Classic movie site with rare images, original ads, and behind-the-scenes photos, with informative and insightful commentary. We like to have fun with movies!
Archive and Links
grbrpix@aol.com
Search Index Here




Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Improving On Ziegfeld's Past


Glitter or a Gutter Waits For a Next Ziegfeld Girl



Did MGM think they could recreate Ziegfeld Follies better than he was able to create them? I’m suspecting so based on Ziegfeld Girl, what with its He was good, but come and see us top him. Implicit to every music revue was boast that what Broadway sold you for six dollars a seat could be had from movies for seventy-five cents. Bargain shopping for entertainment was everyone’s pastime, ultimate win to ones who nested home with their radios. Ziegfeld Girl promised a moon not tendered since a first Ziegfeld story from 1936, well recalled if not revived by 1941. No need for that where Metro could improve upon it. Ziggy was long gone, him since just a name, now an offscreen divinity (we never see “Ziegfeld” himself in Ziegfeld Girl). Wasn’t it settled that films were doing a better job at what Ziegfeld and others of Broadway did? Simple enough to kid heart-landers who never experienced a Great White Way. Others saw stage recital recorded by cameras as static tableau it was. That much had not changed since early talkies. Ziegfeld Girl is set in the 20’s, yet nothing about it suggests the 20’s, except references to Prohibition. Weakest sections are where they try to dazzle us with “production.” A thing can be colossal as you please on a screen and still look punk beside seeing a same done live. Think Rodan at safe distance of celluloid could scare you like him (or was it her?) flying over your house this morning? I watched Tony Martin serenading a hundred showgirls in Ziegfeld Girl and wanted him to quit and go home. Even Judy Garland looks arch trying to headline one after other elephantine numbers, these far from what she did best in films.




I submit Lana Turner as a best thing about Ziegfeld Girl. Anyone who calls Lana a “bad actress” misses the point. She was, in fact, a master at her very particular craft. But let’s be stingy and say it was mere “instinct,” like a thirsty dog locating a water dish, except no, for why is Turner so good as others frankly fall down? And yet if any had asked her to explain how/why, I’m not sure she could have. Maybe that is because people like Lana Turner were born understanding the fundamentals of melodrama and how best to play it. She knew a right level to rise to, and not go beyond. As cast-mates lay too heavy a hand at times, she floats above the morass and never forgets her art is all off tissue rolls. Lana finds humor in her character’s suffering, sort of a “Here’s the part where I collapse walking down the stairs after being dissolute through a third act.” Turner knew when enough was enough, wise not to push for effect beyond that. Movies were ripe fruit for only awhile after all, Ziegfeld Girl a most disposable of them. Why make an ass of yourself trying too hard? I enjoyed her best among a crowd busting humps to be dramatic. Turner makes phony-baloney a good thing. I felt her embarrassment where Minnelli whip drove (with Lana driving) a shriek culminate to Kirk Douglas' blow-off in The Bad and The Beautiful, where James Stewart, and then Ian Hunter, doing approximate same in Ziegfeld Girl are fly specks to a girl who knew she was Lana Turner and that fresh men would be along sooner than a next street car.






Norma Shearer Extends Helping Hand To Mae Busch
Ziegfeld Girl is actually a threesome, “All-Star” by way of Judy Garland (first-billed of the trio), Hedy Lamarr, her name above Turner’s for no good reason, other than Ziegfeld Girl being Lana-try-out for undisputed leads, and boy, does she pass. Garland is seen and heard to frank disadvantage, always more effective where song arose from situation, Judy advancing drama via longing lyrics, as in Will Andy Hardy ever love me?, or Why won’t the Boy Next Door look my way? Utter sincerity and sometime catch in words, “Oh no, John, I don’t hate you, I just hate basketball.” That reads silly, but she made it Shakespeare. Hammering a number on a crowded stage is not my notion of Garland used best. The can-do-anything as applied to this girl went but so far. Judy was as delicate a mechanism as any great star. Of Hedy Lamarr, I will say less. A good thing she was inventing modern technology at home, so there would be something for us to applaud. Lamarr said MGM just wanted her to “look dumb, and act stupid.” In Ziegfeld Girl at least, she delivers. Not to be harsh though, because Lamarr’s is a bad-conceived part, the sort imposed on her, and us, in belief she would at least be something to look at, but hold: the real Ziegfeld had Louise Brooks, that enough to beat Leo’s time no matter a depth of competition. Some would say the most arresting Ziegfeld girl(s) are ones backstage, Eve Arden and Mae Busch most prominent. Yes, Mae Busch, as in deserved italics. I read of Mae being charity casting at MGM by the late 30’s, Norma Shearer notably kind to the cast-off. Back caption on the still at above left reads in part: "Mae Busch, who starred in motion pictures long before the talkies arrived, is making a screen comeback with the aid of Norma Shearer, who helped her obtain the role of Madame LaMotte in "Marie Antoinette," in which Miss Shearer plays the leading role." Ziegfeld Girl, however, gives Mae a real part, the last of substance as fate had it, with tart lines even, if not enough of them. Who could have known then that Mae Busch would be such a meaningful name today? (at least among Laurel-Hardy followers)


