And I doubt that there will be anything like it again. "The Great Ziegfeld" is a grandiose, three hour, B&W cinematic opus that chronicles the true story (more or less) of the professional life of legendary producer/showman "Flo" Ziegfeld, played convincingly by William Powell. It is an interesting, lovable film because it is so historically ... quaint.

Structurally, the narrative takes a chronological approach. However, except for the film's starting year of 1893 and the ending soon after the 1929 stock market crash, no dates are given, a shortsighted flaw in the screenplay. But during this roughly forty-year period we see Ziggy's ambition unfurl into a successful career of producing some of the most extravagant musical shows in history. And throughout, the theme remains the same: to "glorify the American girl", that is to say to glorify the early twentieth century stereotyped image of the American girl.

Despite his success as a showman, Ziggy was constantly plagued with financial problems, and embroiled in relations with women, the two most important being: the humorously indecisive Anna Held, and the lovely Billie Burke.

More interesting to me than the biography is the lavish, grandiose production numbers. In the most grandiose of all, Dennis Morgan sings "A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody", as the camera ascends a slowly revolving spiral staircase adorned with "Ziegfeld girls" in outlandish costumes. The set, resembling a wedding cake, is about as tall as it is wide, with the stage curtain rising to what seems like stratospheric heights.

The film's strengths are its humorous script, the dazzling sets, the glamorous costumes, the music, a cameo appearance by Fanny Brice, and a great tap dance routine by Ray Bolger. My main complaint is the film's length. Also, I find it curious that this big budget beast with its theme of wealth and beauty came out right in the middle of the Great Depression. MGM must have been on a colossal ego trip.

Overall, "The Great Ziegfeld" is fun, and definitely worth watching, especially as a time capsule to an entertainment era that is gone forever.
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Ziegfeld: The Collossal Showman
lugonian31 December 2002
THE GREAT ZIEGFELD (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1936), directed by Robert Z. Leonard, and choreography by Seymour Felix, stars William Powell as the legendary Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. (1869-1932), in a fact-and-fiction musical biography that can be summed up from its opening credits, "suggested by romances and events." From the very start, with its very impressive theatrical lighted title credits lasting over two minutes, one would expect this to be a lavish scale production, and it is. So lavish that it leaves the impression the initials of MGM actually stands for Mighty Grand Musical, considering its great length of three solid hours (180 minutes), or two movies for the price of one. What an impression THE GREAT ZIEGFELD must have made in 1936, becoming an Academy Award as Best Picture for that year. Since the Ziegfeld name was still in recent memory, it assured box office appeal. The name of Anna Held (1873-1918) might be one for the history books. Because of Luise Rainer's carnation of this popular actress whose fame was the early part of the twentieth century, the Held name is most associated with Rainer than as the first Mrs. Ziegfeld.

The plot traces the career of Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. (William Powell), starting as a carnival barker at the 1893 Chicago Fair, his discovery and exploitation of Sandow, the Strong Man (Nat Pendleton); his departing for Europe where he competes with his best friend and rival, Jack Billings (Frank Morgan), for not only obtaining the services of his servant, Sidney (Ernest Cossart), but beating him to the punch by signing a popular French actress named Anna Held (Luise Rainer), to a performing contract with him back in America. To be sure he wouldn't lose his prize star, Ziegfeld marries her. During their somewhat stormy marriage, Florenz Ziegfeld stages extravagant shows that makes him world famous. Constantly surrounded by gorgeous show girls, Ziegfeld has his share of problems, especially with Audrey Dane (Virginia Bruce), a temperamental showgirl responsible for his divorce from Anna. Ziegfeld later meets and later marries Billie Burke (Myrna Loy), an accomplished actress in her own right, who not only bears his a daughter, Patricia (Jean Holland), but stands by him during his theatrical downfall and setback after the 1929 Stock Market Crash.

On the musical program combining old and (new songs by Walter Donaldson and Harold Adamson), features: "I Wish You'd Come and Play With Me," and "It's Delightful to Be Married" (both sung by Luise Rainer); "If You Knew Susie" (sung by Buddy Doyle imitating Eddie Cantor in black-face); "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody" by Irving Berlin (sung by Dennis Morgan/voice dubbed by Allan Jones); "You Gotta Pull Strings" (sung by chorus girls); "She's a Follies Girl" (sung and danced by Ray Bolger); "You" (sung by chorus); "You Never Looked So Beautiful Before" (sung by Virginia Bruce/chorus); "Yiddle in the Fiddle" by Irving Berlin; "Queen of the Jungle" and "My Man" by Channing Pollack and Maurice Yvaine (all sung by Fannie Brice); "Look For the Silver Lining" by Jerome Kern; and "A Circus Must Be Different in a Ziegfeld Show" (sung by chorus, performed by Harriet Hoctor), Montage score to Broadway shows: RIO RITA, WHOOPEE, THE THREE MUSKETEERS and SHOW BOAT (briefly playing "Ol Man River" on the soundtrack). "A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody," an authentically reproduced eight minute musical segment is certainly the film's true highpoint.

