Friday, September 2, 2011
MOVIE REVIEW: ZIEGFELD GIRL
Set in the 1920s, the film tells the parallel stories of three women who become performers in the renowned Broadway show the Ziegfeld Follies. It was intended to be a 1938 sequel to the 1936 hit The Great Ziegfeld, and even recycled some footage from the earlier film - however the movie underwent many changes in its plot before it was released.
The story here follows three young women who get into the Ziegfeld chorus line.
Lana Turner is an elevator operator in a department store who is seen by the showman and hired by his right hand man (Edward Everett Horton). She is seeing a truck driver (Jimmy Stewart). Turner likes the more lucrative and glamorous lifestyle she is entering (especialy the relationship she picks up with wealthy Ian Hunter). Stewart gradually gets disgusted by the change in her, and turns to "easy, big money" of his own - working as a driver and lieutenant of a bootlegger.
The second follows Hedy Lamarr, the wife of violinist Philip Dorn. Dorn has been struggling (with the help of friend Felix Bressart) to get into public notice as a great classical violinist. While accompanying him to an audition for a violinist at the New Amsterdam Theater, Lamarr is hired for the chorus. Dorn does not want his wife to be a possible sex object for lascivious males. When Hedy refuses to give up a good job, Dorn walks out on her (although he keeps an eye on her career and relationships, especially with the male singer star of the show Tony Martin).
Finally we see Judy acting with her father Charles Winninger at a vaudeville theater in Harlem (this is about 1920 or so). He is "Pop" Gallagher, a tried-and-true old vaudeville comedian and song and dance man. Judy is hired also for the chorus (the one failure of the plot: Judy is still an adorable young woman like "Dorothy" in the WIZARD OF OZ, but is outclassed by Turner and Lamarr or even fellow chorus girl Eve Arden as a statuesque looker), but we see her pushed onto Horton and show director Paul Kelly as a singer by Turner and Lamarr. But her singing is not how Winninger trained her, and he feels he has to let her go off on her own. Instead he meets an old friend, Al Shean (here playing himself), and they go off into the vaudeville hinterlands to perfect an act together.
The film follows the rise and fall or rise of the three young women, with Turner having the hardest fall (as does Stewart). On the way Turner will have two run-ins with a very young (and obnoxious) Dan Daily as a boxing champion. It's an interesting early role for this actor, better recalled for musical and comic parts a decade later. The other supporting players do well too, Arden getting some nice zingers regarding the benefits of being there for stage door johnnies. Horton plays it fairly controlled and not as startled as normal. Kelly is all business, an interesting early come-back role for a fine character actor just getting his life together after years in prison for a tragedy he was not really to blame for. Martin gets to sing "You Look Like a Dream" and several other tunes, his romance doomed when Hedy meets his long-suffering wife. Dorn proves an adept actor, jealous and hurt at Hedy's choice, but willing to meet her half-way at the end. Jackie Cooper (as Lana's brother) is fine as her would-be conscience, and Judy's boy-friend.
Judy Garland had the best numbers with the sentimental "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows" and the bouncy "Minnie From Trinidad", but Tony Martin nearly stole the show with his signature number "You Stepped Out Of A Dream". The story of the three Ziegfeld hopefuls was interesting and compelling. One of the girls gained fame being a Ziegfeld girl, one Ziegfeld girl decided that family was her best bet, and one Ziegfeld girl went down the wrong path to self-destruction. Everything about this movie I enjoyed, and it a shame that this film is not remembered more. Florence Ziegfeld sure could put on a show, and even a movie about him was no different!
my rating: 10 out of 10