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DVD Reviews

HTF REVIEW: The Great Ziegfeld (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED).



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#1 of 22 OFFLINE   Herb Kane

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Posted January 19 2004 - 04:19 PM

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The Great Ziegfeld





Studio: Warner Brothers
Year: 1936
Rated: Not Rated
Film Length: 185 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1 Academy
Audio: DD Mono
Color/B&W: B&W
Subtitles: English, French & Spanish
MSRP: $19.98
Package: Snap Case





The Feature:
Warner Brothers is kicking off the month of February with seven Academy Award winning films. The titles included on the February 3rd release date are: Grand Hotel, Mutiny On The Bounty (1935 version), Mrs. Miniver, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Gaslight (both 1940 and 1944 versions), The Great Ziegfeld and My Fair Lady (as a Special Edition two disc set). It has been a great couple of months for fans of classics and I’m hoping the trend continues.

The Great Ziegfeld is a biographical film based on the renowned Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. which follows his tumultuous climb from carny barker to the legendary showman responsible for what would be the pinnacle of his career, “The Ziegfeld Follies”. The film was made on a budget of approximately two million dollars but eventually yielded a return of forty million dollars. William Powell was chosen to play the suave and charismatic role of Flo “Ziggy” Ziegfeld. Powell was initially loaned to Universal for the film but when costs began to soar, Universal sold the rights to MGM. Powell then went on to make My Man Godfrey for Universal that same year.

The film begins with a five minute overture. Then, in an opening which curiously resembles the marquee credits in My Man Godfrey, the film starts by featuring Ziegfeld and his one man strong-man show featuring “Sandow”, the strongest man in the world during the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Across from him at the Expo, is his life long adversarial partner, Jack Billings (played by Frank Morgan). The competition between them eventually forms a lifelong partnership and friendship.

With the strong man show – barbell routine flailing, a chance encounter with a star struck woman, yearning to “touch” Sandow’s muscles, gives Ziggy the idea to allow his customers to feel Sandow’s biceps. As corny as it sounds, it’s just what is needed to infuse life back into the show and is somewhat of the turning point for success which would have Ziggy never looking back.

Ziggy’s father runs the most prestigious music academy in Chicago and initially he doesn’t have his father’s blessing to go into show business. But he presses on and eventually wins over his father’s feelings of disapproval. The likeable Ziggy was said to be “able to sell snake oil to anyone”. Using those traits, he learns of an upcoming star in France and beats his rival Jack to the race. Though penniless, he’s able to persuade the young and beautiful singer, Anna Held (played by Louise Rainer) to join him in the U.S. and promised her a life of stardom and wealth. She agrees and shortly after the two are married. Ironically, Ziggy eventually makes good on all of his promises.

Ziggy’s latest show idea is an extremely lavish production which he would call the “Ziegfeld Follies”. Even though many of his shows were successful, he was an extremely impulsive and extravagant man who had very little money left to fund the enormously expensive production. He would find himself back at Jack’s doorstep beseeching his old friend Jack for partnership and financial backing. Jack, who was no fool, knew the show would go on to become highly successful and profitable, agrees to Ziggy’s request immediately. Thus, what would go on to become one of the most popular shows on Broadway known as “The Ziegfeld Follies” began in 1907.

During the film, we see much of the “Follies” show itself including many of the musical sequences as well as many of the incredibly exquisite choreographed dance scenes. After the entr’acte, which starts at 87:28, the film then resumes again at 88:36 and takes us to the legendary performance of Ray Bolger (an incredible tap dance scene which was probably responsible for Bolger’s entry into show business). Another treat is the "A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody" act. At a cost of over $200K at the time, it was one of the most expensive individual scenes ever filmed at the time and was completed in one single consecutive shoot after only the second or third take.

Throughout his career, Ziggy was always surrounded by young and beautiful women which eventually led to a number of transgressions and the end of his marriage to Anna. Ziggy finds love again when he is then introduced to a beautiful young lady by the name of Billie Burke (played by Myrna Loy who’d work with William Powell again that year playing the infamous Nora Charles in After The Thin Man – the 2nd installment of the legendary series) and they would eventually go on to marry.

Though the success of the “Follies” show was undeniable, Ziggy wanted to go back to producing smaller and simpler shows. After overhearing four men in a barbershop proclaiming their thoughts of Ziegfeld being all washed up, he sets out to prove them wrong and brings four smaller but successful productions to the stage. Unfortunately, all of his shows would close with the crash of the stock market and the advent of the Great Depression. His inability to manage his money led to all of his shows being mortgaged and the crash literally wiped him out. With his health deteriorating, Ziggy would go on to die penniless in 1932.