The "granddaddy of all Hollywood's musical biographies, THE GREAT ZIEGFELD is a very impressive film with an impressive cast. While consisting of Ziegfeld headliners as Fannie Brice, Ray Bolger and Harriet Hoctor appearing as themselves, it also features A.A. Trimble and Buddy Doyle authentically duplicating Will Rogers and Eddie Cantor at best. This doesn't go without some regrets by not having the likes of W.C. Fields or Marilyn Miller recreating what they did best under Ziegfeld. Another letdown is having Fanny Brice singing her signature torch song, "My Man," in incomplete form while the story moves to another scene. Rainer's role of Anna Held did win her an Academy Award as Best Actress for her performance based of her famous "telephone scene" congratulating ex-husband on his marriage to Billie Burke as she holds in her true emotions. While Billie Burke (1885-1970), then currently a well known film actress, could very well have portrayed herself Myrna Loy steps in for box office appeal. Frank Morgan, the fictional Billings, gives a performance worthy for Best Supporting Actor category while William Powell, the main focus from start to finish, was strangely overlooked by the academy.

In 1978, there was another tribute to Florenz Ziegfeld, a TV movie titled ZIEGFELD: THE MAN AND HIS WOMEN, starring Paul Shenar as Ziggy, but it failed to live up to the expectations to the 1936 original. At 156 minutes, it seemed longer than the original. Unlike the Powell version, the 1978 bio-pic is pretty much forgotten.

Unlike similar musical biographies of this nature made popular in the 1940s, THE GREAT ZIEGFELD captures the spirit of its time frame, with costumes and women's hairstyles being historically accurate. A movie at this extreme length tends to have its slow spots, which it does, but overall, a large scale production that only MGM can recreate.

Distributed to home video by MGM/UA in the late 1980s, the roadshow version consisting of entrée and closing music, deleted scenes and intermission title has been inserted into the 2005 DVD release. THE GREAT ZIEGFELD can also be found on Turner Classic Movies, especially during its annual "Thirty Days of Oscar." (****)
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A Bang for your bucks.
Bucs19606 December 2001
Boy, is this movie long......but worth it for the most part. William Powell is, as usual, his urbane, sophisticated self in a romanticized portrayal of Florenz Ziegfeld. Myrna Loy,leaving behind her wisecracking Nora Charles persona, does a fair job as Billie Burke. Burke, whose movie career was based on dithering, silly women, was once a beauty who graced the Follies. Loy doesn't come across as either but she has never given a bad performance so she is believable. But Louise Rainer as Anna Held is the one to watch here. A beautiful doll-like creature, she enchants you with her performance. The famous telephone scene may be overrated somewhat but it worked for me....and obviously for the Academy...it garnered her an Oscar. The music is so wonderful and the "Pretty Girl is Like a Melody" with Dennis Morgan is eye candy. One glaring fault is that there is a very short sequence with the great Fanny Brice in which she is singing "My Man" ( probably one of the greatest torch songs of all times) and it is just cut-off in mid warble as the story goes on to another scene. An unforgivable sin!! There could have been a little less talk and a little more singing/dancing in the movie but since it is a biography and not primarily a musical, all, except for the Brice faux pas, is forgiven!
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Great Ziegfeld, Great Movie!
anthropo7 July 2001
Long but well worth hanging in there for. Luise Rainer gives an outstanding well-deserved Oscar winning performance as Anna Held. The first half of the movie which covers the period of Ziegfeld's marriage to Held is the better half of the movie. Great re-enactment of stage Follies productions. 9 out of 10.
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One of the Greatest Musicals Ever
jayraskin11 July 2011
Sometimes you see classic films and they disappoint. I had the opposite reaction here, it far exceeded my expectations.

I had seen "Ziegfield Follies" and I thought it was a great variety show, but nothing much more than what you could have seen on television in any week in 1963 when Bob Hope, Jack Benny, Red Skelton, Ed Sullivan, Jerry Lewis, Danny Kaye, Jackie Gleason and Judy Garland all had weekly variety shows.

I was expecting "The Great Ziegfeld" to be on the same level. It is not. The staged musical numbers are as spectacular as anything Busby Berkeley ever did and it is an absorbing biographical story with many excellent performances.

The movie has a great deal in common with "Wizard of Oz." Frank Morgan, who played the Wizard" plays Ziegfeld's rival and friend "Billings" with the same warmth he put into the Wizard character. Ray Bolger who played the "Scarecrow" does an incredible Scarecrowesque dance number. We have Myrna Loy doing a nice turn as "Billie Burke" who played "Glenda the Good Witch." It would have been nicer to have had the real Billie playing herself, but she apparently did a lot of behind the scenes work to insure that Ziegfeld (her late husband) was treated well in the bio. The art director Cedric Gibbons and costume designer Adrian Greenberg also did Wizard of Oz.

It is delightful seeing Fanny Brice in a small ten minute part. Virginia Bruce does a surprisingly good mean-girl gold-digger role. William Powell plays Ziegfeld with a charming light humorous touch.

However actor honors has to go to the amazing Louise Rainer, who won the Academy Award for her performance as Anna Held, Ziegfeld's French common-law wife. It is a performance that looks back to the expressionist performances of German cinema and looks forward to the naturalistic method acting performances of the 1950's. This performance is a link. Despite it only being a relatively small part of about 25 minutes, she did deserve the Academy Award for it. (Incidentally, Ms. Rainer turned 101 this year.)

Each of the dance numbers are fanciful and extravagant, capturing hopefully the actual stagings of Zeigfeld's shows. At least they seemed authentic to me. There is one number "Pretty Girl" that is done in one take and involves a revolving stage for about 10 minutes. Apparently, it cost $200,000 and took months to film. It is one of the great shots-dance numbers in cinematic history. It has an hypnotic effect.

