The Great Ziegfeld won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1936 beating out Anthony Adverse, Dodsworth, Libeled Lady (also starring William Powell and Myrna Loy), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Romeo and Juliet, San Francisco, The Story of Louis Pasteur, A Tale of Two Cities and Three Smart Girls. The film also won the Academy Award for Best Actress for Luise Rainer and Academy Award for Best Dance Direction for Seymour Felix for “A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody”.
This film was a semi-biographical story of Florenz Ziegfeld, creator of the infamous Ziegfeld Follies. Not knowing much about Ziegfeld, it was an interesting story. I looked up the information on Ziegfeld later to see how accurate the story was to the real man. It was pretty accurate, but left a lot to the imagination when it came to relationships.
Florenz Ziegfeld (William Powell) was a man of great ambition with many faults. He was determined to put on the best show on Broadway using things that had never been done on stage before. He started with strongman Eugen Sandow (Nat Pendleton) at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. When Ziegfeld found that no one wanted to see Sandow lift weights, he changed his show to have Sandow flex his muscles and let the ladies touch them. It became a success for Ziegfeld and he toured the country. Later Ziegfeld went to Europe and gambled away his funds. After meeting Anna Held (Luise Rainer), he used he charms and promises to steal Held away from another producer and took her to New York to get her to perform on Broadway. After her success, he used the money from her shows to start his Follies.
The film follows Ziegfeld and the ups and downs in his life. The film skirts around the fact that Held and Ziegfeld were common law spouses and of Ziegfeld’s affair with Folly girl Audrey Dane (Virginia Bruce). However, they do not fail to show Ziegfeld’s love of gambling or his love of beautiful women, including his marriage to Billie Burke (Myrna Loy).
Powell’s portrayal of Ziegfeld was wonderful. I could not help but love the character despite all his faults. Even though Rainer received the Best Actress Oscar for her role as Anna Held, I found her character to be a bit annoying. I really didn’t like her that much or have much sympathy for her at all.
The Great Ziegfeld was a whopping 185 minutes long. Part of that could have been cut by showing the first bit from the Ziegfeld show. I felt it was important to show how grand his shows were, but I felt some of it could have been cut back. It may have been kept in for the audiences since the United States was starting to work its way out of the Great Depression and needed to see something fun. Then again, was that extravagance needed?
Not having seen the other films from this year, I do not know if Ziegfeld deserved the Oscar, however, it was a film worth watching, especially if you are a Broadway/Theater buff.
Side note: As of this posting, Luise Rainer, is 100 years old and living in London.