Glorifying the American Girl (1929)
early Paramount talkie was a hopeless failure, ruined in part by
the limitations of primative sound film techniques. Although Ziegfeld is credited as producer,
his actual involvement was limited and it shows. We get fascinating appearances
by Eddie Cantor, Helen Morgan, New York's Mayor Jimmy Walker, Adolph Zukor and even
Ziegfeld himself. However, the story of a small town girl (played by
Mary Eaton) who comes to New York and rises to stardom in the Follies
is so dull that it rates as celluloid Sominex. Even the
Follies production numbers come across as feeble. Realizing they had a dud on their
hands, the studio heads delayed releasing this one for months. It was
panned when it came out in 1930, and is rarely shown today.
Marilyn Miller recreated her most popular stage performance
in this early sound film. Originally filmed in Technicolor, only black and white
prints survive with less than optimal picture quality. (A single surviving color
scene gives us some idea of what we are missing.) This film gives a limited sense
of Miller's stage presence. Although a limited actress and singer, she radiates star
quality when she dances.
Ever mindful of publicity, Ziegfeld appeared in several newsreels and short
subjects, either discussing the Follies or promoting one of his few films
projects. Some of these little treasures have show up on TCM, AMC or PBS. Ziegfeld
always appears stiff -- his "spontaneous remarks" are obviously scripted.
Broadway Melody (1929)
This was the first "all talking, all singing, all dancing" film, and the first
sound film let alone musical to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.
It is also one of the worst movies I have ever seen.
The mother of all MGM musicals, it involves two sisters
struggling in show biz who fall in love with the same guy. They all land in
"Mr. Zanfield's" newest Broadway revue, but the
clumsy numbers don't bear even a feint resemblance to anything Ziegfeld
would have presented. Some fun is generated by a flaming gay costume
designer who clashes with a bull dyke matron backstage and goes into ecstasies
over a fur piece. This film may be a historic landmark, but most of it is also a crashing
Eddie Cantor's stage vehicle made it to the big screen in
"glorious Technicolor" with several of the
original cast members intact, including Ethel Shutta (who would introduce
"Broadway Baby" in Sondheim's
Follies four decades later). Credited as the film's co-producer, a
disappointed Ziegfeld soon realized he had no real power
over the project. Overall, this is a clunky film and hard to watch today.
Young choreographer Busby Berkley gave the dances some
redeeming sense of style a mere hint of what he would do in years to come. It
is interesting to see Cantor in what many considered his greatest stage
role, but early sound film techniques once again make this a hard film to sit
The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
the all-time great MGM musicals, this won well-deserved Academy
Awards for Best Picture and Luise Rainer's heartbreaking performance as Anna
Held. While Rainer is superb, the real Held was a sensible professional, not the
tantrum-throwing emotional quagmire seen here. (Her famous telephone scene is
still a knockout.) William Powell is magnificent in the title role, and his Thin
Man co-star Myrna Loy is perfect as Billie Burke. "A Pretty
Girl is Like a Melody" is one of the most spectacular
Hollywood ever filmed, so who cares that its massive turntable set and
endless cast couldn't possibly fit on a real Broadway stage?
As with most screen bios, The Great Ziegfeld gets only a few basic facts
straight, relying on creative fiction most of the way. The chorus numbers do give
a sense of the extravagance Ziegfeld was noted for. For legal reasons,
Lillian Lorraine and Marilyn Miller were represented by fictional characters.
The befuddled producer played by Frank Morgan is a composite stand-in for
Charles Dillingham, Jacob Shubert and several others. While Ray Bolger plays
himself, he never worked asa stage hand and never appeared in a Ziegfeld production.
Fanny Brice's rendition of "My Man" is pointlessly cut short, even
though they found ample time for mere impersonators of other
Ziegfeld stars to do their bits. Quibbles aside, this is still a very entertaining
if overly long film.
Show Boat (1936)
Original cast members Charles Winninger (Captain Andy), Helen Morgan (Julie),
Sammy White (Frank) and Queenie Smith (Ellie) star in the
best screen version of Ziegfeld's greatest show. London and Ziegfeld revival star
Paul Robeson is on hand as Joe to deliver a memorable "Old Man River." Irene Dunne
is Magnolia, a role Ziegfeld cast her in for the national tour, so the great showman's
tastes in casting and performance style are very much a part of this classic film.
Both Kern and Hammerstein were on hand to keep things in tune, and director
James Whale (best remembered for Frankenstein) did a smashing job bringing
everything together. If you haven't seen this Show Boat, you haven't seen
Ziegfeld Girl (1941)
Judy Garland, Lana Turner and Hedy Lamarr play three girls whose loves are
forever changed when they are cast in the
Follies. The story is up to its sequined neck in clichés, but Garland's
"I'm Always Chasing Rainbows" and Busby Berkeley's dazzling "You
Stepped Out of a Dream" sequence are pure MGM magic. Ziegfeld alumni Al
Shean and Charles Winninger are featured, and Eve Arden's wisecracks help to
keep one awake between songs.
The Ziegfeld Follies (1946)
Filmed mostly in 1944, it took two years to pound this collection of songs and
skits into a workable format.
William Powell once again portrays Ziegfeld, introducing this gala line-up
of MGM stars from his office in heaven. (Did Louis B. Mayer really believe
Ziegfeld didn't wind up elsewhere?) Some bits are forgettable,
but others make for fun viewing. Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly offer a delicious
song and dance duet, and Judy Garland has a blast in "The Interview."
My favorites Fanny Brice terrorizing Hume Cronyn in a lottery ticket routine,
and the hilarious Victor Moore begging an implacable Edward Arnold to "Just
pay him the two dollars!"
Deep in My Heart (1954)
This screen bio of composer Sigmund Romberg starring Jose Ferrer is a mixed bag,
but it includes an amusing dining room sequence where Ziegfeld played
with continental flair by Paul Henreid helps Romberg pull one over on
Jake Shubert. In an ironic bit of casting, Shubert is played by Walter Pidgeon, who
later portrayed Ziegfeld in Funny Girl (see below).
Funny Girl (1969)
Walter Pidgeon was perfect as Ziegfeld, but this film misrepresents most of the
facts about his professional involvement with Fanny Brice. She joined the
Follies in 1910 when it was
still a rooftop summer revue it did not move into The New Amsterdam until
years later. Although Brice did sing "Second Hand Rose" in the
Follies, it was not until many years after her debut. As staged in the film,
"His Love Makes Me Beautiful" would never have fit on any Broadway
stage, and the look of it is too 1960's for words. (Plastic everywhere?)
Brice sang "My Man" dressed as a tattered street tramp not
dripping with sequins like Babs.
A crucial point Fanny Brice was a cooperative
professional who gave Ziegfeld no difficulties -- his ulcers (if any) were his
own doing. The only "funny girl" with a deserved
reputation for being difficult is Streisand herself. Don't get me wrong, this is a
wonderful movie and Streisand is sensational its
just doesn't give a vaguely accurate sense of what it meant to be a "Ziegfeld star."
Ziegfeld: The Man and His Women - TV (1978)
This TV movie is garbage – little more than soft porn with none of the
sex. If you ever see this thing listed as a late-night rerun, be sure to watch something
more exciting like maybe a test pattern?
Crazy for You - TV (1999)
The flawless Paper Mill Playhouse revival of his wonderful 1992 Broadway hit was
taped for PBS. Although the Hungarian-accented producer "Bella Zangler"
bears no resemblance to Ziegfeld, his theater as seen in the set is an
unmistakable replica of The Ziegfeld. And in the finale, the Zangler show girls
are displayed in finery worthy of any
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