To sum up, a witty, intelligent script, great art direction, great costumes, a dozen excellent dance numbers with one fantastic one and half a dozen fine performances and one amazing one.

The Great Ziegfeld is great and a must see for any real film buff. I would put it in the top ten of all time film musicals and right next to "Yankee Doodle Dandy," "Golddiggers of 1933" and "SwingTime" as the best of the golden age of Hollywood.
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Jeez Luise
marcslope17 December 2002
Before anybody goes on for one minute more about how brilliant Luise Rainer is as Anna Held, let's remember that she took the Oscar from Garbo's Camille. I mean, come on. Rainer is pretty and her instincts are right, and her famous "telephone scene" expertly employs the old smiling-through-tears device. But it's hardly as challenging a role as Marguerite, and Rainer's undeniable Continental charm can go only so far.

The movie itself is a corker. William Anthony McGuire's screenplay is far above average for this musical-biography genre; it's full of smart wisecracks, and while it heavily fictionalizes Ziegfeld's life and persona (it makes him much more suave and irresistible than he was), it gets the big things right: his invention of the big musical revue, his obsession with glorifying the American girl, his unparalleled showmanship and eye for talent.

Speaking of talent, you get a full, uninterrupted, great Ray Bolger number, several clever and lavish production numbers, and a snippet of Fanny Brice (but cutting away from her "My Man" is unforgivable). The actors playing Eddie Cantor and Will Rogers are amusingly terrible. And Virginia Bruce is memorably nasty as a temperamental showgirl.

The Academy named this Best Picture of 1936. And you know, it probably was.
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Amazing Film
drednm23 February 2008
William Powell stars as Florenz Ziegfeld in his "biography" of the great Broadway producer. This is a lush and long film filled with great scenes and a few that are too long. Clocking in at about 3 hours, THE GREAT ZIEGFELD is one of MGM's biggest attempts at creating a blockbuster musical, and it won the Oscar for best film.

Powell is, as always, terrific. Oddly he did not receive an Oscar nomination for this film but did get one the same year for MY MAN GODFREY. Luise Rainer won the best actress Oscar for her performance as Anna Held. Myrna Loy plays Billie Burke. The great Fanny Brice appears as herself and just about steals the show until they stupidly and abruptly cut away from her as she starts singing "My Man." She doesn't show up again.

Ray Bolger gets a whole number to himself. And Dennis Morgan fronts the mammoth "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody" number (although it's the voice of Allan Jones), which ranks among the great production numbers of the era. The camera slowly pans up a seemingly endless spiral staircase filled with pretty girls as draperies are raised to expose more and more staircase. Then we finally reach the top with Virginia Bruce posed there. It's a giddy and spectacular sequence.

The ballet sequence featuring Harriet Hoctor is rather a bore. I'd rather have seen more of Fanny Brice. Brice is hilarious in the dressing-room with blonde Esther Muir. Powell and Rainer are really excellent in this film. Notable co-stars include Frank Morgan, Joseph Cawthorn, Herman Bing, Marcelle Corday, Nat Pendleton, Grace Hayle, Ernest Cossart, William Demarest, and Reginald Owen.

And while Brice appears as herself the Will Rogers and Eddie Cantor appearances are fakes. Virginia Bruce plays a character based on Lillian Lorraine, and Rosina Lawrence plays Marilyn Miller (here named Sally Manners).

An excellent film in the old style and worth the 3 hours it takes to watch it. Ziegfeld was a great showman and he deserved this fabulous tribute. He died in 1932, having given the world a number of major stars and great shows.
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Interesting & Generally Entertaining, Though Sometimes Overblown
Snow Leopard15 January 2003
Like its subject, this movie is interesting and generally entertaining, but often overblown. It's well worth seeing, although it could also have been whittled down by a good portion of its running time without losing anything important. It does present a believable and entertaining look at Ziegfeld's shows and personality, along with some good scenes and some good performances that keep it going.

William Powell was a pretty good choice to play Ziegfeld, since he has the knack of making a character eccentric and distinctive without having it come across as too forced or unnatural. And Myrna Loy is always a charming co-star, for Powell or anyone else. Yet it is Luise Rainer who delivers by far the most memorable performance - she makes her character temperamental but endearing, unpredictable but completely sympathetic. The best parts of the movie come when she is a big part of the action, and when her character slips into the background in the second half, the movie loses something. The rest of the large cast does get some good moments, and it's fun to see a couple of performers playing themselves, although some of them don't get nearly enough to do. The many production numbers contain some very good ones, but there are others that aren't worth the amount of time they were given, and that could have been cut down considerably without losing anything.

You can see why this impressed a lot of viewers in its time, and it's still pretty good entertainment. It could have been better, though, with a little more restraint. But then, its excesses are rather in keeping with its subject, and at any rate they don't keep it from being worth seeing.
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I loved it
miltonb125 April 2004
This is one of the best Hollywood bios I've ever seen. The pacing is fast for a movie from 1936 and William Powell and especially Louise Rainer are fantastic. Filmed in one take, the "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody" musical number is incredible. One also gets to see Fanny Brice in a rare film appearance, and if you remember Barbara Streisand in Funny Girl you'll see how close Streisand got to perfectly imitating Brice. Also, Ray Bolger does an incredible dance routine which shows off his talent to greater effect then his performance as the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz. He's unbelievable. My only complaint, and this is about the DVD, is that Warner should have made the effort of restoring this amazing picture. Most of it looks pretty good but there are many sections with scratches and speckles.
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Stairway to the stars
jotix1004 September 2004
This film was shown on TCM recently, in the DVD format, since it has an overture and a few minutes of "exit music". The copy was excellent, as it has been greatly restored as it looks extremely smooth to the eye.

