Sunday, July 10, 2022

Tonight's Movie: Ziegfeld Girl (1941) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

An all-star cast headlines MGM's musical melodrama ZIEGFELD GIRL (1941), just released on Blu-ray by the Warner Archive.

One of many reasons I love the Warner Archive's Blu-ray releases of MGM musicals is that they provide me with great excuses to revisit old favorites, and ZIEGFELD GIRL, presented in gleaming black and white, is no exception.

It's almost surprising that a film with such a top cast and musical numbers was filmed in black and white rather than color, but the black and white style follows in the footsteps of MGM's BROADWAY MELODY titles, and it also seems fitting for its fairly dark storylines.

The saga focuses primarily on the lives of three brand-new Ziegfeld chorus girls: Susan (Judy Garland), whose success means leaving her vaudeville partner father (Charles Winninger) behind; Sandra (Hedy Lamarr), who separates from her struggling musician husband (Philip Dorn) when he objects to her working in the chorus, despite their destitute circumstances; and Sheila (Lana Turner), a department store elevator girl whose head is turned by the nice things available to a Ziegfeld girl who makes herself...well, available.

The top cast also includes James Stewart as Sheila's spurned fiance; Ian Hunter as the wealthy man who makes Sheila his Park Avenue mistress; and Paul Kelly as the show's director.

The cast doesn't stop there, with Tony Martin, Jackie Cooper, Edward Everett Horton, Dan Dailey, and Eve Arden also on hand. Small roles are played by Rose Hobart, Felix Bressart, Fay Holden, Reed Hadley, Bess Flowers, and Roscoe Ates.

The Ziegfeld girls include recognizable faces such as Leslie Brooks, Myrna Dell, Patricia Dane, Jean Wallace (THE BIG COMBO), and longtime MGM chorus dancer Dorothy Tuttle, with Joyce Compton and Joan Barclay as girls auditioning in early scenes.

Getting back to the plot, the screenplay by Sonya Levien and Marguerite Roberts, from a story by William Anthony McGuire, is quite soapy but also thoroughly entertaining. Indeed, it would be hard not to enjoy a film with this cast! Even the sad parts are simultaneously enjoyable; Lana Turner's final staircase scene is a classic, teetering close to camp yet also moving and memorable. Turner was a star even at this early stage of her career, and she carries off both the role and the scene in grand fashion.

I believe I've mentioned here before that while it's commonly thought that Stewart's performances became darker after his service in World War II, beginning with IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946) and continuing with his Anthony Mann Westerns, the more of Stewart's early work I see, the more I recognize that the darkness was there from the very beginning. I mean, he played a murderer in his second year in feature films! (Spoiler alert: Only click this link to my review of that film if you don't mind having the mystery spoiled or have already seen it.)

Here Stewart goes some pretty sad places as a poor trucker dumped by his girlfriend (Turner), leading him to fall into work that pays a lot better but is also illegal. He's a heartbreaker as he can't compete with "frocks" and furs galore. At the same time, both Stewart and Turner's characters hitting rock bottom makes their ultimate reunion extremely moving.

I especially enjoy Lamarr as the level-headed woman who moves forward with her life when her husband acts like an idiot. It's an appealing performance, and needless to say, she was an incredible beauty.

Garland is an upbeat presence in a more innocent role, enjoying a romance with Sheila's brother (Cooper) and gradually moving into stardom while struggling with worry about her father. There's a nice coda to that story in the film's final scenes.

Incidentally, Garland is made up to look like Virginia Bruce in her final scene to match footage cribbed from THE GREAT ZIEGFELD (1936). It's interesting to note that Ziegfeld is never actually seen in ZIEGFELD GIRL, only discussed.

The movie is a tad too long at 132 minutes, but with this mega-cast on hand, it's also hard to know where they could cut it down, although I'd suggest cutting a specialty dance in the "Trinidad" sequence by Antonio and Rosario would have shaved off a couple minutes.  That said, the film holds attention throughout. While not a classic -- and admittedly there are only a couple truly memorable musical numbers -- the cast makes it highly entertaining.

ZIEGFELD GIRL was directed by Robert Z. Leonard, with musical numbers by Busby Berkeley. It was filmed by Ray June and the uncredited Joseph Ruttenberg.

The Warner Archive Blu-ray is a nice print with excellent sound. Like the Archive's other MGM Blu-ray releases, a song selection menu was created for the Blu-ray disc.

The Blu-ray also contains several extras imported from the film's original DVD release, including an introduction by Judy Garland biographer John Fricke; the trailer; two audio-only outtakes featuring Judy Garland and Tony Martin; and the shorts WE MUST HAVE MUSIC (A New Romance of Celluloid, 1941) and MELODIES OLD AND NEW (Our Gang, 1942).

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection Amazon Store or from any online retailers where Blu-rays are sold.


Post a Comment

<< Home

Newer›  ‹Older