In his lifetime Florenz Ziegfeld set out to glorify the American girl, this production sets out to glorify the late impesario’s work in that direction.
That it is technically excellent and extremely well acted goes without saying – it took two years and cost £400,000 to make – but it lacks that essential of all biographical films, a soul.
With all its lavish settings and careful detail work one cannot take a great deal of interest in the fate of its main character.
Ziegfeld is just a name to most people in the country and I am not sure that his romances and escapades which, when viewed coldly, are quite commonplace, are going to raise anyone to any particular pitch of enthusiasm.
He was apparently, judging by the film, a showman who made money, spent it and succeeded in making it again. That he had a genius for providing for the needs of the tired business man, a unerring eye for beauty and an extremely fertile imagination in the matter of stage craft is also apparent but otherwise his life story as here presented has little of the essential of drama.
The picture is divided roughly into three parts. The first introduces him as a fairground backer with the strongman Sandow as his main asset followed by his capture of Anna Held, his romance and marriage to her. The second deals with more spectacular sequences supposedly taken from the shows he produced with a glimpse of his relations with other women, while the third depicts his break with Anna, his meeting with Billie Burke, his marriage to her and his death after he had been ruined on the stock market.
The first part is undoubtedly the best. It introduces his friendship with a rival showman Billings whom he is always managing to beat at his own game. It also contains his romance with Anna Held which strikes a human and sincere note, in spite of the fact that it is extremely drawn out. This sense of sincerity is mainly induced by the emotional acting of Louie [sic] Rainer as the temperamental French star.
She gives an excellent performance but whether she in any way resembles her famous prototype I am not in a position to state.
William Powell I should say has very little resemblance either in looks or temperament with the late Ziegfeld; he puts over a typical Powell performance with efficiency and polish but without convincing one particularly as to his outstanding qualities of showmanship or with any particular degree of intimacy.
Myrna Loy gives a clever rendering of Billie Burke and introduces, without over emphasis, certain little mannerisms of that artiste who had made a big name for herself in England before she went to America.
Frank Morgan is extremely good as Billings and adds the requisite touch of comedy with a characterisation that may or may not resemble the original.
I particularly liked that [Nat] Pendleton’s representation of Sandow; it was difficult to recognise the even delightful portrayer of dumb gangsters in the blond haired and moustached weight lifter.
A clever little study comes from Virginia Bruce as Audrey, a girl Ziegfeld tries to make a star but who lets him down by her loose living and eventually causes the breach between him and his wife, Anna.
The late Will Rogers and Eddie Cantor, both of whom were “made” by Ziegfeld are well interpreted by A. A. Trimble and Buddy Doyle. Fannie Brice – she’s fine – Harriet Hoctor and Ray Bolger appear respectively as themselves.
Reginald Owen has a rather thankless role as Ziegfeld’s accountant, but he plays it well. Robert Z. Leonard has been inclined to over-portray his sequences which leads to dull spots. There is also too much repetition especially in the drawing of the character of Anna Held.
The picture as it stands runs for approximately three hours and that, I contend, is too long for any film, especially when it isÂ so slight in its dramatic farce [sic] as this.
I should say that with drastic cutting, especially in the opening and in the spectacular stage sequences the entertainment would be greatly increased and that ever present danger of boredom completely banished.