Friday, February 03, 2012

A Great Movie to Watch, to Discover: The Great Ziegfeld

24 Minute Review

It seems only fitting that MGM should have ended up the king of movie musicals, considering what a superlative job the studio did in 1936 at turning out a bio on the life of Broadway showman Florenz Ziegfeld.

Netlfix is so affordable, I've been watching about every old movie musical they've got, and a lot of them are a little trying when not singing or dancing. But this one! Did this one blow me away. Count among its many assets, a parade of great old vaudeville stars. Marvelous production numbers, good songs, amazingly well paced for a three hour epic -- I was skittish at the outset, what kind of a slog was I in for? The film moves remarkably well. Credit the tight and focused direction of Robert Z. Leonard, who avoids most of the corny cliches in which Hollywood tuners of the era wallowed. This movie offers an intelligent -- dare I say, even balanced -- account (said to be remarkably accurate for the most part) of Ziegfeld's flamboyant stage shows and his epic gambles, going from pennies to fortunes, up and down the neon ladders of Old Broadway.

Supporting stars? Ray Bolger's dance alone is worth your money and time. Has it got a helluva payoff, folks! Fanny Brice as herself. Will Rogers (though very little of what made him an icon), Eddie Cantor, and all those dazzling dames.

Top kudos must go to actor William Powell, perhaps turning in the best role of his career. And secondary cheers to the lovably self-amusing Frank Morgan as Ziegfeld's principal life-long rival, Jack Billings. In the end, the two, now down and broke, share a most tender moment of reminiscence.

The show's got humor and loads of entertainment, and a touching story of a man bewitched and bewildered by so many gorgeous and grasping hoofers on the make, finally settling for Billie Burke, played with intelligent understanding by an actress I may have never seen, Myrna Loy.

All I can say is, if you like the era, if you like movie musicals, it's worth your time.

Yes, you will find on Rotten Tomatoes as I did that it doesn't get much respect. Totally amazing to me, it is so refreshingly unlike the typical film show of the day -- meaning great song dances stuck together with laboriously long flat dialogue scenes. Here is the tale of a man who started out working for Buffalo Bill Cody. and ended up producing SHOWBOAT.

Which brings me to my only quibble. They give it scare attention in the end, deferring wisely to a few refrains of "Old Man River." I wish they had dramatized the making of this great musical by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, for which Ziegfeld deserves and still receives lasting respect and admiration. Showboat, totally atypical for the type of show he produced, is still by some regarded as the greatest of all American musicals, and is generally credited for bringing to fruition the "book show," in which songs actually and seriously advance significant character and plot developments.

The movie won three Academy Awards, including Best Picture of 1936.
Four solid stars from me. I'll watch it again -- and again.


Alan Cabal said...

It was Buffalo Bill Cody.

Wild Bill Hickok tried his hand at performing, but didn't really care much for it. He wound up getting shot in the back of the head in Deadwood. Buffalo Bill died in bed, kidney failure.

Anonymous said...

Okay David, you have sold me on this one. I have got to see it. I have loved musicals since I was a "wee sprout", and literally danced home down the street after seeing "Singing In The Rain" with my mom many years ago. I'm 70 years old, and would love to take dancing lessons again, as I did when I was very tap shoes are calling me! I have always loved Myrna Loy.

Kathy :-}