Best Picture Winners #9 – The Great Ziegfeld (1936)

By this point, we are over halfway through our first full decade of Best Pictures. So far, we’ve seen a a comedy (It Happened One Night), adventure films (Mutiny on the Bounty and the nominee Captain Blood), war dramas (Wings and All Quiet on the Western Front), and general dramas (CavalcadeGrand Hotel).

Oh and a musical. The Broadway Melody (though I try to forget about that one…….)

We can add a new category for this movie, the 1936 Best Picture winner The Great Ziegfeld: biopic.

You see, I’d heard vaguely of the Ziegfeld Follies before. Not sure how, but I’d heard of that before. And it turns out that this movie is about that same Ziegfeld, Florenz Ziegfeld (as a side note, what a cool German name. The first name reminds me of the French equivalent Florent, the first name of a favorite singer. But I digress. 😛 )

Since this is a biopic, we get to learn all about Florenz Ziegfeld, starting when he was just a guy trying to get people to come see his shows on the Atlantic City midway in the late 1800s, to his successful stage shows with his troupe the Ziegfeld Follies, all the way to his death in the late 20s/early 30s. (Ooops, spoiler alert: he dies in the end……).

That’s really the long and short of it.

The story itself is meh. Guy gets fame, goes through multiple wives, etc etc. All of it lasting a little over three hours.

I did quite a bit of crocheting while watching this movie, let me tell you!

But what’s more well-known about this movie are the stage sequences for the musical numbers. You see, this movie is known today for the extremely lavish productions of Florenz’s shows. One of the songs in this movie, called A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody, is perhaps the most well-known of these intricate numbers. A continuous shot on multiple revolving stages…… Ziegfeld stated in the movie that he wanted even the people in the back to be able to see the show, and you can tell that he kept that in mind. There was always something to look at, no matter where you were in the theater.

This video trims some of that “Pretty Girl” sequence (probably so they won’t get caught for copyright infringement *sigh*) but you can get an idea of it here (there is a version on YouTube in full but it’s in 3D, so unless you have 3D glasses with you….):




I have never seen a more lavish movie in all my life. I don’t want to know how many yards of fabric were used to make all these beautiful dresses! And the time that went into choreographing this…..


And that’s really all that was notable for me about this movie: those musical sequences. You have to hand it to them, a lot of work went into those scenes. It’s just that the movie was so long. I can watch a long movie like Titanic, the extended editions of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, or Gone With the Wind if it’s a well-done story and I’m engaged with it. That wasn’t so with this movie. It also didn’t help that after a while, Ziegfeld’s first wife Anna Held really started getting on my nerves. One minute she was all googly-eyed over him, then the next moment, she yells that she doesn’t want to see him again for some weird reason…… Whatever. I get that he was sometimes a jerk but still….. She just irritated me. 😛

Two and a half out of five stars

Next time: Another biopic, this one about the French author Emile Zola, called appropriately enough, The Life of Emile Zola, the BP winner of 1937.