MGM Either Cut This Portion of Ziegfeld Girl, Or I Slept Through It


Irksome to me is all of men in Ziegfeld Girl being such horse arses. Why should Hedy give up potential stardom to salve sensitivity of loser ball-chain Philip Dorn? Their arguments, one accent pitted against another, gets tedious fast. Then there is Charles Winninger, too vocal in best of times, as Clueless Dad dragging Judy down, a tempo impediment where I longed for him to exit Ziegfeld Girl and stay gone. James Stewart is Lana’s whiny boyfriend who wants her to marry him instead of becoming a Ziegfeld star. Easy choice!, which Turner makes until down-and-outness renders simper-Jim preferable to dipso death rattles. Occurs to me that Stewart wasn't inducted a moment too soon. He may have needed the war a lot more than the war needed him, notwithstanding combat record he scored up. At least from that he came back a more persuasive player, likeable by increased leaps anyway. Pre-fight JS may indeed be best summed up by Tex Avery in the Hollywood Steps Out cartoon cameo. Ziegfeld Girl argues, if unknowingly, for woman’s deliverance from dominance of men, as none of its trio are enhanced by anchors here, yet we’re supposed to root for these guys and hope they prevail at the end. Such was pro forma life Hollywood would impose upon heroines, and us, should we buy into it, and yet who in that industry practiced what was preached? (see Garland, Lamarr, Turner discard of husbands, and more power to them, for bulk of bread brought home was theirs, and that was/is always what tips scales). Ziegfeld Girl is had on a very nice DVD from Warners.

6 Comments:

Blogger DBenson said...

Did Billie Burke, Ziegfeld's widow, figure in this or in the actual Follies feature? By this time she'd was aging gracefully into flighty matrons and was a name, if not quite a star.

There's a "real" Ziegfeld movie, the early talkie "Glorifying the American Girl". A dancing shopgirl is lured into vaudeville by a sleazy partner, and against all odds she is Discovered. Meanwhile, her true love back home ends up with her mousy best friend. Just before she goes onstage as a glittering Ziegfeld beauty, she finds out she missed out on the boy back home (and for good measure, the sleazy partner slipped her a 50-50 contract so he gets half her Ziegfeld money). Eddie Cantor does an onstage comedy sketch and I think Helen Morgan sings. I've got it on an Alpha disc somewhere.

In one of Harry Golden's books (anybody remember him?), he recalls working as desk clerk in a minor NY hotel whose residents included a long-faded Ziegfeld girl. The movie evidently used an incident from her life, so a lawyer found her and they got a small settlement out of MGM. She crossed Golden's path a few years after that, desperately needing somebody to pay a cab fare. She had a list of men to call in case of emergency, many of them rich and famous but most of them dead. He did so, musing that some decades earlier rich young blades would have fought for that privilege.

(Just spent time digging out and flipping through "Only in America", "For 2¢ Plain", and "Enjoy, Enjoy" looking for that story. I know I've tripped over "You're Entitled" while looking for other books in the past, but couldn't find it now. Might be in there.)

6:50 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

There's a Blu-Ray of "Glorifying the American Girl" that is very nice, and includes as an extra, "La Cucuracha," which looks terrific.

7:00 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

The one time I saw Philip Dorn in a movie, he looked like a cross between Frank Sinatra and Fred Allen.

8:54 PM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

Flo offered actress / dancer Suzanne Kaaren a Ziegfeld Girl job, but her parents wouldn't permit it as the future Mrs. Sidney Blackmer was only fifteen at the time.

7:17 AM  
Blogger DBenson said...

Turns out the Kino edition of "Glorifying the American Girl" is also available on DVD so I just ordered (I'm a comparative Luddite). It's heartening that anybody's willing to restore things that have fallen into Public Domain.

1:32 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercers considers Lana Turner's stardom:


David Shipman wrote that Lana Turner “has no other identity than that of a film-star—and that in its most obvious sense: a glamour girl from a mould, a fabulous creature who moves, on screen, among beautiful furnishings, and who, off-screen, is primarily noted for a series of love affairs and marriages…Even her admirers would admit that she couldn’t act her way out of a paper bag.”

