Main      Site Guide    
At-A-Glance Film Reviews

The Great Ziegfeld (1936)



Reviews and Comments

The Great Ziegfeld is the 1936 equivalent of the special effects blockbusters of today: there's a modest story, but the real reason to see it is the lavish glitz and glamor and spectacle. About 45 minutes of the film's three hours consists of musical sequences from the Ziegfeld Follies. Ziegfeld regulars Eddie Cantor and Will Rogers are impersonated by other actors, but Fanny Brice is the real deal. Ray Bolger also appears as himself; his comic tap dancing number, one of the best ever filmed, is the worth all the other scenes put together.

The story, a biography of the great showman Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr., has its ups and downs. As long as the film is, it can't seem to fit critical plot developments in: too much seems to happen off-screen, while what's on-screen is often plodding. Luise Rainer, however, is terrific and quite funny; she won a well-deserved Academy Award for her performance. Her character, Anna Held, is the most developed. Her final scene is the emotional highlight of the film.

If you get half way through and wonder where second billed Myrna Loy is, be patient: she first appears at the 130 minute mark, surely some kind of record for a second-billed star. Her character is well-written but not well developed. Loy's legendary chemistry with William Powell (playing Ziegfeld) saves the part.

Also entertaining is Frank Morgan, as Ziegfeld's friend and rival Jack Billings. His scenes are always fun.

So with such an exceptional cast, why does this biopic feel so shallow? Tighter editing might have helped. Less talk and fewer subplots might have freed up time to flesh out the relationships between the main characters. The film amused and dazzled me, but, alas, it seldom made me care.