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Warner Home Video presents
Ziegfeld Girl (1941)

"So remember this kids, and it comes straight from Mr. Ziegfeld: The Follies is life in one stiff jolt. Life running instead of walking, life speeded up to a mile a minute. But if you've got the right stuff, the pace won't bother you."
- John Slayton (Paul Kelly)

Review By: David Krauss  
Published: June 23, 2004

Stars: James Stewart, Judy Garland, Hedy Lamarr, Lana Turner
Other Stars: Tony Martin, Jackie Cooper, Ian Hunter, Charles Winninger, Edward Everett Horton, Philip Dorn, Paul Kelly, Eve Arden, Dan Dailey
Director: Robert Z. Leonard

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 02h:12m:18s
Release Date: April 06, 2004
UPC: 012569590922
Genre: musical


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ BBB- B

DVD Review

Throughout its history, Hollywood has thrived on recycling successful formulas, and during its Golden Age one of its favorites chronicled the triumphs and tragedies of a trio of beautiful women. Classics like Sally, Irene and Mary, Our Dancing Daughters, and Three on a Match faithfully follow the blueprint, and Ziegfeld Girl does, too. When legendary showman Florenz Ziegfeld plucks a pair of glamour girls and a powerhouse vocalist from obscurity and grooms them into Broadway sensations, the audience immediately wonders who will become the superstar, who will give it all up for love, and who will crash and burn. And with Judy Garland, Hedy Lamarr, and Lana Turner in the lead roles, it's easy to connect the dots.

So what if the plot is predictable? It's watching it all play out that's so much fun, and Ziegfeld Girl obliges with equal parts melodrama, message, and mammoth musical numbers. The screenplay continually presses the point that the Ziegfeld Follies is life in microcosm, filled with dizzying heights and devastating heartache, but Robert Z. Leonard's film never achieves that level of depth. After all, it's only a musical, but Ziegfeld Girl does its darnedest to knock our socks off with both drama and spectacle.

Although William Powell portrayed Ziegfeld in MGM's Oscar-winning The Great Ziegfeld in 1936, this time around the studio employed the clever gimmick of making the larger-than-life producer an unseen presence, looming over the action but never appearing on screen. His minions (Edward Everett Horton and Paul Kelly) do his bidding, and sign three promising showgirls to join the 1916 Follies: Susan Gallagher (Garland), who tours second-rate vaudeville houses with her overbearing but kind-hearted father (Charles Winninger); Sondra Kolter (Lamarr), the statuesque wife of Franz Kolter (Philip Dorn), a struggling classical violinist; and Sheila Regan (Turner), a Brooklyn-born elevator operator whose grandiose dreams and expensive taste threaten her relationship with her truck-driver boyfriend Gil Young (James Stewart).

The teenage Susan works hard to earn her big break, but success comes easily to Sondra and Sheila, and their respective men feel belittled and emasculated by the girls' meteoric rise and stratospheric salaries. In the days before America entered World War II, society frowned on working women, especially those who raked in more dough than their mates, and Franz and Gil deal with their shame and humiliation in different ways. Franz splits up with Sondra, who finds comfort in the arms of singing star Frank Merton (Tony Martin); meanwhile, Gil joins a band of bootleggers to make an easy buck, leaving Sheila free to be seduced by millionaire playboy Geoffrey Collis (Ian Hunter). But frittering away her Ziegfeld fortune on furs, shoes, and a fancy Park Avenue apartment isn't Sheila's only vice. She also likes liquor, and mixing whiskey with her headstrong attitude and sizeable ego makes for one lethal cocktail.

For a musical, Ziegfeld Girl piles on the drama, but includes two blockbuster production numbers (conceived and directed by Busby Berkeley) that evoke the glamour, extravagance, and sheer excess of the Follies. You Stepped Out of A Dream would become an enduring standard and epitomizes Ziegfeld's vision of a showgirl—it also allows all three female stars to wear outlandish Adrian-designed costumes. Not to be outdone, Garland (who sings the beautiful ballad I'm Always Chasing Rainbows early in the film) puts over the calypso-infused Minnie from Trinidad with her tongue firmly in cheek, and somehow makes the idiotic song (and its overdone production) infectious. Unfortunately, the big finale, You've Never Looked So Beautiful Before, is a big letdown, as actual clips from The Great Ziegfeld are shamelessly inserted into the number, which climaxes with an uncomfortable-looking Garland (in blonde ringlets, no less!) perched atop MGM's famous revolving wedding cake staircase.

Garland comes across well in an uninteresting role (although some of her emotional line readings sound eerily like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz), but Ziegfeld Girl is really Lana Turner's picture, and the 20-year-old actress sinks her teeth into her first juicy part. On a couple of isolated occasions Turner goes over the edge (just watch her "count her blessings"), but generally files a mature, well-modulated performance that, like her character, sent her skyrocketing to the top.

