The Great Ziegfeld (1936)

Public Domain photo, from WikiMedia Commons

Plot: This is a standard biopic when it comes to plot, about the life of Broadway producer Florenz Ziegfeld. If you’ve ever heard of “Ziegfeld’s Follies,” this movie is a fictionalized account of how this show came to be, as well as Ziegfeld’s failures and successes, both in his personal relationships and shows he produced.

Best Moment: Oh, the musical numbers were just gorgeous. I loved all of them, even the one that was a mishmash of Strauss, Verdi, Gershwin, and one other composer I couldn’t place. The costumes were lush, and Wikipedia tells me that it took “250 tailors and seamstresses six months to prepare them using 50 pounds (23 kg) of silver sequins and 12 yards (11 m) of white ostrich plumes.” The musical numbers are definitely wonderful to watch, and a couple are written by some heavy hitters: Irving Berlin and Jerome Kern. The scene where Ziegfeld and his buddies sing “Look for the Silver Lining” reminded me how much of a sucker I am for musicals. (Here’s Judy Garland singing it.)

Worst Moment: An utterly heartbreaking moment where Fannie Brice (playing herself) realizes that just because Ziegfeld hired her didn’t mean that he saw her as a woman worthy of gorgeous costumes. As she says, “So, to work for Mr. Ziegfeld, I gotta be an urchin. Even in burlesque I was middle class.” Also devastating: when the 1929 stock market crash wipes him out financially and all his shows close.

Fun Facts: Well, aside from Fannie Brice playing herself, Ray Bolger plays a stagehand whom Ziegfeld hires to perform in his show. Who is Ray Bolger, you ask?

This guy.

The film won Best Picture, Best Actress, and Best Dance Direction.

Recommendation: The film runs nearly three hours, and I didn’t watch it all in one sitting. It took me a while to really get into it, but the second half moves pretty quickly. The final 10 minutes are so melancholy, though, so you’ve been warned.

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