Luise Rainer as Anna Held, The Great Ziegfeld
Best Picture Academy Award winner The Great Ziegfeld (1936) will be screening tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the American Cinematheque’s Aero Theater in Santa Monica. Robert Z. Leonard directed this sumptuous MGM production, starring William Powell as theatrical showman Florenz “Flo” Ziegfeld, Myrna Loy as Ziegfeld’s wife Billie Burke (the good witch Glinda in The Wizard of Oz), and Luise Rainer as Anna Held.
For her performance — which amounts to a supporting role, including a highly effective telephone scene — Rainer won the first of her two back-to-back Best Actress Oscars. The following year, she would take home the statuette for her Chinese peasant in Sidney Franklin’s The Good Earth. Rainer, by the way, is the oldest Oscar winning performer around. The London resident turned 101 last January.
Featuring cinematography by Oliver T. Marsh and others, art direction by Cedric Gibbons, costumes by Adrian, and choreography by Seymour Felix, The Great Ziegfeld is a feast for the eye. However bloated and tacky some may find it, Felix’s Oscar-winning dance number "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody" — sung by future Warner Bros. star Dennis Morgan — deservedly remains a classic of its kind. (The Best Dance Direction Academy Award was discontinued in 1938.)
Unfortunately, The Great Ziegfeld is as dramatically conventional as a movie biopic has the right to be. Perhaps more so. The cast also includes Virginia Bruce, Frank Morgan, Reginald Owen, and Ziegfeld stage veterans Fanny Brice and Ray Bolger.
Besides its three Academy Award wins, The Great Ziegfeld was nominated for three more Oscars: Best Director, Best Film Editing (William S. Gray), Best Art Direction (Gibbons, Eddie Imazu, Edwin B. Willis), and, bafflingly, Best Writing, Original Story (William Anthony McGuire).
Note: There’ll be a drawing tonight for free tickets to Center Theatre Group’s production of Funny Girl, the story of Fanny Brice, at the Ahmanson Theatre. Barbra Streisand played Brice in the 1968 film version directed by William Wyler. The Great Ziegfeld 35mm print courtesy of the Academy Film Archive.
The Aero Theatre is located at 1328 Montana Avenue.
The Great Ziegfeld photo: American Cinemathque