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The Great Ziegfeld

Released Apr 8, 1936 2h 54m Musical List
71% Tomatometer 70 Reviews 50% Audience Score 2,500+ Ratings 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). Read More Read Less Watch on Fandango at Home Buy Now

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The Great Ziegfeld

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Critics Consensus

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

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Critics Reviews

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Pauline Kael New Yorker Fanny Brice is herself, though she isn't on screen enough to vitalize this lavish, tedious musical biography; it goes on for a whopping three hours, but through some insane editing decision she's cut off in the middle of singing "My Man." Jul 28, 2022 Full Review Otis Ferguson The New Republic Too glib for real life, it is persuasive for all that -- possibly just because of that. Feb 18, 2022 Full Review Robert Herring Guardian The representation of this greatness is done with such consistent loud-pedalling that the picture lacks climax as much as it needs relief. Dec 2, 2021 Full Review Matt Brunson Film Frenzy A real curio of a film, it soars in spots and staggers in others. Rated: 2.5/4 Jan 9, 2024 Full Review Christopher Lloyd The Film Yap The 1936 Best Picture Oscar winner is surely an extravaganza of stage splendor, and William Powell charms as the impresario who knew the highest of highs and lowest of lows. Rated: 3.5/5 Dec 25, 2023 Full Review Mark Johnson Awards Daily A nearly 3-hour film with big set pieces and over a thousand people employed, The Great Ziegfeld is far too long for a musical romp. Jun 27, 2023 Full Review Read all reviews

