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The Great Ziegfeld

Warner Bros./Warner Home Video . R4 . B&W . 169 mins . G . PAL


The Great Ziegfeld encourages the viewer to make maximum use of one of the DVD medium's greatest assets - chapter selection.

For this musical, which clocks in at almost three hours (including original entree and intermission music), is one of the most long-winded, boring and kitsch-laden offerings ever dished up by Hollywood. There are some strong bits and pieces here, but you have to wade through knee-deep sludge to find them.

The movie somehow walked away with the 1936 Oscar for 'Best Picture'. And it collared the 'Best Actress' award for Luise Rainier - she won it again the following year for The Good Earth. Maybe audiences were easier to please in those days? Or maybe the Academy members had been bribed...

There are some good qualities in this movie. Casting is sound, with William Powell perfect as Florenz Ziegfeld, the flamboyant showman who became Broadway's greatest entrepreneur. Hollywood stalwart Frank Morgan is ideally cast as his sometime-rival and best friend Jack Billings and Luise Rainer is impeccable as his first wife Anna Held, as is Myrna Loy as his second wife, Billie Burke.

But oh, this drama just goes on and on and on. The highlight is an extravagant dance number, A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody, filmed in one long take which ascends a sweeping staircase that coils its way around a giant wedding-cake. Someone should have left that cake out in the rain. Permanently. It's sticky, rich, sick-making fluff.

But there are compensations. There's a terrific clip of eccentric dancer Ray Bolger (the Strawman in The Wizard of Oz) doing one of his best rubber-legs routines. And the audition sequence of real-life Ziegfeld star Fannie Brice is just about worth the price of the DVD by itself.

Throw in Buddy Doyle's terrific impersonation of goggle-eyed Eddie Cantor and we're seeing some value emerging from the dross. But make sure you use the fast-forward function to skim past the truly hideous 'dancer' Harriet Hoctor, or else you're likely to set upon the disc with a sharp instrument, just to scratch out her segment.

The movie is, by all accounts, a pretty fair representation of Flo Ziegfeld's life. And some of the scenes featuring his famous long-legged Ziegfeld Girls are pretty impressive - even if this account of his life leaves out the way he constantly (and usually successfully) chased them.

The closing scene, as the dying Ziegfeld looks back on his life, is a visual and textual cliche, but a relatively successful one. All in all, I think you can confidently expect to extract a good half-hour's viewing from this bloated musical extravaganza. And that will be a pretty entertaining half-hour - pity about the rest.


This black and white movie carries some mild scratches and flaws, but is generally a very sound transfer of a film of this vintage.

I've seen some better black and white Warner releases of material of around this period (including a wonderful new transfer of the classic musical For Me and My Gal), but there's nothing in this to really deter viewers - shadow tones, deep blacks and subtle contrasts are all rendered extremely well.

Warners is proving itself to be just about the best of the major studios when it comes to quality releases of vintage material, and this transfer, while showing some minor image-flaws, is certainly very acceptable.


It would be hard to work miracles with this original mono soundtrack. But there's no shrill hissing or distortion; the sound is strong and clear for all dialogue and musical numbers.

The sound is projected via just one central mono channel. I prefer mono soundtracks to be presented as two-channel mono but, even with just the one channel, the sound is warm and quite rich for the period.


We're given a 13-minute documentary, Ziegfeld on Film, hosted by two Ziegfeld family members and outlining Ziegfeld's celluloid odyssey. Most fascinating here are the lengthy interview-clips with the elderly but still radiantly beautiful and articulate Luise Rainer - she comes across as a remarkable person, whose strength is at odds with the flabby weakness of much of the movie.

Then there's a newsreel about the movie's premiere screening. It shows well just what special occasions these Hollywood screenings were. These actors and actresses truly were America's royal family in those days - with their own fair share of luscious scandals...


I love old American musicals, one of the great artforms of the 20th century.

And even this fat, padded pudding of a musical has enough plums in it to make it worthwhile to set about extracting them via the great chapter selection feature of the remote control. I think I'll get a sampler framed for the wall - God Bless Our House and Our Remote Control.

Rent this one night when you can't find anything better to do. But if you don't know how to use your DVD player's remote control, stay well away.

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      And I quote...
    "Thank God for the remote control and its chapter selection feature. It makes this bloated monstrosity of a movie seem pretty good in parts."
    - Anthony Clarke
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