The Most Overrated, Tiresome Movie of 1936 – The Great Ziegfeld

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.  

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8 Comments

Filed under 1936, Yearly Best Pictures

8 responses to “The Most Overrated, Tiresome Movie of 1936 – The Great Ziegfeld

  1. Yeah, hard to believe that a movie starring William Powell and Myrna Loy could be so dull. I think you nailed it — The Great Ziegfeld was a nostalgia trip for audiences in 1936 but any emotional connection you can establish with the picture now is one you bring with you ahead of time.

    • And there just aren’t many people left who remember his shows. It’s a shame because they had such a great cast, the studio wasn’t shy about a lengthy run time and spending money on its production. They could have put something special together. Instead we have this tedious picture.

  2. Oh boy. I saw this one coming a mile away and would have won a bag of dough if Vegas would have taken my action. I do dnot agree that it is as bad as you say, but it isn’t remotely close to a Best Picture Oscar -which is rather insulting to anyone with taste. Still, as you note, some of the musical numbers are spirited, and the famed phone scene (which won Ms. Rainer her Oscar) remains a classic individual sequence. Rainer actually rose above the material with a superb performance, even though her screen time suggests it should have been a supporting qualification. She was terrific again the following year for THE GOOD EARTH, which of course won her a second Academy Award.

    Wonderful essay here.

    • I know we can bet on just about anything in Vegas, but I would be unsettled if I were to find you truly could have made so much money based on a bet on my blog. Then I would know we were reaching the final years of the American Empire.

    • As for Rainer, I’m ambivalent about her in this. Yes, she was definitely a supporting role. Myrna Loy had a better claim for the lead. But, other than the scene you mention, she did little that was extraordinary. I would be much more open to giving her a supporting actress nod.

  3. Cristiane

    I couldn’t agree more. This movie is just endless. And I have to say, I think Luise Rainer is absolutely, teeth-grindingly irritating. It’s unbelievable that she beat out Lombard in Nothing Sacred for best actress. It does have a nice number for Ray Bolger, and the wedding-cake number is absolutely jaw-dropping (not good exactly, but definitely jaw-dropping). But the most annoying (non-Rainer-related) moment in the whole movie is when Fannie Brice starts singing “My Man” – and they CUT AWAY to a dull dialogue scene. Oy.

    • Endless is a good adjective. And great point about the Fannie Brice number. She showed up and started to breathe some life into the movie, but was quickly dropped for other uninteresting scenes.

      Like I said to Sam, I’m ambivalent about Rainer. I don’t love her performance and don’t hate it either, though I can see how you could find her irritating. Maybe if I were to watch it again (which I plan to never do again) I would find her more cloying than cute. Though, in fairness, “Nothing Sacred” was released in 1937. Of the nominees, Carole Lombard still should have won for “My Man Godfrey” (though I still prefer Jean Arthur, but just barely).

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It is appreciated.

  4. Cristiane

    Whoops – of course I meant My Man Godfrey. To be honest, I think a lot of my animosity towards Rainer is really no fault of hers – it’s that she beat out TWO of the greatest performances ever on film the following year – Garbo in Camille and Barbara Stanwyck in Stella Dallas. But I do find her very affected.

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