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DVD: Great Ziegfeld (1936)
Review Rating:   Good  
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1 (NTSC)

February 3, 2004



Genre: Musical / Biography  
Lavish biopic of legendary Broadway impresario Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr., and his rise as one of the top musical theatre producers, during the early 20th Century.  



Directed by:

Robert Z. Leonard
Screenplay by: William Anthony McGuire
Music by: various
Produced by: Hunt Stromberg

William Powell,  Myrna Loy,  Luise Rainer,  Frank Morgan,  Fannie Brice,  Virginia Bruce,  Reginald Owen,  Ray Bolger,  Ernest Cossart,  Joseph Cawthorn,  Nat Pendleton,  Harriet Hoctor

Film Length: 185 mins
Process/Ratio: 1.33 :1
Black & White
Anamorphic DVD: No
Languages:   English (Mono) / English,  French,  Spanish Subtitles
Special Features :  

Documentary: "Ziegfeld On Film" (13:23) / Vintage Movie Premiere Newsreel (4:03)

Comments :

“The Great Ziegfeld” won three Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Lead Actress Luise Rainer and Best Dance Direction.

Though long-form pictures had been pioneered by several prominent filmmakers during the silent era, the epic biography during sound's first decade on film was certainly refined into a viable commercial genre with “The Great Ziegfeld.” Reportedly costing $2 million and earning around $40 during its theatrical run, MGM's production remains a truly handsome film, with Ziegfeld's musical numbers – here depicted as masses of women (and token men) as part of a living set tapestry – still impressive in their visual flair.

“A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody" is the best of the lot, playing just before the Intermission, and as the featurette “Ziegfeld On Film” demonstrates, it was photographed in a single, arduously choreographed take. A slow-spinning Roman column with dancing, singing and parading artists, it's a show-stopper that unfurls with remarkable precision and audacity.

That sequence is also indicative of the film's rather odd but effective structure. Ziegfeld's early years with Sandow the Strongman, battling rival Jack Billings, and the courting of French beauty Anna Held (played by Luise Rainer) are classic screwball comedy, sporting often hysterical dialogue that's tailor-made for the ace casting of William Powell, Nat Pendleton, Frank Morgan (the fumbling, titular character in “The Wizard of Oz”), and Rainer.

For Ziegfeld's Broadway debuts, the film becomes a tribute, Hollywood style, to the producer's massive shows, with a billed appearance by Fannie Brice, and small roles for a pre-Scarecrow Ray Bolger, Edward Arnold (as Diamond Jim Brady), and interesting impersonations of Will Rogers, and Eddie Cantor (shown as the grotesque minstrel Kid Boots).

The final section is a more melodramatically tempered series of relationship episodes, as Ziegfeld moves on in age, finds happiness with wife Billy Burke (played by a more serious-minded Myrna Loy), and passes away in classic, Hollywood style.

Burke, herself by 1936 an MGM contract player (better known as Roland Young's fluttering wife in “Topper,” and as Glinda the Good Witch of the North in “The Wizard of Oz”), oversaw the production, and her daughter offers some anecdotes in the “Ziegfeld” featurette. Luise Rainer, the only actress to win back-to-back Oscars (for “Ziegfeld,” and “The Good Earth”) also appears, and rather awkwardly explains why she chose to leave her film career after only 9 films.

A short newsreel is also included, and while missing the sound for the opening premiere footage, the interview segments include several celebrities (most unidentified), plus a closing remark by a tuxedoed Harpo Marx.

Warner Bros. have included the original road show version, which contains the original orchestral Overture, Intermission, and Exit Music. The print itself has some rough spots around reel changes, but overall it's an excellent transfer, with a balanced mono soundtrack.

Followed by the babe-heavy 1941 sequel, "Ziegfeld Girl."


© 2004 Mark R. Hasan

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