Ziegfeld Follies opens with Florenz Ziegfeld (William Powell) lounging around what appears to be a luxury suite in Heaven. While Ziegfeld appears to enjoy being dead, he also wistfully wonders aloud what a great show he could put on with the current crop of famous talent. In case you didn't know --- and if you are under the age of 70, that's not terribly surprising --- Ziegfeld was a real person who masterminded a string of high-profile, star-studded musical/comedy/dance revues on Broadway, in the 1910s and 20s. Ziegfeld's reminisces are brought to life by some sort of puppetry/stop-motion animation, which features (among many things) holy-shit-that's-racist portrayals of Native Americans and blacks. How racist is it? You know those Tom & Jerry scenes that have been edited out of television broadcasts for the last twenty-odd years? Worse than that.
|If only because the "joke" wasn't caused by an explosion|
|She's gonna have some 'splainin' to do|
To be perfectly frank, I had no idea when I watched Ziegfeld Follies who Ziegfeld was or what his Follies were. I was also unaware that William Powell played Ziegfeld once before, in the 1936 Best Picture winner, The Great Ziegfeld. Even armed with that knowledge, I don't think I would have been prepared for the sheer ridiculousness of this movie. Oh, you think The Hunger Games had some odd costumes? Consider this check and mate.
|That's a hat, not a pink luckdragon in heat|
I don't want to give the impression that Ziegfeld Follies is just a collection of what-were-they-thinking sketches. To be fair, there are a number of charming acts. For instance, I had never seen Esther Williams (outside of a few MGM montages) before, and her underwater scenes were interesting. I don't quite understand how her swimming choreography became popular in movies, but I have to admit that some of it looked pretty.
|...and some of it looked like Minority Report murders|
|Perhaps not the best screenshot to capture that sentiment|
|"Drama!" - a more or less direct quote|
Almost every scene had a different director, with only Vincente Minnelli and George Sydney handling multiple scenes. Robert Lewis, Lemuel Ayers, Roy Del Ruth, Charles Walters, and Merrill Pye round out the rest of the directors in this film. Not surprisingly, the different directors only emphasized the disjointed nature of this film; even if there had not been title cards separating each scene, the difference is style was very noticeable. I wasn't very impressed with any of the directors, but I will admit that (as a whole) the group used some pretty high-end sets. Not every set, mind you --- they ranged from opulent to minimalist --- but there were enough "wow" moments to stick with you.
Ziegfeld Follies was probably never meant to stand the test of time, but that is the issue modern viewers are faced with. On the one hand, this is a movie that feels like the sort of thing you would have seen in Manhattan in the 1920s. The dance sequences are pretty well done and the songs (while not memorable) are inoffensive. On the other hand, every single attempt at humor fails miserably, the dance sequences never blow your mind, and the songs are mediocre and not very famous. When you add that amount of underwhelming to something that is hodgepodge, without the semblance of story, and add a generous heaping of WTF, the result is less than magical. There are only a few shining lights in this movie to justify anything approaching a respectable rating, but the randomness, the racism, and the absolutely wretched comedy in Ziegfeld Follies makes for a soul-sucking experience.
Oh, and William Powell is only in the opening scene? What the hell?!? He is the only reason I watched this damn thing!