The Great Ziegfeld

Critics Consensus

This biopic is undeniably stylish, but loses points for excessive length, an overreliance on clichés, and historical inaccuracies.

62%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 34

50%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 2,778

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Movie Info

This lively biopic depicts the rise of Florenz Ziegfeld (William Powell), a theater producer who became renowned during the 1920s for his lavish stage productions. Starting out by promoting individual performers, Ziegfeld established revues featuring dozens of women, shows that developed into his famous Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway. His appreciation of women is also apparent off-stage, leading to a love triangle involving actresses Anna Held (Luise Rainer) and Billie Burke (Myrna Loy).

Cast & Crew

Critic Reviews for The Great Ziegfeld

All Critics (34) | Top Critics (7) | Fresh (21) | Rotten (13)

  • The Great Ziegfeld exacts not the slightest weariness in the running. On'the contrary, it is matter for astonishment that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer have managed to maintain such a high degree of interest throughout this episodic story.

    January 24, 2020 | Full Review…
  • The producers are to be congratulated on every phase of the beautiful production except their lack of courage cutting the film.

    February 17, 2015 | Full Review…
  • Pretentious, packed with hokum and as richly sentimental as an Irving Berlin lyric, it is, as such, top-notch entertainment.

    February 17, 2009 | Full Review…
  • Considering the recent screen standards in book musicals with five numbers for 100 to 110 minutes of running time this Metro Santaclausing of numbers becomes virtually a double-feature filmusical.

    January 28, 2008 | Full Review…

    Abel Green

    Variety
    Top Critic
  • If the picture overcrowds its screen, at least we must admit it is an impressive kaleidoscope; and probably nothing short of that could reflect the gaudy career of America's foremost showman.

    May 20, 2003 | Full Review…
  • It's amazingly dull, even with William Powell in the lead and guest appearances by the likes of Ray Bolger and Fanny Brice, so of course it won the Best Picture Oscar for 1936.

    January 1, 2000 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for The Great Ziegfeld

  • Nov 29, 2017
    As this film clocks in at three full hours, one reviewer likened it to a "huge, lumbering, Paleozoic beast with a heart", and it's a great analogy. It's a chronicle of the career of showman and theater producer Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr, and the highlights are the musical numbers and showy costumes by Adrian in the middle third of the movie which are truly over-the-top. They're also apparently true to the extravagance of his Ziegfeld Follies, which ran on Broadway from 1907 to 1931. The number ""A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody" is particularly stunning, with the camera going up a lavish, revolving spiral staircase adorned with beautiful men and women, dancers, and performances of classical music along the way. Google it and be suitably impressed for eight minutes. I also liked seeing the tap dance routine from Ray Bolger (the scarecrow from 'The Wizard of Oz'), featuring a few splits that would undoubtedly be quite painful to the average man. Of the cast, William Powell delivers a nice performance in the title role, capturing both the taste and generosity of Ziegfeld, and his relationship with his rival (played by Frank Morgan) is touching. The two of them imbue this biography with class, and through sheer force of will in the production, one can see why the film won the Academy Award for Best Picture. I have to say though, it had too much detail, and for me the first and third hours were too long. Myrna Loy doesn't even make her appearance as Billie Burke until the 2:10 point or so, and her part is rather modest. Luise Rainer plays his first wife, the performer Anna Held, and turns in a mediocre performance, so it's harder to understand her Oscar. Lastly, the film lacks an edge. Ziegfeld was a notorious womanizer, and while that's alluded to, it's all pretty innocent, lacking a certain zest, authenticity, or both. Emotions in general are all muted and glossed over, making us aware of the movie being a theatrical production of its own. You can certainly do worse, but I would only recommend the film with reservations.
    Antonius B Super Reviewer
  • May 02, 2014
    Florenz Ziegfeld rises from anonymity to become one of the most successful theater producers of all time. As a character study, this film is sorely lacking. By the end of the film, there's no understanding about what makes Ziegfeld successful, unless you count his devil-may-care ballsiness or his penchant for using his friends to bail him out of his money matters. And while William Powell plays Ziegfeld with energy from big spectacle to big spectacle, the film rarely slows down to reflect on Ziegfeld's raison d'etre. All that said, the Ziegfeld spectacles recreated for the film are remarkably compelling and a feast for the eyes. There's a dance sequence in this film that rivals anything Gene Kelly ever attempted. Overall, the characters aren't fully explored, but there's still fun to be had.
    Jim H Super Reviewer
  • Oct 02, 2013
    This early circus film is more of a waste of time than a good use of one. One imagines that circuses thrilled more in the thirties and this was an attempt to bring it onto screen with William Powell, Myrna Loy and the rest of the stars of the era. Ultimately it is forgettable.
    John B Super Reviewer
  • Mar 14, 2011
    Winner of some Oscars way back when, this is a lengthy, lavish spectacle driven biopic about Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr.- a legendary theatrical impressario who went from being a small time manager for a strongman, to being basically penniless, but managing to head a Broadway empire. This film undoubtedly takes liberties with how the actual story went down, but I kinda expected that. This is a very long film, and at times it's basically a drawn out soap opera, but the perforamnces are decent, the stage numbers are extremely well done, and this film has some excellent costumes and set designs. There's also lots of well known musical pieces throughout, and the inclusions of real life Ziegfeld players adds to the integrity and authenticity of things. All in all, if you dig old fashioned epic spectacle type films, you'll probably enjoy this one. As a biopic it is pretty routine, but the acting is good, the cast likeable, and overall this proves to be decently fun and entertaining.
    Chris W Super Reviewer

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