The Great Ziegfeld doesn’t hold a very high reputation among critics or Oscar fans and is usually considered one of the weaker decision in the Academy’s history which can only be explained by its love for grand spectacles. And it’s true that 1936 certainly offered stronger and much more memorable pictures than this musical about the life of the legendary Broadway producer Florenz Ziegfeld – but this doesn’t mean that The Great Ziegfeld isn’t a pretty great movie itself.
Considering the length and old-fashioned story-telling, combined with various dated aspects, The Great Ziegfeld could feel like a giant bore today, but it miraculously overcomes all obstacles and still knows how to entertain on a high level. The story basically repeats itself constantly as Ziegfeld either charms a beautiful woman, produces a hit-show or becomes broke again but it’s all done with such love for detail and entertainment that it still feels surprisingly fresh and worthwhile. Of course, The Great Ziegfeld never feels like a biography – it may be about the life of Florenz Ziegfeld but it is the kind of movie that still feels like an invented story nonetheless. If never really creates the aura of actually telling something about its main character but is mostly interested in presenting his life as entertaining as possible – which it does.
The Great Ziegfeld also offers some wonderful songs and engaging musical numbers. The famous ‘A pretty girl is like a melody’-number is a true spectacle but this is one of the few instances when everything actually becomes too big. Other numbers that focus on one or two singers impress much more.
The movie mostly shines in the time span of Ziegfeld’s life that involves Anna Held. Even the scenes that don’t feature Luise Rainer, The Great Ziegfeld still feels much more energetic and alive. After her famous telephone scene, The Great Ziegfeld begins to move much slower and even the musical numbers aren’t as captivating any more but William Powell and Myrna Loy still provide a lot of beautiful moments together.
I guess it’s this combination of human stories, brought to life by a wonderful cast, extravagant splendour and memorable musical numbers that turn The Great Ziegfeld, even if it may be rather simple underneath all the glitter, into a very engaging motion picture.