At the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, sideshow barker Flo Ziegfeld turns the tables on his more successful neighbor Billings, and steals his girlfriend to boot. This pattern is repeated throughout their lives, as Ziegfeld makes and loses many fortunes putting on ever bigger, more spectacular shows (sections of which appear in the film). French revue star Anna Held becomes his first wife, but it's not easy being married to the man who "glorified the American girl." Late in life, now married to Billie Burke, he seems to be all washed up, but...Written by
Rod Crawford <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Before anybody goes on for one minute more about how brilliant Luise Rainer is as Anna Held, let's remember that she took the Oscar from Garbo's Camille. I mean, come on. Rainer is pretty and her instincts are right, and her famous "telephone scene" expertly employs the old smiling-through-tears device. But it's hardly as challenging a role as Marguerite, and Rainer's undeniable Continental charm can go only so far.
The movie itself is a corker. William Anthony McGuire's screenplay is far above average for this musical-biography genre; it's full of smart wisecracks, and while it heavily fictionalizes Ziegfeld's life and persona (it makes him much more suave and irresistible than he was), it gets the big things right: his invention of the big musical revue, his obsession with glorifying the American girl, his unparalleled showmanship and eye for talent.
Speaking of talent, you get a full, uninterrupted, great Ray Bolger number, several clever and lavish production numbers, and a snippet of Fanny Brice (but cutting away from her "My Man" is unforgivable). The actors playing Eddie Cantor and Will Rogers are amusingly terrible. And Virginia Bruce is memorably nasty as a temperamental showgirl.
The Academy named this Best Picture of 1936. And you know, it probably was.
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