Time: 176 mins.
Rating: Not Rated
Won Academy Award for Best Actress (Rainer) and Best Picture. Nominations for Best Art Direction, Director, Film Editing and Original Screenplay.
I'm not sure I learned anything new about the infamous Broadway impresario Florenz Ziegfled after sitting through this 3-hour biopic, but this musical extravaganza certainly would have been right up his alley. Made only 4 years after his death, the film attempts to reveal the genius behind the showman, what drove Ziggy to create the most lavish shows the Great White Way had ever seen. Well, it does to a point, but the reasons aren't all that compelling. Apparently, like most men, he was out for the dames, the cash and the accolades. Each of which he would acquire and then lose many times over throughout the six decades of his life. Powell's consummate charm and boundless energy make Ziegfeld's journey from carnival barker to world-famous producer amusing and exciting, despite some plodding pitstops along the way.
Luise Rainer has the unenviable task of playing his first wife Anna Held, a famous French actress he made into an even bigger star, but who left him because he couldn't be faithful. Her performance is subtle, charming and at times heartbreaking. Loy enters the flick fairly late in the game and does nothing really worthy of her second billing, yet she manages to add flair and heart to the story. The most amazing aspect of this film is the enormous and outlandish musical numbers that are indescribable in their intricacy, size and beauty. I had a hard time believing they were produced on a theatrical stage, but even if the real shows incoporated half of what we see here, they were impressive indeed. The costumes, the girls, the songs, you'll swoon with delight at the gorgeous fantasy of it all.
Their genius almost makes one forget what a schemer Ziegfeld really was. It's easy to forgive someone who brings such loveliness into the world. As visually breathtaking as the stage pieces are, they slow down the story, sometime going on for over 10 minutes at a time. We need to see them in their entirety to enable us to understand why Ziegfeld was so important in the theater world, but I did find myself slightly bored on a few occasions. Granted without them, the story would be the same as a few dozen others. They are what make this tale unique. His shows were his life and what a wildly inventive one it was. A loving biopic that may be too long and old-fashioned for some viewers, but is worth the time spent for those who like a big yarn and even bigger musical productions.