The Great Ziegfeld (1936)

<strong class="MovieTitle">The Great Ziegfeld</strong> (1936)

(On Cable TV, January 2018) There is something charmingly creaky about The Great Ziegfeld, and its approach to a biographical picture so classic that it feels timeless. Tracking the life of Florenz “Flo” Ziegfeld, a notable figure in Broadway’s history, the film mixes standard biographical vignettes but reaches its peak when re-creating musical numbers from his shows. If there’s one single reason to watch the film even today, it’s the awe-inspiring “A Pretty Girl is like a Melody” sequence, a single-shot wonder featuring an immense rotating “Wedding Cake” set and several dozen participants. William Powell is fine as the titular Ziegfeld, but the highlights are the musical numbers—the film was a big-budget production at the time, and the quality of the production is most obvious during those musical number re-creations—later on, there’s a dance sequence involving moving bed that’s impressive in its own way. For pop-culture enthusiasts, the film (despite its loose relationship with historical facts) does offer an interesting look at the development of the American theatre in the 1920s and 1930s. Where The Great Ziegfeld doesn’t fare so well is in sheer length—while it does have a few great or fun moments (including the “It’s Great to be Married” song), they’re drowned in a nearly three interminable hours running length that betrays inability to focus on the substance of Ziegfeld’s life. We get repetition, musical numbers, oddly slow sequences and melodrama that do much to defuse the impact of the film’s stronger moments. Still, it is an Oscar-winning film, and it was designed as a crowd pleaser—both qualities ensure that while it remains decently watchable today despite a significant time investment.

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