How appropriate that this ode to an ambitious, amiable shyster featured future First Lady Pat Nixon as an extra. Incredibly, THE GREAT ZIEGFELD, three hours of lumpy, overcooked pudding, took Best Picture at the 1936 Oscars. But then, the film is big, and it's an ode to lavish
showmanship--what better pat on the back could Hollywood give itself?
The details of the whitewashed story aren't worth dwelling on in detail. Flo (Powell) begins as a sideshow barker and eventually becomes Broadway impresario extraordinaire. Along the way he marries temperamental actress-singer Anna Held (Rainer) but their oh-so-turbulent relationship just doesn't
make it. He later weds actress Billie Burke (Loy) and, after enduring his darkest hours, stuns Broadway with four simultaneous hits.
Oddly enough, the film does have enough thrust to keep rigor mortis from setting in. Powell can't give his shallow role much depth beyond a consideration of Ziegfeld's incredible ambition and ego, but he does give it energy and rascally charm. Loy would have been foolish to copy the inimitable
twittering of Billie Burke and wisely she doesn't try. What she's left with are a new hair color, uxorial devotion and relatively little footage.
The latter applies to Rainer as well, though we mind that less. She does have a delicate appeal onstage and also in the "legendary" telephone scene in which Anna, still in love, calls Flo to congratulate him on his second marriage. Still, Rainer's fluttery performance did not deserve an Oscar for
Best Actress and today stands as a glass menagerie relic just waiting to be dropped on the floor. Ray Bolger adds a few delightful moments, but a pre-WIZARD OF OZ Frank Morgan is way overboard and Fanny Brice is ditched right in the middle of singing "My Man"!! What can you do with a movie like
this? Surrender, I guess.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: How appropriate that this ode to an ambitious, amiable shyster featured future First Lady Pat Nixon as an extra. Incredibly, THE GREAT ZIEGFELD, three hours of lumpy, overcooked pudding, took Best Picture at the 1936 Oscars. But then, the film is big, and… (more)