Florenz Ziegfield was one of the most brilliant producers of this country at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. He had an eye for what worked on a stage. He was also the discoverer of a lot of the talent that went to have enormous careers of their own, long after they appeared in one of Mr. Ziegfeld's extravaganzas.

Robert Z. Leonard in directing this film had a lot of contributors, no doubt, but it's probably Adrian, the costume designer par excellence that gave this movie a lot of class by recreating for the screen some of the costumes that were associated with Ziegfeld.

William Powell portrays the great Ziegfeld. Mr. Powell is amazing in his interpretation of the creative man on the screen. He is this man he is playing on the screen; he is totally convincing he was born to play the role.

Actually the film leaves a lot of things unexplained. We know that Anna Held is out of the picture, after her divorce, but nothing is mentioned that she had died at all. Also, the relationship with his second wife, Billie Burke, comes as an afterthought since she only appears in the last part of the movie.

Luise Ranier made a compelling Anna Held, the French actress, who obviously never understood her husband, even though it's clear she loved him. She appears as a complete insecure person, never knowing what to do, or what to decide on. As far as the Oscar she won for playing this role, it eludes my comprehension, or maybe that year her competition must have been poor.

Myrna Loy as Billie Burke gives a radiant performance. She was always a convincing actress and in the film she demonstrates her versatility in playing a musical comedy star. The young Myrna Loy was a gorgeous creature, as proven in this film.

The costumes from some of the musical numbers are incredible. Of course, they were made to suit the theatricality of whatever Mr. Ziegfeld presented. Such extravagant numbers will never be presented on a Broadway stage ever again as the cost would be prohibitive.

Virginia Bruce, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Fanny Brice appear in the film, but of course, the picture is dominated by William Powell from beginning to end.
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"I'm the funniest kind of a fellow. I love ALL the girls."
utgard1415 November 2015
MGM's epic biopic of theatrical producer Florenz Ziegfeld, starring William Powell in the title role. As with most Hollywood biopics, liberties are taken with the facts. Since this was made in the Golden Age of Hollywood, the intention is to portray Mr. Ziegfeld in the best possible light. If it were made today, the opposite would be true and all his faults would be emphasized (probably to the point of slander). I'll leave it to you to decide which is the better approach. Anyway, the movie covers Ziegfeld's rise as a Barnum-esque showman to becoming one of Broadway's most successful producers with his Ziegfeld Follies show. Along the way he attracts many women and marries two of them (Luise Rainer, Myrna Loy).

It's a spectacle made in the grand Old Hollywood fashion, heavy on melodrama and lavish musical numbers. Powell is fine in the lead. I have no idea how closely he "gets" Ziegfeld here, as he seems very much like William Powell's usual screen persona to me. He would reprise his role as Ziegfeld a decade later in 1946's Ziegfeld Follies (also from MGM). Luise Rainer is terrific in her Oscar-winning role as Ziegfeld's first wife, Anna. Myrna Loy is a little miscast as Billie Burke but it's hard to argue against any opportunity to see Powell and Loy on screen together. The rest of the cast includes solid supporting players Frank Morgan, Virginia Bruce, Ray Bolger, Reginald Owen, and Nat Pendleton. A. A. Trimble does a spot-on impersonation of Will Rogers.

It is a bit overlong. The first half could have done with some trimming. Still, a fine cast keeps things interesting and those musical numbers are dynamite. Dennis Morgan's "A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody" number is one of the highlights. The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards with three wins, including Best Picture and Best Actress for Rainer. Its award wins are the subject of debate for some today, who argue it is one of the least-deserving Best Picture winners. That's kind of laughable when you think about it, as the Best Picture Oscar rarely goes to the most deserving film. That was true then and is even more true today, in my opinion. It's definitely something you'll want to try out if you are a fan of classic Hollywood and all its glitz and glamour. They don't make 'em like this anymore.
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Incredibly well made and entertaining, not without its flaws but well worth the look
TheLittleSongbird30 March 2015
Knowing several people, on and outside of IMDb, who consider The Great Ziegfeld one of the weakest Best Picture winners, that didn't stop me from seeing it anyway. To me though, while it's not flawless and not the best film of the year it was still incredibly well-made and entertaining stuff and from personal view it is nowhere near one of the worst Best Picture winners.

The Great Ziegfeld agreed is overlong with a draggy and at times uneventful first half and half an hour could easily have been trimmed. And more could have done with the relationship between Ziegfeld and Billie Burke which appeared late in the film and didn't feel developed enough, almost like an afterthought.

However, The Great Ziegfeld is very lavishly mounted, with photography that's both beautiful and clever, sumptuous costume design and some of the most handsomely gorgeous sets of any 30s musical. Other pleasures are the marvellous and very well-staged(without being too overblown) songs with A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody being an absolute show-stopper, a script peppered with humour and heart and the mostly poignant story. Standout scenes were Fanny Brice's charming My Man, Ray Bolger's witty dancing to My Follies Girl, Luise Rainer's heart-breaking telephone(justifiably famous) and especially A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody with its clever photography and perhaps one of the best uses of a staircase in a film. The direction is adept and the performances are great, with William Powell suave personified and especially Luise Rainer who is the epitome of charm and grace, capable of a good range of emotions as seen in the telephone scene. Fanny Brice, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger are all memorable, while Myrna Loy is underused she's hardly wasted either.

