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  • Director Cukor had a background in theater, and this is one of his films that allude to it (others include A Double Life, A Star is Born, Les Girls, and Heller in Pink Tights). He nicely evokes the camaraderie of a small group of travelling vaudevillians in 1890's France, and much of the action takes place backstage. Bert Lahr makes one of his few film appearances as Zaza's performing partner and conveys a gentle melancholy--possibly because his character is meant to be seen as gay and closeted or because he is hopelessly in love with Zaza. It's a little ambiguous, due perhaps to the Production Code. There's a wonderful and quite sensuous scene in which he casually plays piano and starts to sing a song that could be used by Zaza in the act and that she then starts to sing, first as she lounges on a bed in the next room. She is almost Dietrich-like, which is apt, as the song is by Frederick Hollander, who wrote so many of that diva's classics, including "Falling in Love Again."

    It's a little hard to fathom Zaza's devotion to the character played by Herbert Marshall, and the film definitely shows its origins as a play, but it's worth taking a look at.
  • I ordered this from a rather dumpy company that sells old films they have transferred to DVD. I wanted it because I love Colbert. This is a giant film. I have never seen a Hollywood movie with such an authentic French feel. Colbert's role is fascinating. There is a lot of Camille, Back Street and even Gypsy in the story. Colbert's character goes through a lot of changes and Claudette was so totally in charge; this is arguably her finest hour. Marshall was perfect as a man who could not be more different from Colbert. The secondary cast is magnificent, in particular, Bert Lahr in a serious role. Why this one never became a real classic is hard to understand. The attention to detail and the classy way Cukor unfolds the story makes it fly by. Turner Classic Movies needs to pick it up. This is the sort of thing I could see becoming steady viewing for those who love old movies. I expect to see it a half dozen times more before sharing it with friends. And until a couple weeks ago, I had never heard of it.

    After four more viewings I had to amend my rating from 9 to 10. This movie is about as good as it gets.
  • tentender21 December 2013
    Warning: Spoilers
    "Zaza" is one of the most rarely shown of Cukor's films. Fortunately, the Film Society of Lincoln Center has managed a truly complete retrospective (December 2013), with two showings of "Zaza." Like the Leoncavallo opera also based on the same play (and no doubt the play itself) the fact that the play ends tragically is belied by an almost manically cheerful first hour. Claudette Colbert is a luminous presence, and her sparkling costumes support her luminosity with sparkles and spangles. She seems rather too much! Bert Lahr, not in his usual element, proves himself capable of restraint and suggests the great actor who was to have his ultimate breakthrough into the thespian pantheon in the '50s with his performance in the Broadway production of "Waiting for Godot." Excellent support from Constance Collier, Helen Westley, Genevieve Tobin, and Ernest Cossart. Not entirely satisfying, but why "Zaza" is so little-seen is still a mystery. There are worse films in the Cukor canon ("Keeper of the Flame," "Let's Make Love"), more often seen.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    The legendary Claudette Colbert was usually presented as a free thinking, independent woman who dealt with her situations in typical Hollywood ladylike way in this third version of an old French play. Rarely did she get to show any spitfire, but that has come to an end as she plays a touring French cabaret performer with a bit of moxie who attracts all sorts of male attention and ends up the girlfriend to a sophisticated upperclass businessman (Herbert Marshall) whom she later finds out is married. A meeting with his wife and daughter changes her feelings about how she's going to handle that blockade in her relationship with him. When she becomes the toast of Paris, she scans the audience for his presence, hoping for a glimpse. It's Colbert at her most risque, and even showing a bit of temper and revealing her plotting nature which goes against the grain of her inner self.

