Great Ziegfeld [1936]

Winner of three Academy Awards including Best Picture, The Great Ziegfeld stars William Powell in a biopic "suggested by romances and incidents in the life of America's greatest showman, Florenz Ziegfeld Jr." With admirable accuracy, the film follows Ziegfeld's career from small-time sideshow barker to creator of the famous Ziegfeld Follies, the collection of singing, dancing, and comedy vaudeville acts that launched the careers of such luminaries as Fanny Brice, Ray Bolger, and Harriet Hoctor, all of whom play themselves in the film. In the title role, Powell offers a believable combination of ambition and hucksterism, and his Thin Man costar Myrna Loy makes a late appearance as his second wife, but it's large-eyed Luise Rainer who has the showier role (and won an Oscar) as Ziegfeld's first big star and first wife. The musical numbers, however, don't hold up quite as well as the plot, and the film is overlong at 185 minutes. It's fascinating, though, to see the vintage stars performing, and the eight-minute spectacle "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody" is an eye-popper, with an elaborate revolving set supporting a large cast singing and dancing to the Irving Berlin tune while throwing in some Puccini, Strauss, Leoncavallo, and Gershwin for good measure. --David Horiuchi

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