Run time: 176 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 8th April 1936
Distributed by: MGM Home Entertainment
Production compaines: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)
Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 63%
Fresh: 15 Rotten: 9
IMDB: 6.9 / 10
Director: Robert Z. Leonard
Producer: Hunt Stromberg
Screenwriter: William Anthony McGuire
Starring: William Powell as Florenz Ziegfeld Jr., Myrna Loy as Billie Burke, Luise Rainer as Anna Held, Frank Morgan as Billings, Fanny Brice as Fannie Brice (as Fannie Brice), Virginia Bruce as Audrey Dane, Reginald Owen as Sampston, Ray Bolger as Ray Bolger, Ernest Cossart as Sidney, Joseph Cawthorn as Dr. Ziegfeld, Nat Pendleton as Sandow
Florenz Ziegfeld (played by William Powell) was a real man responsible for creating Broadway as we know it. The three-hour opus traces nearly his entire life. He began by producing carnival-class shows, low-rent vaudeville acts designed to appeal to the common man -- wrestling, animal acts, and the like. Bored with philistine work, Ziegfeld raised lots of money to build a big show, starting with Broadway's Follies and culminating in the production of the classic Show Boat. Along the way, Ziegfeld loses everything more than once, owing to his addiction to gambling, but he always fights his way back to the top.
Up and down, up and down, Ziegfeld has more rises and falls than a New York elevator. And boy does this get old. The film follows a reliable formula: Broke Ziegfeld scrounges up money, Ziegfeld and his leading ladies (played at various times by Myrna Loy and Luise Rainer) struggle to get the show on, finally the show goes off without a hitch, culminating in the lavish musical numbers for which the film has become justly famous. Then we start all over, until eventually an ancient Ziegfeld simply dies and the movie ends.
Ziegfeld's musical sets are truly spectacular, but there's so much of them that even the most patient viewer will be bored still come the halfway point of the film. The film may not have a cast of thousands, but it certainly feels like it does. These numbers paved the way for every big-budget musical that would follow, from Singin' in the Rain to Moulin Rouge. But what Ziegfeld is utterly missing that its contemporaries have is any kind of compelling story to string these scenes together. Ziegfeld as a character wants to be like Citizen Kane but comes off with none of Kane's power or natural interest. He's a crotchety and naive man that merits little of our attention aside from the fact that he had a knack for making musicals.
Modern audiences may as well zip through the "plot" scenes and head straight for the musical numbers. This still won't cut the film down to a length appropriate for its subject matter, but it's a start.
I'll take a slice of that cake.