Saturday, November 3, 2012

1946 - ZIEGFELD FOLLIES gaudy and fascinating musical revue from MGM

Producer Arthur Freed wanted to recreate the kind of musical revue that Florenz Ziegfeld mounted in the 1900's.  He assembled some of MGM's musical and comedy talent for a series of sketches.  Vincent Minnelli directed about half of the film but apparently none of the comedy bits.

This is a technicolor extravaganza with big splashy tasteless sets and musical numbers from surreal dance sequences to a crazy opera performance completely out of context from source material.  It's all performed by top talent.  The end result is very strange.

Lucille Ball is the ringmaster in some strange cat/tiger number where she runs around with a whip trying to keep cat women under control, very kinky.  Fred Astaire and Lucille Bremer, appear in a couple of numbers.  Astaire is in his prime.  His partner Lucille Bremer is an interesting story.  Bremer was a good dancer who never hit the big time.  Rumor had it that she was also Freed's mistress.  In any case she and Astaire dance together in a couple of very watchable numbers.

Some of the more fascinating parts of Ziegfeld Follies are the comedy sequences.  They are to put it plainly not funny.  Red Skelton does a bit with a hat as a prop which is interesting to watch because it's so bad.  Keenan Wynn does a telephone bit that's awful but it all shrinks when Fanny Brice shows up.

Ziegfeld Follies is an opportunity to see an actual Ziegfeld star Fanny Brice in a comedy skit with Hume Cronyn of all people as her husband.  It's hard to believe this obnoxious overbearing personality was even remotely popular with the public.  I guess she played better on Broadway because she sure is something to see up close on the fairly big TV screen.

The film wraps up with iron lung semi opera singer Kathryn Grayson bellowing something called "There's Beauty Everywhere" all the while a crazed bubble machine dumps soap suds all over a dancing Cyd Charisse.  It was the perfect way to end this amazing film.

110 minutes.

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