As for this installment of the WB Academy Award releases, The Great Ziegfeld was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won Best Picture, Best Dance Direction and Louise Rainer won Best Actress In A Leading Role. It should also be mentioned that Louise Rainer won the Best Actress statue in the following year for The Good Earth and was the only actress to win consecutive Academy Awards in the same category until Katharine Hepburn won for Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner (in ’68) and The Lion In Winter (in ’69). Spencer Tracy had done it in 1937 & ‘38 for Captains Courageous and Boys Town. Of course, the last set of back to back wins in the category was by Tom Hanks in ’93 & ’94 for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump.



Video:
Taking into account the age of this film, I have to say that I was pretty impressed with this transfer. Let me start with the better than average black levels. They were rich and the grayscale level was affording of a nice contrast. Shadow detail was also better than average. Those who are familiar with the recent release of the ’32 Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde (and for those looking for a gauge) will appreciate similarities in these transfers although I’d pick this as being slightly better. To qualify that, I was most impressed with the level of image detail on this disc. It certainly has its soft moments, but imagery was very detailed at times.

The grain level was moderate as were traces of film dirt and dust. However, what does have to be mentioned with this particular film is the amount of scratches. I was quite surprised particularly during the first part (up to and including the first half). There were many more scratches than I anticipated.

I also noticed infrequent instances of light shimmer and instability although never was it bothersome. I was also concerned with the single disc containing upwards of 3.5 hours worth of information, but there were no issues regarding compression, nor were there any haloing issues.

Consideration has to be given due to the film’s age… thankfully not much! A super job..!!



Audio:
Not a lot to say in terms of the DD Mono track that’s offered as the original track. Unfortunately, I did detect more hiss than I like – very slight. But on the upside that’s usually a case where the track hasn’t been tampered with, thus left in its original state. Probably a point worth mentioning is that my speaker system is comprised of electrostats so I’m a little more susceptible to such hiss.

There is a ton of music throughout this film and I am pleased to say, this track doesn’t disappoint. Dialogue is always intelligible and never hampered by the music or competing with it.

During some of the crescendos, the track does become slightly thin but never to a point of becoming fatiguing.

A DD Mono track that does what is expected of it. Very nice.



Special Features:
The disc boasts two special features. The first;
[*] Ziegfeld On Film. This is a short documentary of the legendary showman with appearances from family members including his daughter Patricia as well as Louise Rainer who seems to be as sharp as a tack. Discussed is the history of Ziegfeld and his business from his one man shows to the Follies. There is also an interesting (but brief) interview from Rainer and how she felt about show business and Louis B. Mayer, which ultimately resulted in her leaving the business. She also discusses her preparation of the infamous scene where she speaks with Ziggy on the telephone congratulating him on his new marriage and she describes how that scene was written by Jean Cocteau. Also included is footage of actual Follies audition clips. It’s interesting to hear that Patricia implies (diplomatically) that the film wasn’t necessarily as “factual” as possible. Interesting but brief. Duration: 13:23 Minutes.
[*] The other feature included is New York Hails The Great Ziegfeld. This is a vintage movie premiere newsreel which focuses on many of the various marquee lights as well as brief cameos and comments from some of the celebrities who attended. It seemed as though the audio portion for the first minute or so of this feature is missing and I had nothing but a clicking sound until the audio actually kicked in… at least that was the case with my review copy. Duration: 4:03 Minutes.



Final Thoughts:
I am a huge fan of William Powell and all of his works. This somewhat sad yet glittery biography of the man who reinvented Broadway exceeds three hours in length, yet with Powell’s charisma and some outstanding performances from the likes of Rainer, Loy and Morgan, made it seem as though I wanted to question the films duration on the spec sheet.

This is yet another example of the presentation exceeding my expectations. For a film that’s almost seventy years old, I was mightily impressed. Sure, it has a few hiccups and, I would be almost skeptical of a seventy year old film that didn’t. Though the extras aren’t plentiful, they are interesting. I believe fans of this film will be truly delighted as I was.

Highly Recommended…!!




Release Date: February 3rd, 2004
My Top 25 Noirs:

25. 711 Ocean Drive (1950), 24. Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), 23. Desperate (1947), 22. Pushover (1954), 21. The Blue Dahlia (1946), 20. The File on Thelma Jordon (1949), 19. He Ran All the Way (1951), 18. The Asphalt Jungle (1950), 17. The Killing (1956), 16. I Walk Alone (1948),...

#2 of 22 OFFLINE   Paul_Scott

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Posted January 19 2004 - 04:47 PM

Quote:
I am a huge fan of William Powell and all of his works.


as am i.
in fact, often i think he may be my favorite actor of all time (tough for me to choose between WP and Burt Lancaster- i could watch either in just about anything).

for some reason though, i've never seen this film and haven't had much interest in it (this and a film called Life with Father seem to blur in my imagination).

i think i'm going to have to rectify that though.
WP, Frank Morgan, Loy and another strong WB presentation- yup, i think i'll be picking this one up.

