The Great Ziegfeld (1936)

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"The Great Ziegfeld" featured image. Detail from original movie poster.

The Great Ziegfeld (1936). 185 minutes.  Directed by Robert Z. Leonard.  Starring William Powell (as Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr.), Luise Rainer (as Anna Held), Myrna Loy (as Billie Burke), and Frank Morgan (as Billings).

If you enjoy the movies of the 1930s, it would be wrong for you not to see The Great Ziegfeld at some point.  It is bloated, to be sure, and many of its historical and biographical details are inaccurate, but it was financially one of the most successful films of its decade, and among its many honors, it was the first musical for which a performer won an Academy Award (Luise Rainer for Best Actress; the movie also won for Best Picture).  It features many phenomenal musical numbers, including the famous “A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody,” in which performers dance and sing on a slowly turning wedding cake-like set.  The “Pretty Girl” sequence alone reportedly cost $220,000 to make at the time (close to $3.75 … Read the rest

Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935)

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"Gold Diggers of 1935." Detail from movie poster.

Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935).  98 minutes.  Directed by Busby Berkeley.  Starring Dick Powell (as Dick Curtis), Adolphe Menjou (as Nicolai Nicoleff), Gloria Stuart (as Ann Prentiss), Alice Brady (as Mathilda Prentiss), and Hugh Herbert (as T. Mosely Thorpe III).  Music and lyrics by Harry Warren and Al Dubin.

One might be tempted to say that the plot of this film exists mainly to support the lavish, geometrically obsessed Busby Berkeley musical numbers presented at the film’s conclusion.  Such a reading, however, would marginalize all of the lampooning of class and extravagance that takes place over the course of the majority of the film.  What happens before the musical numbers is truly wonderful, a great showcase of scheming and greed that is delivered from an entirely playful perspective. 

Nearly everyone in Gold Diggers of 1935 is after someone else’s money.  Almost all of the characters scheme to enrich their wallets and widen their pockets—some maliciously (for example, Mosely’s stenographer blackmails … Read the rest

Easter Parade (1948)

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Detail from "Easter Parade" movie poster

Easter Parade (1948). 103 minutes.  Directed by Charles Walters.  Starring Judy Garland (as Hannah Brown), Fred Astaire (as Don Hewes), Ann Miller (as Nadine Hale), and Peter Lawford (as Jonathan Harrow III).  Music and lyrics by Irving Berlin.

Easter Parade contains some of stars Fred Astaire’s and Judy Garland’s most beloved routines, including the title song (sung at the film’s conclusion), “Steppin’ Out With My Baby,” and “We’re a Couple of Swells,” the latter of which became an important part of Garland’s concert repertoire.  The film takes place over the course of a year in New York, from the Easter of 1912 to the Easter of 1913.  Singer and dancer Don Hewes (played by Astaire) has been abandoned by his accomplished partner, Nadine Hale (played by Ann Miller), and stumbling into a cabaret at night, Hewes tells his friend Jonathan Harrow (played by Peter Lawford) that he can make any of the girls performing in that venue into a world-class … Read the rest