29 March 2004 | tfrizzell
The Film's Calling Card Is Likely Its Only Real Weakness.
Extravagent epic that lasts nearly three hours and has always been praised more for its lavish dance musical sequences (which are the biggest minuses of the film to me) than its truly engrossing story. Florenz Ziegfeld (William Powell) was struggling in the early-1890s as his circus stage shows were becoming stale and down-right dull. Fast-forward a few years and Ziegfeld is slowly beginning to create the Broadway we think about today. Loud and vibrant shows come about and with them come much success, loads of money and many beautiful women (including two wives, Oscar-winner Luise Rainer and a young Myrna Loy). Ziegfeld also discovers many who would become stars. Ray Bolger, Harriet Hoctor and Fanny Brice all play themselves and the ways they were originally discovered are given some air-time. The producer though does age terribly and seems out-of-place when not working on shows. The stock market crash of 1929 would be the fatal blow in the life of an intensely interesting man. "The Great Ziegfeld" is a Hollywood product all the way. Director Robert Z. Leonard (Oscar-nominated) almost destroys the movie with overkill. The production numbers are interminable with some going well over 10 or 12 minutes. The shows, which are large, colorful and happy, underplay a life that was somewhat sad in many ways. Ziegfeld was not good with money (many times having to borrow from people like Jack Billings, played by the memorable Frank Morgan) and was simply terrible when dealing with women. Ziegfeld did create the image of the "American girl", but in reality he knew little of the opposite sex and treated women as little more than play-things or property than actual human beings. "The Great Ziegfeld" is a film that has a scale that rivals later cinematic triumphs like "Gone With the Wind", but this is not necessarily a good thing as the interest wavers on several occasions here. Overall a good film and worth a look. Pay more attention to the story than the production numbers though. 4.5 out of 5 stars.