Thanks Herb.
looking forward to the rest of the reviews on the 2/3 WB classics.

#3 of 22 OFFLINE   Brandon Conway

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Posted January 19 2004 - 06:29 PM

I rented a VHS tape of this film from the library a little over a year ago and was pleasantly surprised at how good the film was. While I'm not a huge fan of long 30's staged musical numbers, I was able to get past them in this film since 1) it is a story about a man who made such numbers and 2) the narrative of the film - especially the heart rending conclusion to Ziegfeld's relationship with Anna Held - was so involving.

Now, I just got to find the money to buy it sometime soon. Posted Image

"And now the reprimand, from an American critic. He reproaches me for using film as a sacred & lasting medium, like a painting or a book. He does not believe that filmmaking is an inferior art, but he believes, and quite rightly, that a reel goes quickly, that the public are looking above all for relaxation, that film is fragile and that it is pretentious to express the power of one's soul by such ephemeral and delicate means, that Charlie Chaplin's or Buster Keaton's first films can only be seen on very rare and badly spoiled prints. I add that the cinema is making daily progress and that eventually films that we consider marvelous today will soon be forgotten because of new dimensions & colour. This is true. But for 4 weeks this film [The Blood of a Poet] has been shown to audiences that have been so attentive, so eager & so warm, that I wonder after all there is not an anonymous public who are looking for more than relaxation in the cinema." - Jean Cocteau, 1932


#4 of 22 OFFLINE   Robert Crawford

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Posted January 19 2004 - 08:34 PM

Frank Morgan is great in this film. Another real treat is seeing the real Fanny Brice (Funny Girl) playing herself as she goes to work for Ziegfeld. Also, when you talk about Ziegfeld dieing in debt, it reminds me how his widow, Billie Burke had to work in films to support herself in some very small roles. Of course, one of those roles turned out to be the Good Witch in "The Wizard of Oz". I've had this movie on SVHS tape for years from a TCM showing that I can now retire.

Thanks for the great review.




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#5 of 22 OFFLINE   Derek_McL

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Posted January 19 2004 - 09:53 PM

At last one of the Thirties musicals Warner has the rights too apart from 42nd Street and The Wizard of Oz ! The fact its not as good as a Fred and Ginger or a Busby Berkeley is neither here nor there. I welcome this release though the movie is a bit of an endurance test. Even the big musical numbers apart from Pretty Girl haven't really stood the test of time.

There is some good stuff in the almost 3 hour running time : Powell is solid as always as is Morgan, Luise Rainer tends to chew the scenery a bit but as has been said we see the real Fannie Brice singing "My Man" and an "actor" playing Eddie Cantor. Maybe thats the best chance of seeing him on DVD ! I thought the Ziegfeld on Film piece might have been a bit more substantial but despite all this I'll probably buy it though I'm a bit more on the fence than I thought I would be. It certainly should never have won the best Picture Oscar in a year which included My Man Godfrey, Mr Deeds Goes To Town, San Francisco, Modern Times and Swing Time.

#6 of 22 OFFLINE   John Watson

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Posted January 19 2004 - 10:02 PM

Godfrey Daniel! Three and a half hours! Layered I guess?

I just (finally) ordered 42nd Street, and will consider The Great Ziegfield based on the review.

#7 of 22 OFFLINE   Paul_Scott

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Posted January 19 2004 - 10:15 PM

i really need to order 42nd Street to start my Toby Wing collection Posted Image

#8 of 22 OFFLINE   oscar_merkx

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Posted January 19 2004 - 10:25 PM

another must buy after reading your review and I have not seen this before either

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#9 of 22 OFFLINE   Derek_McL

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Posted January 20 2004 - 12:37 AM

What does the 1933 film musical 42nd Street have to do with Toby Wing ? Is that someone who was in the stage version ?

#10 of 22 OFFLINE   Paul_Scott

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Posted January 20 2004 - 01:02 AM

Toby Wing is the blonde who can be seen with Dick Powell in the Young & Healthy number.
she was primarily a pin-up/chorus girl, and i've had the hots for her for a number of years now Posted Image.
she looks like an Enoch Bolles Film Fun cover come to life.

42nd Street is probably the only one, out of the 38 movies she did, that will ever make it to disc.

#11 of 22 OFFLINE   Derek_McL

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Posted January 20 2004 - 04:44 AM

Thanks for that Paul I know who you mean but never knew that was her name.

