It may not be fair to call this the most overrated movie of 1936. Maybe at the time it was overrated – it did win the Oscar for best picture and Luise Ranier snagged her first of two consecutive Best Actress statuettes – but I don’t think there are many who continue to admire it today. I have to think that the ill-advised nod from the Academy may still steer unsuspecting classic movie lovers to The Great Ziegfeld, but be forewarned. It is an overblown mess, devoid of emotion, historical context, or biographical information. The only things going for it are a couple of pretty good musical numbers and a few sincere performances.
Though intended as a biopic of legendary Broadway producer Florenz Ziegfeld (William Powell), we don’t learn anything about the man we couldn’t have learned from a blurb. It was a nostalgic trip for older viewers in 1936 who remembered the acts and shows Ziegfeld popularized from the 1890s to the 1920s, especially the Ziegfeld Follies. But the movie isn’t any more ambitious than nostalgia, serving up one scene after another depicting how he discovered (or stole) his greatest hits like Anna Held (Rainer) and Fanny Brice (jollily played by herself).
There was a slew of much better movies that were better contenders for best picture. Any one from my list would do, but also others like Dodsworth and Show Boat (which Ziegfeld coincidentally produced on Broadway). This wasn’t the first time the Academy flubbed it, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. They have rarely gotten it right, but they usually pick a movie that is at least good by some standard. This was one of their worst best picture choices and it’s enough to make me wonder how the Oscars became so prestigious.