Overall, a well-made, entertaining and very good film and well worth the look. 8/10 Bethany Cox
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The Man's Contribution To The American Musical Theater Is Legendary
bkoganbing12 November 2007
Until Gone With The Wind, The Great Ziegfeld was MGM's biggest production and it seems fitting that such a large scale musical was put together to tell the life of its title character. It's a very sanitized version of Florenz Ziegfeld's life. One has to remember however that his widow, Billie Burke, was very much alive and active in Hollywood and controlling the rights to his name good or bad.

In William Powell an actor charming enough was certainly found for the lead. Ziegfeld had to be that, how else could he have gotten so many beautiful to star in his shows and into the sack. His was the original casting couch of Broadway, imitated on a grand scale in Hollywood.

Yet the man's contribution to the American musical theater is legendary. Others like Earl Carroll, George White, the brothers Shubert, all tried to imitate his Ziegfeld Follies, none really quite captured the touch. Though there are a diminishing group of people who have seen the stars he created, the names of Bert Williams, Eddie Cantor, Will Rogers, W.C. Fields, and Fanny Brice are still known to us all. In Fanny we get the genuine article in this film and fans of Barbra Streisand can judge for themselves how effective Barbra's portrayal of Fanny Brice was in Funny Girl and Funny Lady.

One star who is missing is Marilyn Miller. Sad to say she was to die the year that The Great Ziegfeld came out. Her life is somewhat suggested by the part that Virginia Bruce had. She also had a very sanitized film about her life in Look for the Silver Lining.

Though you wouldn't know it as the script was oh so careful, Florenz Ziegfeld and Anna Held were not legally married. Luise Rainer got her first Academy Award for playing Anna Held. That telephone scene is a classic, still studied by players for those who have to do a long soliloquy. Note how she uses the phone receiver as a prop.

Myrna Loy had a most difficult part in playing Billie Burke and it was something not to be envied as Billie was a notable character actress even before she was Glinda the Good Witch. I'm not quite sure she captured Burke, yet I doubt Billie was that silly in real life.

Besides Luise Rainer's Oscar, The Great Ziegfeld won Oscars for Dance Direction when there were enough musicals being made to warrant such a category and it was The Best Picture of 1936. That A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody number was as good as anything Busby Berkeley was doing over at Warner Brothers.

And that number gives you some idea of the scope and glamor of the Ziegfeld Follies. Ziggy would have approved.
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"Needs more steps"
Steffi_P14 March 2012
It's hard to think of today, what with the theatre being a highbrow and typically minimalist medium, but back in the days before movies became big business, stage productions often presented the public with phenomenal displays of grandeur. In the early years of the twentieth century, Florenz Ziegfeld was a theatrical showman who had Busby Berkely's worship of feminine beauty and Cecil B. DeMille's sense of scale. He was creating Hollywood-style extravagance back when Hollywood was just a patch of scrubland.

Fast-forward to 1936, a couple of years after Ziegfeld's death, and cinema still bears his mark. Musicals (which were still often based around stage performances) were often showcases for a variety of dancing and singing talents, usually building to a spectacular finale. The Great Ziegfeld is more than just a biopic, it is the culmination of this strand in cinema; the first epic musical. Here we see the 30's musical's shimmering sets and full-on dance routines on a scale never before seen on the screen. Robert Z. Leonard directs with his usual sweeping camera moves, often slowly pulling back to reveal the size of the production. But he also lets his camera get deeply involved in the more dramatic scenes.

Apart from the various song-and-dance people involved, the casting here is very much a Hollywood affair. William Powell was then the go-to man for such smart and witty types. He and Myrna Loy were well-known as a screen couple, from The Thin Man pictures amongst others. They both give adequate portrayals, but in truth these two need a smaller, more intimate production to shine in their own right. The performance that best fits the size of The Great Ziegfeld is that of Luise Rainer. Melodramatic, full of presence, she seems always on the verge of breaking down into some farcical display of ham acting, but never quite does so. It's not a realistic performance by any stretch, but it is beautiful in its theatricality.

Ziegfeld's influence would live on in musical cinema for many years after his death. The Great Ziegfeld was just the first in a series of pictures tipping their hat to the producer. Meanwhile, many of the stars made famous by Ziegfeld – Billie Burke, Eddie Cantor, Will Rogers, Ray Bolger – were finding fruitful careers on the silver screen. It was, after all, the way of the future. You see, it wasn't just the depression that finished Ziegfeld. Even if he had lived, cinema would have provided him with too much competition to continue with his follies, especially with the advent of sound. But this is beside the point. If The Great Ziegfeld shows anything, it is that the spirit of showmanship that he championed could live on, if not in one medium then in another.
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The Grating Ziegfeld
ChorusGirl18 January 2011
William Anthony McGuire holds the honor of writing two of the most boring musicals ever made: this and ROSALIE. Better to be remembered for something, I suppose, than nothing at all.

Florenz Ziegfeld, as written, is just a dullard (no doubt due to wife Billie Burke's influence on the film)...neither a driven Svengali nor a charming, devilish rogue (I suspect the real guy may have been both)...he's just a spendthrift with an ear for publicity and a love of drapes. Endless bills and searches for financial backing are not the stuff of a great musical.