#12 of 22 OFFLINE   John Hodson

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Posted January 20 2004 - 04:55 AM

Derek; you mentioned 42nd Street - what's the disc like? (Great review BTW Herb!)

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#13 of 22 OFFLINE   Conrad_SSS

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Posted January 20 2004 - 05:35 AM

Thank you to Herb for another great review.

I'm very fond of THE GREAT ZIEGFELD, and this sounds like another winner from Warner Home Video. I never knew this film had an overture! My old laserdisc certainly didn't have one, and I've seen this film in repertory houses several times, and there was never an overture.

It's great that Warner restored this, and also sought fit to give this film a first-class presentation. This is a must-buy for me.

In regard to the person asking about 42ND STREET, it is a
magnificent looking (and sounding) restoration job.

#14 of 22 OFFLINE   John Hodson

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Posted January 20 2004 - 10:14 AM

In regard to the person asking about 42ND STREET, it is a
magnificent looking (and sounding) restoration job.


The person says thank you very much! Sold...

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#15 of 22 OFFLINE   Derek_McL

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Posted January 20 2004 - 11:54 AM

Yes John (sorry for not answering earlier) it looks great for a 1933 flick with a couple of interesting musical shorts thrown in as a bonus. Lets have the details about the rumoured edition of GoldDiggers of 1933 (which is supposed to be coming this year I believe) soon Warner !

#16 of 22 OFFLINE   Jesse Lawson

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Posted January 22 2004 - 03:18 AM

Gold Diggers of 1933 and Footlight Parade are among my most-wanted DVD titles. Anyone who hasn't seen them or 42nd Street is in for something special. Warner did do a very nice job with the latter's disc. (Speaking of Footlight Parade, when are we going to see more James Cagney?!?)

I too am a fan of William Powell and quite enjoyed this film when I saw it on TCM a couple years ago (though some of the musical setpieces drags a bit). My favorite Powell-Loy film is I Love You Again, though it doesn't seem to be one of their best-known or most-acclaimed films, so it probably won't find its wat to DVD for a while... Posted Image

There's so much stuff coming out 2/3... there's no way I can afford all the titles I want! But I'll pick up this one for sure.

#17 of 22 OFFLINE   Paul_Scott

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Posted February 04 2004 - 01:00 AM

so did many people pick this up yesterday?
i saw it on the shelf but passed as there about 5 other films released yesterday i'm jonesing to see more, but all night i kept thinking about it, and i think i'm going to be heading out again today to pick it up.

Quote:
My favorite Powell-Loy film is I Love You Again, though it doesn't seem to be one of their best-known or most-acclaimed films, so it probably won't find its wat to DVD for a while...


love that one as well.
frankly, i think WB would do well to put together a few of Powell and Loys non thin man films into a box set and release that.
they said in last years chat that Libeled Lady is coming and i can't wait for it.
but i would also love to see ILYA, and Double Wedding.

#18 of 22 OFFLINE   Jeff_HR

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Posted February 04 2004 - 01:51 AM

This has been a long time favorite. I'll be be buying it now that it is available on DVD.
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#19 of 22 OFFLINE   Haggai

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Posted February 04 2004 - 02:07 AM

Quote:
Toby Wing is the blonde who can be seen with Dick Powell in the Young & Healthy number.


*grabbing address book* Toby...Toby Wing? Toby Wing. Toby Wong? F*&^in' Charlie Chan...

An obvious (adapted) reference that sprang into my mind (Reservoir Dogs, of course) Posted Image

Oh, yeah, The Great Ziegfeld...never seen it, would like to eventually. I just saw The Thin Man for the first time a few months ago on TCM, and Powell/Loy was a fabulous combination. I definitely understood the stature of that movie pairing after finally seeing them in action together.

#20 of 22 OFFLINE   Roger Rollins

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Posted February 04 2004 - 02:12 AM

I picked up all the new WB releases yesterday, and watched THE GREAT ZIEGFELD last night. It's just terrific.

The film holds up very well, especially to me as I always enjoy anything with William Powell in it. He and Loy have their usual exceptional chemistry (yes, making my mouth water for the eventual release of more THIN MAN & other Powell/Loy teamings), and the musical sequences represent the M-G-M sheen of the '30s at its zenith.

The extras are wonderful. The docu and the original premiere footage are both captivating. The package design is derived from a spectacular vintage one-sheet, which is another example of why Warner's package design is heads-and-tails above other studios. (Now if only they would get rid of those snap cases...)

Lastly, I couldn't believe that WB found and added the original OVERTURE, INTERMISSION & EXIT MUSIC along with very classy, film-appropriate deco style art cards. I've seen this film in 35mm, on LD, and on TCM, but it never had these 'roadshow' extras. Very nice, indeed!





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