Well, that may be too harsh. There is a place for glamour, after all.

Looking at candids published on the internet by Wonderwall, of stars and celebrities sheltering these days--out of place, it seems—it occurred to me that her sort of glamour would be a burden as heavy for them to bear as a serious thought.

Your article suggests that there was an intelligent appreciation of what talent as Lana could contribute to any role, if not hers, then certainly by whoever was behind the camera. Maybe that’s why she’s not nearly as much fun as Bette Davis or Joan Crawford, the former daring her limits, the latter not aware that she might be exceeding hers.

You also mentioned Louise Brooks, that incandescent personality who was a genuine Ziegfeld girl. Someone like her, or Norma Shearer, Joan Fontaine, Eleanor Parker, or Saoirse Ronan, is far more interesting to me than a Lana Turner. There is the suggestion of something just beyond the edge of light or sound, some depth of passion or carnality yearning for expression, or a spiritual reality corresponding, however imperfectly, to what we perceive.

When Shipman wrote those words, Turner had been, he acknowledged, a star for nearly 40 years. That was coming to an end, even then, but such longevity is astonishing. I wonder if I simply have not the eyes to see, and what I find in others, many found in her. Perhaps, but if that were so, the language of their appreciation is not such as I can understand.

3:45 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

grbrpix@aol.com
  • December 2005
  • January 2006
  • February 2006
  • March 2006
  • April 2006
  • May 2006
  • June 2006
  • July 2006
  • August 2006
  • September 2006
  • October 2006
  • November 2006
  • December 2006
  • January 2007
  • February 2007
  • March 2007
  • April 2007
  • May 2007
  • June 2007
  • July 2007
  • August 2007
  • September 2007
  • October 2007
  • November 2007
  • December 2007
  • January 2008
  • February 2008
  • March 2008
  • April 2008
  • May 2008
  • June 2008
  • July 2008
  • August 2008
  • September 2008
  • October 2008
  • November 2008
  • December 2008
  • January 2009
  • February 2009
  • March 2009
  • April 2009
  • May 2009
  • June 2009
  • July 2009
  • August 2009
  • September 2009
  • October 2009
  • November 2009
  • December 2009
  • January 2010
  • February 2010
  • March 2010
  • April 2010
  • May 2010
  • June 2010
  • July 2010
  • August 2010
  • September 2010
  • October 2010
  • November 2010
  • December 2010
  • January 2011
  • February 2011
  • March 2011
  • April 2011
  • May 2011
  • June 2011
  • July 2011
  • August 2011
  • September 2011
  • October 2011
  • November 2011
  • December 2011
  • January 2012
  • February 2012
  • March 2012
  • April 2012
  • May 2012
  • June 2012
  • July 2012
  • August 2012
  • September 2012
  • October 2012
  • November 2012
  • December 2012
  • January 2013
  • February 2013
  • March 2013
  • April 2013
  • May 2013
  • June 2013
  • July 2013
  • August 2013
  • September 2013
  • October 2013
  • November 2013
  • December 2013
  • January 2014
  • February 2014
  • March 2014
  • April 2014
  • May 2014
  • June 2014
  • July 2014
  • August 2014
  • September 2014
  • October 2014
  • November 2014
  • December 2014
  • January 2015
  • February 2015
  • March 2015
  • April 2015
  • May 2015
  • June 2015
  • July 2015
  • August 2015
  • September 2015
  • October 2015
  • November 2015
  • December 2015
  • January 2016
  • February 2016
  • March 2016
  • April 2016
  • May 2016
  • June 2016
  • July 2016
  • August 2016
  • September 2016
  • October 2016
  • November 2016
  • December 2016
  • January 2017
  • February 2017
  • March 2017
  • April 2017
  • May 2017
  • June 2017
  • July 2017
  • August 2017
  • September 2017
  • October 2017
  • November 2017
  • December 2017
  • January 2018
  • February 2018
  • March 2018
  • April 2018
  • May 2018
  • June 2018
  • July 2018
  • August 2018
  • September 2018
  • October 2018
  • November 2018
  • December 2018
  • January 2019
  • February 2019
  • March 2019
  • April 2019
  • May 2019
  • June 2019
  • July 2019
  • August 2019
  • September 2019
  • October 2019
  • November 2019
  • December 2019
  • January 2020
  • February 2020
  • March 2020
  • April 2020
  • May 2020
  • June 2020
  • July 2020
  • August 2020
  • September 2020
  • October 2020
  • November 2020
  • December 2020
  • January 2021
  • February 2021
  • March 2021
  • April 2021