    There's really little plot and not really much performing other than the montage sequences and one song that comes out of nowhere, but it does show Bert Lahr clowing on stage, much like his character in the Broadway revival of "Burlesque" would do. Also on her side are Helen Westley as her feisty mother and Constance Collier as her devoted maid, but basically those two actresses are interchangeable and could easily have played each other's roles. The best scene comes when Colbert meets Marshall's friendly daughter (Ann Todd), having gone to his wife's apartment for a showdown and ending up with so much more. This is a very rare film, having had minimal TV showings and never released on video, perhaps more artistic than classic, yet giving Colbert a great character to sink her teeth into even if she really doesn't have a strong story to wrap those acting chops around. It is beautifully filmed with the typical George Cukor touch (on a rare loan-out to Paramount from MGM), filled with beautiful gowns and sets.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Claudette Colbert (Zaza), Herbert Marshall (Dufresne), Bert Lahr (Cascart), Helen Westley (Anais), Constance Collier (Nathalie), Genevieve Tobin (Florianne), Walter Catlett (Malardot), Ann Todd (Toto), Rex O'Malley (Bussy), Ernest Cossart (Marchand), Rex Evans (Michelin), Robert C. Fischer (Pierre), Janet Waldo (Simone), Dorothy Tree (Madame Dufresne), Monty Woolley (Fouget), Maurice Murphy (Henri), Duncan Renaldo (animal trainer), Olive Tell (Jeanne Liseron), John Sutton, Michael Brooke, Philip Warren (dandies), Alexander Leftwich (Larou), Fredrika Brown (Pierre's wife), Clarence Harvey, John Power (conductors), Maude Hume (woman), Tom Ricketts (old gentleman), Olaf Hytten (waiter), Hala Linda (animal trainer's wife), Frank Puglia (rug merchant), Walter Soderling, Harry Allen (porters), Caroline Cooke, Mayor Farrell (vendors), Alice Keating (maid), Dorothy Dayton, Harriette Haddon, Helaine Moler, Dorothy White, Louise Seidel (dancers), Billie Bourne, Darlyn Hackley, Virginia Larsen, Grace Richey, Virginia Rooney, Lillian Ross, Peggy Russell (tiller girls), Jacqueline Dax, Penny Gill, Dorothy Hamburg, Jessie Jenard, Emily La Rue, Mae Packer, Colleen Ward, Jeanne Blanche (French girls), Kenneth Harlan (waiter).

    Director: GEORGE CUKOR. Assistant director: Hal Walker. Script: Zoë Akins. Based on the play by Pierre Berton. Director of photography: Charles Lang, Jr. Editor: Edward Dymtryk. Art directors: Hans Dreier, Robert Usher. Set decorators: A. E. Freudeman. Costumes: Edith Head. Music director: Boris Morros. Music adviser: Phil Boutelje. Songs: "Zaza" (Colbert, Lahr) and "Hello My Darling" (Colbert) by Frederick Hollander, Frank Loesser and Al Hoffman. Choreography: LeRoy Prinz. Special adviser: Alla Nazimova. Photographic effects: Gordon Jennings. Producer: Albert Lewin. Copyright 13 January 1939 by Paramount Pictures Corp. New York opening at the Paramount: 4 January 1939. U.S. release: January 1939. U.K. release: February 1939. Australian release: 13 April 1939. 9 reels. 7,686 feet. 85 minutes.

    SYNOPSIS: Parisian can-can dancer discovers to her horror that her lover is married.

    NOTES: At least the fourth film version of the 1890s play. There's an Italian silent of 1909, a Hollywood effort in 1915 and Allan Dwan's famous Gloria Swanson vehicle of 1923. In 1900 Ruggiero Leoncavallo wrote and scored an operatic adaptation.

    COMMENT: An "A" in everything but theme, this is a cleaned-up and somewhat dull version of the famous play, beautifully dressed and mounted, with a fine portrayal by Claudette Colbert and a top-flight support cast. Helen Westley tends to over-act, but Constance Collier and Genevieve Tobin are inspiring. It is difficult to recognize Walter Catlett under his make-up, though his voice gives him away. John Sutton also wears a disguising make-up, but makes a much better effort to change his voice and is almost wholly successful.

    Although the story in its present form is a rather trite romantic impasse between Colbert and Marshall, it receives the full Albert Lewin treatment in costumes and decor. Cukor's direction has some style, though he concentrates his energies on the banal romance rather than the mise-en-scene. The photography is most attractive and Miss Colbert wears her costumes to admirable effect and handles her musical numbers superbly.

    OTHER VIEWS: This old play had been a great vehicle for Mrs. Leslie Carter. It was very old-fashioned by now. Paramount decided to launch their new Continental star, Isa Miranda, in the title role. But she suffered an accident and Claudette Colbert took over. I had Zoë Akins translate directly from the French original, instead of using the standard Belasco version full of oo-la-las, amours, etc. — George Cukor.