Here is some fascinating sabotage to ponder: Some scenes go on for a hundred million years (the milk bath saga), while dramatic arcs vanish to the sidelines in minutes (the dalliance with Virginia Bruce, the stardom of "Sally Manners"--I guess she is supposed to represent Marilyn Miller?, or the little girl from his past). The best scene in the film is Ziegfeld's handling of Fanny Brice, and then...sigh...she starts to perform and we cut away to some office meeting and that's that. Multiply that times 3 hours.

Powell was never so at sea. He doesn't have the leering eyes to make up for the sanitized role...maybe Fredric March would have better? Loy's part amounts to a guest appearance; it's nice, and she certainly does look like young Billie Burke. Frank Morgan chews the expensive scenery. It wasn't hard for Luise Rainer to steal the film.

Bonus points all around: costumes by Adrian (try to see them in an HD broadcast where the shimmering concoctions fairly leap off the screen); lovingly detailed set design overflowing with silk and orchids; and the dramatic, famous "A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody," where the camera jumps up out of the front row and swirls up a revolving white staircase--a thrilling moment of movie magic that leaves the rest of this brontosaurus in the dust.
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A marathon musical that will have you yawning for weeks.
fedor85 January 2007
Dull, dull, dull. Three hours of dreary dialog and often boring musical numbers. Some of the musical numbers are actually ten times better than the dialogue bits - that says it all. The first half is particularly dull. Too silly and absurd to be a credible bio (artistic license has been stretched here), and too unfunny to be a comedy. There isn't a single scene that could be considered funny nowadays (and maybe even back then, too). Powell lacks charisma, and certainly isn't someone who can carry a movie of this "size". Accepting him as a womanizer is difficult; I don't know what the actual Ziegfeld looked like, but Powell couldn't charm an alley dog with that face of his. He's gotta be the ugliest leading man of that era. Rainer is totally over-the-top and too animated; her one-note acting gets tedious very quickly. Only Myrna Loy shows charm and screen presence, but it's a good two hours before she even appears so she is in no position to save the movie. The film got a couple of Oscars. Yes, it's one of those...
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The Film's Calling Card Is Likely Its Only Real Weakness.
tfrizzell29 March 2004
Extravagent epic that lasts nearly three hours and has always been praised more for its lavish dance musical sequences (which are the biggest minuses of the film to me) than its truly engrossing story. Florenz Ziegfeld (William Powell) was struggling in the early-1890s as his circus stage shows were becoming stale and down-right dull. Fast-forward a few years and Ziegfeld is slowly beginning to create the Broadway we think about today. Loud and vibrant shows come about and with them come much success, loads of money and many beautiful women (including two wives, Oscar-winner Luise Rainer and a young Myrna Loy). Ziegfeld also discovers many who would become stars. Ray Bolger, Harriet Hoctor and Fanny Brice all play themselves and the ways they were originally discovered are given some air-time. The producer though does age terribly and seems out-of-place when not working on shows. The stock market crash of 1929 would be the fatal blow in the life of an intensely interesting man. "The Great Ziegfeld" is a Hollywood product all the way. Director Robert Z. Leonard (Oscar-nominated) almost destroys the movie with overkill. The production numbers are interminable with some going well over 10 or 12 minutes. The shows, which are large, colorful and happy, underplay a life that was somewhat sad in many ways. Ziegfeld was not good with money (many times having to borrow from people like Jack Billings, played by the memorable Frank Morgan) and was simply terrible when dealing with women. Ziegfeld did create the image of the "American girl", but in reality he knew little of the opposite sex and treated women as little more than play-things or property than actual human beings. "The Great Ziegfeld" is a film that has a scale that rivals later cinematic triumphs like "Gone With the Wind", but this is not necessarily a good thing as the interest wavers on several occasions here. Overall a good film and worth a look. Pay more attention to the story than the production numbers though. 4.5 out of 5 stars.
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The Good & The Bad Of 'The Great Ziegfield'
ccthemovieman-128 May 2006
I almost gave up on this three-hour film around the 45-minute mark because of Luise Ranier's shrill and annoying character, plus there hadn't been much in the way of music which is what I wanted in this film in the first lace.

However, after the first hour the story picks up considerably with the music numbers and some nice-looking and interesting women. I liked Myrna Loy playing Billie Burke. In fact, I like Loy a lot more than Burke in everything! This was my first look at Fanny Price, who reminded me of a comic Barbra Streisand with her looks and Brooklyn accent.

William Powell, playing Flo Ziegfeld, was, of course, the undisputed star of the film. He was terrific, too, start-to-finish. Powell had great screen presence and was a good choice for this role. Frank Morgan played his normal role with that stupid laugh of his, but he was good as Ziegfeld's generous friend. Another famous name of the day, Myrna Loy, gets good billing in here but not much of a role.

