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GREAT ZIEGFELD, THE(director: Robert Z. Leonard; screenwriter: William Anthony McGuire; cinematographers: Oliver T. Marsh/Ray June/George Folsey; editor: William S. Gray; music: Walter Donaldson; cast: William Powell (Florenz Ziegfeld Jr.), Myrna Loy (Billie Burke), Luise Rainer (Anna Held), Frank Morgan (Jack Billings), Fannie Brice (Herself), Nat Pendleton (Sandow), Reginald Owen ( Sampston), Ray Bolger (Himself), Ernest Cossart (Sidney); Runtime: 176; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Hunt Stromberg; MGM; 1936)
“This Oscar winner for Best Picture is only great in its tediousness, length and its budget.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This Oscar winner for Best Picture is only great in its tediousness, length and its budget. MGM made it for $2 million, making it the biggest budget film at that time. It goes overboard in hero worshiping the flamboyant charming hustler impresario Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. (William Powell), considered by many to be Broadway’s greatest producer of fleshy fluff. The lavish biopic spectacular unjustifiably has the schemer Ziegfeld up on a pedestal even though he’s not worthy of such adoration and this pic isn’t worthy of being a best picture since it’s not even a good one. It’s flatly written by William Anthony McGuire and even more flatly directed by Robert Z. Leonard (“Piccadilly Jim”/”When Ladies Meet”/”The Bribe”). The film’s highlight is its glossy production of the Irvin Berlin tune “A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody.” The number, which cost over $200,000 to produce and ran for some 15 minutes, was directed by Seymour Felix. Luise Rainer took home an Oscar for Best Actress playing Flo’s European lover, the Academy Award was primarily for her famous telephone scene where she emotionally calls her ex-hubby Flo to congratulate him on his second marriage while holding back on how she still loves him. There wasn’t much else to remember about this forgettable picture.

It traces how in 1893 Flo Ziegfeld, son of a prominent Chicago music professor, started as a lowly Chicago sideshow barker and then while broke hooked up with a strongman named Sandow (Nat Pendleton) to go on a national tour. On the tour Flo charms in London the French stage star Anna Held (Luise Rainer, Austrian actress) and gets her to headline his 1907 “Follies” in New York. He later marries her, only to soon divorce because of his lustful ways. After reaching the top rung, we watch how Flo topples. Then his marriage to Billie Burke (Myrna Loy); his bankruptcy, and, after staging a comeback, his death.

It’s not that this pic is so bad, but that it’s so mediocre and uninspiring despite a fine performance by Powell and rich cameos by Fannie Brice and Ray Bolger. It registers as a dull, whitewashed nostalgic biopic that has little meaning to most when viewed today.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”