Audience Reviews

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Liam D One of the first Hollywood biopics and while it has great performances it's length is way too long and didn't deserve to win Best Picture Rated 3.5 out of 5 stars 03/31/24 Full Review Keefe D If the viewer was to judge Ziegfeld's on his character; financial expertise; friendship to his peers and coworkers; and relationships, he wasn't so great. Ziegfeld's treatment of his friend and financial backer Jack Billings is absolutely reprehensible. The Great Ziegfeld has a bland story and the musical numbers are forgettable. It's 3 hours I'll never get back. Rated 0.5 out of 5 stars 02/12/23 Full Review Audience Member I first heard about William Powell not in the "Thin Man" films, but as the curmudgeonly Doc in the World War II classic "Mister Roberts", also starring Henry Fonda, James Cagney, and Jack Lemmon (in his first Oscar-winning role). By the time that movie came out, Powell was a veteran actor in the final stages of his career ("Mister Roberts" was his final motion picture appearance, followed by a role in a 1969 short film). So, upon the discovery that it was he who starred in the 1936 Best Picture winner, I had to take a look. And now that I have seen "The Great Ziegfeld", I must say that Powell's performance saved this film from what could very easily have been pure Depression-era escapist hoo-ha. Sure, Luise Rainer took home Best Actress for her melodramatic portrayal of Ziegfeld's melodramatic first wife, Anna Held (To echo a sentiment of a fellow IMDb reviewer of this film, she originated the now-familiar "smiling through the tears" performance that we have seen many times). And Myrna Loy did a fine job as his second wife Billie Burke (you know, Glinda the Good Witch from "The Wizard of Oz"). Throw in some fine performances by Nat Pendleton as The Great Sandow and Virginia Bruce as the talented yet troublesome Audrey Dane, and you have what appears to be a fairly well-done biographical film about Florenz Ziegfeld, right? Ah, but this is a movie about Florenz Ziegfeld, and in movies about Florenz Ziegfeld, you need to showcase some musical numbers and how he would have staged them. Don't get me wrong, the musical numbers in this movie feature some of the best choreography and staging of the Depression Era, with stages that moved in and out (in sections and all at once), dogs that stayed at their marks for over two minutes as women danced around (and over!) them, and the costumes! Oh, the costumes! How those women paraded around in some of those things with smiles on their faces is beyond me! But over and above that is the infamous "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody", which everyone claims was done in a single shot. But if you look more closely, it was really done in two shots; the transition happens at the clown's close-up. Even with two shots (three, if you count the curtain reveal), we are talking about a single continuous production piece that stretches for seven minutes! It is perfectly clear that MGM spared no expense in making this movie. In fact, it cost about as much money to film "Pretty Girl" as it did for Ziegfeld himself to produce one of his Follies! MGM was notorious for their over-the-top productions during the 1930s, and "The Great Ziegfeld" was no exception. The mentality at the time was that America (and much of the world, for that matter) was caught in the Great Depression, and the public needed movie musicals with bright, cheerful, optimistic, and lavish set pieces to "forget" about their troubles for a couple of hours. And, even though it isn't technically a musical, this film fits that bill. But with a running time of nearly three hours, "The Great Ziegfeld" seems to stall during the lavish musical numbers, making it severely dated by today's standards. But I have saved the film's saving grace for last, and his name is William Powell! As Ziegfeld, he is both legitimate businessman and snake-oil vendor, devoted husband and father and lecherous womanizer, brilliant showman and luckiest man on Earth! But what makes Ziegfeld fascinating is the ease at which Powell moves from one end of the spectrum to the other in a flash, then back again, especially when playing with (or is it against?) Frank Morgan. As Ziegfeld's rival/nemesis/business partner Jack Billings, Frank Morgan gave us a man who was both flustered by and respectful to Ziegfeld's knack for showmanship. As a bonus to the film, two people who owed their careers in show business to Florenz Ziegfeld appear as themselves in "The Great Ziegfeld". First up is Fanny Brice, who re-enacts her discovery by and her audition for him. And the legendary Ray Bolger does a wonderful dance number that rivals, if not outdoes, anything he did three years later in "The Wizard of Oz". So there you have it. This review seems about as long as the movie itself, so I will sum it up like this: "The Great Ziegfeld" is too long and it stalls during the musical numbers, but William Powell and Ray Bolger make it worth watching. Rated 3 out of 5 stars 02/08/23 Full Review Audience Member This movie is plodding at times. The musical numbers are very long and at times tedious and have nothing to do with the plot of the movie. It seemed like a way to get the runtime to 3 hours and to make sure the Best Picture award was all theirs. They were beautifully shot, wonderfully acted and the costumes were amazing. They were just long. My biggest gripe is the main character. At no time during this film did I ever feel sorry for him nor did I ever cheer for him. He was a con artist of the highest order and that kind of character is just too much for me to care about. I understand why he did these things but they were still under-handed and not becoming of a good protagonist. Great film for its time, definite recommend, especially for the lavish, although long, musical numbers. Rated 3.5 out of 5 stars 02/06/23 Full Review Audience Member Overblown, but fun to watch. Oscar for Best Picture! Rated 3 out of 5 stars 04/09/21 Full Review Audience Member Only an hour too long. It's like a less compelling version of Yankee Doodle Dandy though admittedly this came first. There is one spectacular musical scene which cost an absolute fortune to make but was worth it as it was the only standout moment in the film. Back in the day this was a high water mark for musicals but more recent appraisals are closer to the mark. This is bloated beyond excuse and is one of the more disappointing best picture academy award winners. Rated 1.5 out of 5 stars 01/28/23 Full Review Read all reviews
The Great Ziegfeld

My Rating


Cast & Crew

Dancing Lady 80% 70% Dancing Lady The Hollywood Revue 43% 18% The Hollywood Revue The Broadway Melody 42% 21% The Broadway Melody Maytime 100% 88% Maytime Words and Music 20% 61% Words and Music Discover more movies and TV shows. View More

Movie Info

Synopsis 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).
Robert Z. Leonard
Hunt Stromberg
Production Co
Original Language
Release Date (Theaters)
Apr 8, 1936, Original
Release Date (Streaming)
Nov 18, 2016
2h 54m
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