Some of the sets on the Ziegfeld Follies are amazing Busby Berkely-type extravaganzas that certainly mark the 1920s and '30s. The line, "They don't make 'em like that anymore" certainly rings true. It's also true they look corny today, but they're still fascinating to watch. If I was older and had lived through some of this time period, I would really feel nostalgic watching this film, sad for an era long gone.
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well-made flick that whitewashes the true Flo Ziegfeld
MartinHafer9 June 2005
Technically, this is a very well-made and slick movie. MGM certainly put a lot of energy into making this a top movie. However, the movie falls prey to what OFTEN happened with Hollywood bio-pics of the 1930s and 1940s--they don't let truth get into the way of a good story. The true story of Ziegfeld just doesn't come through in this picture--just a sanitized approximation of the man. This is alluded to somewhat in the movie, but the real life Ziegfeld was a rather selfish womanizer who left his poor wife with hardly a dime at his death. Billie Burke was the last Mrs. Ziegfeld and she returned to the stage due to these financial woes--hence, she probably never would have ended up in the Wizard of Oz or the Topper series if it wasn't out of necessity. It would have possibly been more interesting if the portrayal had focused on this aspect of him as well.
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MGM Lifts Its Weight in Oscar Voting
wes-connors3 March 2011
First impressions find William Powell (as Florenz "Ziggy" Ziegfeld Jr.) acting a little inebriated and a somewhat uncertain about his characterization; his "My Man Godfrey" (also 1936) performance is superior. Early on, co-star Frank Morgan (as Jack Billings) and Mr. Powell are reciting lines in the dark. They are more comfortable as the hours pass. The second half-hour introduces French-accented showgirl Luise Rainer (as Anna Held), who won an "Academy Award" as "Best Actress" for her supporting role...

Ms. Rainer occasionally adds some spark to the story, but her award for giving the best female performance of the year 1936 is arguable to the extreme. After an hour, dancer Ray Bolger takes the spotlight. Then, just before the intermission, watch for the extravagant "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody" production number; this is the film's highlight. After the hour and a half point, find Mr. Bolger's dance solo. Just around the two-hour mark, Fanny Brice appears, to sing a partial "My Man". Myrna Loy (as Billie Burke) finally arrives, also. Rainer's tearful telephone scene follows. MGM corralled their then majority vote at "Oscar" time.

***** The Great Ziegfeld (3/22/36) Robert Z. Leonard ~ William Powell, Luise Rainer, Myrna Loy, Ray Bolger
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How did this win for Best Picture?
richard-17879 February 2014
The nominees for the 1937 Best Picture Oscar included some of the greatest movies ever made: Dodsworth, A Tale of Two Cities, The Story of Louis Pasteur, and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. Libeled Lady, San Francisco, and Romeo and Juliet (with Norma Schearer) were unequal but often good as well. And yet, the winner of that year's Best Picture award was The Great Ziegfeld, an undistinguished melodrama. Yes, in the middle, when they reproduce a Ziegfeld show, there are some impressive staged numbers, of which the best is definitely "A Pretty Girl is like a Melody," which just keeps building and building. But the rest of this movie is a long and undistinguished melodrama. How did it win the Oscar? And how, oh how, did Louise Rainer get the Oscar for Best Actress??? That I truly do not understand. Her very artificial performance pales into obscurity against some of the other nominees, like Irene Dunne in "Theodora Goes Wild," or Carole Lombard in "My Man Godfey" - or Ruth Chatterton in "Dodsworth." If you can catch the musical numbers and skip the rest, you'll get the uneven best this movie has to offer, and miss what is largely not worth bothering with.
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A Splendid Dramatized Bioggraphy--a "Sense of Life" Portrait of Ziegfield
silverscreen88813 June 2005
This movie is a very fine work on many levels, despite its great length. It boasts some historic performances--Luise Rainer as Anna Held, Frank Morgan as Ziegfield's rival and friend, Nat Pendleton as Eugene Sandow, Billie Burke and others. Robert Z.Leonard presented many musical numbers in the film, as well as a variety of difficult scenes. As in "Pride and Prejudice", his unobtrusive camera work and skilled handling of actors pays big dividends. The most interesting aspect of the film's story I suggest is that it is that rarity in Hollywood--a "sense of life" picture. In such a work, the author presents the basic theme of the central character's life as a pursuit of positive value, which allows the character to make mistakes or lapses and still remain true through fundamental honesty, apology, reform, extra effort, etc. In this lavishly-staged and often epic B/W production, all elements contribute to a magnificent effect--huge staged numbers, large rooms, a sense of space and height. As Ziegfield, William Powell makes an unusual but very capable European-style US impresario. His ability to listen, to play comedy and drama and his mellifluous voice are great assets to the narrative. This movie may not be exact historical fact, but it is an exemplary dramatized and "cleaned-up" or heightened biography of the man who claimed truly he was "glorifying the American girl". Watch it again for the skilled dialogue of the opening World's Fair sequences, and the extraordinary climax and ending. Imagine--this film was made without many special effects at all; and its pace, difficult to maintain, is never allowed to falter. A beautiful, thoughtful and memorable film.
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"You Never Looked So Beautiful"
kijii27 December 2016
I first saw this 3-hour movie on the big screen in the late 70s, and was happy to see it on a large screen. It won three impressive Oscars in 1936: Best Picture, Best Actress (Luise Rainer), and Best Dance Direction. It was also nominated for three more Oscars: Best Director (Robert Z Leonard), Best Writing (Original Story), Best Art Direction, and Best Film Editing. Luise Rainer won her first of two consecutive Oscars here and was the first performer ever to do this: her second Oscar was for The Good Earth (1937).

Here, MGM paired William Powell with Myrna Loy in part of the 13 movies they made together in the 30s and 40s: Manhattan Melodrama (1934); The Thin Man (1934); Evelyn Prenice (1934); The Great Ziegfeld (1936); Libeled Lady (1936); After the Thin Man (1936); Double Wedding (1937); Another Thin Man (1939); I Love You Again (1940); Love Crazy (1941); Shadow of the Thin Man (1941); The Thin Man Goes Home (1945); and Song of the Thin Man (1947).