Although Stewart had recently won a Best Actor Oscar for The Philadelphia Story, he's saddled here with a second-rate role and a third-rate New York accent. He and Turner possess potent chemistry, yet Stewart seems to realize early on that he's up to his ears in sequins and wisely chooses not to compete with his formidable leading ladies. The first Hollywood star to volunteer for war service (nine months before Pearl Harbor), Stewart enlisted in the Air Force shortly after completing Ziegfeld Girl, which also completed his MGM contract. Whether the studio's shabby treatment of him influenced his decision remains a mystery, but Stewart wouldn't make another movie until It's A Wonderful Life five years later.

At a hefty two hours and 12 minutes, Ziegfeld Girl drags at times, but when it starts to spit and sputter, MGM's stock company invariably perks it up. The deliciously wry Eve Arden as an aging, jaded showgirl supplies some sage wisecracks, a teenage Jackie Cooper (as Sheila's kid brother) makes goo-goo eyes at Garland over an ice cream soda, and a young but tough Dan Dailey enjoys some rapid-fire repartee with Turner. The great films of old Hollywood were often built on such seemingly minor contributions, and although Ziegfeld Girl is far from a great film, it reaps big benefits from its polished supporting cast.

Dated? Sure. Creaky? A little. Yet Ziegfeld Girl deftly juggles its dramatic storyline and sumptuous musical numbers, keeping viewers entertained and involved throughout. Like the Follies itself, Ziegfeld Girl may be uneven, but it still delivers.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Clear, but not particularly vibrant, Ziegfeld Girl looks awfully good for a 63-year-old film. Debris is often noticeable, but usually faint, and never detracts from one's enjoyment of the movie. Hedy Lamarr's raven black hair is well rendered in this full-screen transfer, and the outrageous sequined costumes twinkle and sparkle without additional shimmers. Close-ups are crisp but natural-looking, so viewers can easily drink in all the glamour.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Frenchyes


Audio Transfer Review: The original mono track starts out with plenty of noticeable hiss and more than a few audible pops and crackles, but settles down nicely about a third of the way through the film. The musical numbers enjoy a slight level lift and increased fidelity, lending the vocals by Garland and Tony Martin a lovely depth of tone. Dialogue remains clear and easily understandable throughout.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 36 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Great Ziegfeld, Ziegfeld Follies
1 Deleted Scenes
1 Alternate Endings
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Snapper
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual
Layers Switch: 01h:04m:26s

Extra Extras:
  1. Vintage musical short, A New Romance of Celluloid: We Must Have Music
  2. Our Gang short, Melodies Old and New
Extras Review: Warner once again tacks on a few noteworthy supplements to enhance this classic release, beginning with a slick five-minute introduction to the film by Garland biographer John Fricke. According to Fricke, as soon as The Great Ziegfeld walked away with the Best Picture Oscar in 1936, MGM began planning a follow-up that would focus on the backstage lives of Follies showgirls, and originally considered casting Eleanor Powell, Joan Crawford, Margaret Sullavan, and Virginia Bruce in those roles. As delays beset the project, however, a younger generation of stars took over, and as filming progressed, Lana Turner so impressed studio brass with her dramatic portrayal, her role was expanded. Fricke offers some additional production tidbits, and hosts this intro in his trademark convivial style.

Garland fans will certainly appreciate the next extra, the 1942 promotional short A New Romance of Celluloid: We Must Have Music. The 11-minute rarity is little more than a thinly disguised ad for MGM's upcoming features, but kicks off with Garland performing the title tune, which was slated as the original Ziegfeld Girl finale, then deleted in favor of another (weaker) concept. Although only the number's initial chorus remains, it's a treat to see Judy belting out an unfamiliar song—and her baton twirling ain't too shabby either. The film also eavesdrops on an orchestral scoring session for The Chocolate Soldier, and peeks in on a Busby Berkeley dance rehearsal for the Garland-Mickey Rooney picture Babes on Broadway.

Less noteworthy is an 11-minute Our Gang short, Melodies Old and New, in which the Little Rascals crew puts on their own "follies" in Spanky's surprisingly spacious basement to raise money for new football uniforms. Some mildly amusing shenanigans ensue, as Spanky, Buckwheat, and a few of their cohorts sing, dance, and mug for the camera.

Much more relevant (and interesting), the audio vault offers photo recreations of two deleted musical numbers, Too Beautiful to Last and the complete version of We Must Have Music, which incorporates the surviving footage of Garland with various production stills. The original trailer for Ziegfeld Girl, as well as trailers for The Great Ziegfeld and MGM's all-star 1946 revue Ziegfeld Follies complete the extras package.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

Few would rank Ziegfeld Girl as one of Hollywood's greatest musicals, but I found this splashy, dramatic, and tuneful look inside the Follies more involving and entertaining than its Oscar-winning predecessor. Warner's fine transfer and thoughtful smattering of extras nicely compliment the film, which epitomizes MGM gloss and opulence. Recommended.

 


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