Although The Great Ziegfeld is only a fairly routine biopic of Flo Ziegfeld from the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 until his death in 1932, the movie is spectacular for his sets, decoration and starring cast, including appearances by some of his own stars: Fanny Brice, Harriet Hoctor, and Ray Bolger. One wonders why Eddie Cantor (played by Buddy Doyle) did not appear as himself in this movie. Will Rodgers (played by A.A. Trimble) had died in that small plane crash in 1935 before this movie was made.

To our great fortune, this movie was made fairly soon after Ziegfeld's death when there were people who could still remember the Ziegfeld Follies with their lavish stairs, songs, and above all, his beautiful girls!! This movie is in black and white, but one can get an idea of what it might have been like in color from watching Funny Girl (1968).

The movie opens with Flo Ziegfeld (William Powell) and his friend/rival Jack Billings (Frank Morgan) competing with each for attention to their respective attractions at the Chicago World's Fair of 1893. Ziegie's big attraction is Sandow the Strongman (Nat Pendleton) while Billings was a belly dancer, Little Egypt.

Later, while in Europe, Ziegfeld bests Billings out of signing the French singer Anna Held (Luise Rainer) to a contract and then marries her. Later, after starting the Follies and having trouble with one of its stars, Audrey Dane (Virginia Bruce), Anna oversees the troublesome Audry kissing Flo while drunk and mistakes her drunken kiss for a real kiss. Anna then files for divorce. Flo's second wife is Billie Burke (played by Myrna Loy) to whom he is married for the rest of his life. Zeigfeld goes on to produce and promote several shows and reviews on Broadway, often with other people's money.

Near the end of the movie, while overhearing four men in a barbershop saying that "Zeigfeld is all washed up," he promises to make four Broadway successes within a year and have them all playing at the same time. After making good on his bet, he hires private investigators to find the four original men and gives them all box ticket seats to all of his four plays. The four musical successes all played on Broadway at the same time—The Three Musketeers, Showboat, Rio Rita, and Whopee!
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Wonderful golden age glory, what dreams are made of
richspenc8 February 2016
Warning: Spoilers
"The great Ziegfeld" is a wonderful golden age film. It's 3 hours long, but that only bothers me if the film is not absolutely great, which this one is. This film was made in 1935 and it's based on the life of Florenz Zeigfeld. We see the story of his life from his beginnings at the 1893 Chicago fair to his falling days after the 1929 market crash. The Zeidfeld name got started with the Zeigfeld follies, which started in 1907 and ran annually until 1931. Zeigfeld also helped start the birth of the great musicals which began on stage at the very start of the 20th century and eventually led to the great musical films of the 30s and 40s. Ziegfeld's musical stage numbers were wonderful.

His beginnings at the 1893 fair, while constantly battling with his rival Jack Billings (how's business, Ziggy?), he discovered Sandow the strong man (I like how women would faint after feeling Sandow's muscles). His career took off from there. He then met Anna Held, who began performing for him. Zeidfeld and Anna had a love/hate relationship, the love part led to their marriage. The marriage turned stormy when Zeidfeld was always around his beautiful showgirls. Those showgirls were beautiful and their dance routines were wonderful with the spectacular sets, the girls's dazzling costumes, and the beautiful old time music. The shows also included the great Fanny Brice (Helga in "Everybody sing") and ol' rubber legged Ray Bolger (scarecrow in "Wizard of oz" and blacksmith in "Harvey girls", always showing his unique rubber legged dancing).

My very favorite part of the film was Dennis Morgan singing "A pretty girl is like a melody" while I see this enormous mountain spiral staircase with many beautiful girls in different gorgeous attires. This whole scene almost felt like looking into heaven. The beautiful spiral stairway, the beautiful angel-like girls, the dark stary background sky, the slow ascending movement up the stairway with the beautiful heavenly girls on them, the beautiful heavenly music, and the most glamorous angel girl on top. This scene was ethereal. Then add the fact that most of those people there are most likely dead now in 2016, which makes watching it seem even more like entering heaven, since those girls on the stairs really are angels in heaven now and no longer on this earth today. I'd like to believe that that stairway, or something like it, really is heaven right above us right now. My second favorite song and number was the beautiful song "you're really looking beautiful tonight" with some gorgeous, beautiful girls in some wonderful dresses. There's just something about girls and music from the 20s, 30s, and 40s. Something wonderful.

During the latter parts of Ziegfeld's life, he married Billy Burke (Myrna Loy). I'm not sure why Burke didn't play herself here, like Bulger and Brice. This film came out one year before both Burke and Brice starred together in "Everybody sing". Anyway, Loy was terrific with her emotions and her famous telephone scene with Anna Held. Anna's reactions were absolutely tearjerking. Amazing. The very latter parts of Ziegfeld's life are sad. He loses almost everything in the stock market crash. He became washed up, old, and there's a very poignant scene in a barber shop where Zeigfeld overhears the other men in there verbally bashing him, not knowing he's in there. In the last scene, Ziegfeld is sitting in his chair wishing, dreaming, wondering where it had all gone. We see pictures of beautiful Zeigfeld girls above his head. We're not sure if he's wishing the future, or picturing his past dreaming of what once was, and sadly would most likely never be again.
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