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Home Classic MoviesTCM Luise Rainer Movies: ‘The Great Ziegfeld’ & ‘The Great Waltz’

Luise Rainer Movies: ‘The Great Ziegfeld’ & ‘The Great Waltz’

Luise Rainer The Great Ziegfeld
Luise Rainer in The Great Ziegfeld.

Luise Rainer Movies

Directed by Sidney Franklin, The Good Earth (1937) is on right now as Turner Classic Movies’ first film presentation of an evening dedicated to two-time Academy Award winner Luise Rainer, who turns 101 today, Jan. 12.

The Good Earth is notable as one of the most expensive Hollywood productions of the 1930s ($2.8 million) and the only film to carry Irving G. Thalberg’s name – in a dedication at the beginning of the film. Initially as MGM’s second-in-command and later as the head of one of the studio’s producing units, Thalberg was responsible for dozens of films from the mid-1920s to his death in 1936.

Though a box office hit, The Good Earth ended up in the red because of its high cost. Paul Muni co-stars in a role that I insist should have gone to Anna May Wong.

The Good Earth will be followed by a rerun of Luise Rainer – Live From the TCM Classic Film Festival, shown earlier this evening. Rainer was interviewed by Robert Osborne at last year’s TCM Classic Film Festival held in Hollywood. During the course of the 30-minute interview, she reminisces about her life and career.

Next is Robert Z. Leonard’s The Great Ziegfeld (1936), which earned Rainer her first Academy Award. (The second was for The Good Earth.) An MGM release all the way, The Great Ziegfeld boasts superb production values, elaborate musical numbers, a very long running time (about three hours), and screen and stage stars such as Rainer, William Powell, Myrna Loy, Fanny Brice, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, and Reginald Owen – in addition to future star Dennis Morgan.

All that earned The Great Ziegfeld that year’s Best Picture Oscar. For the most part, however, this backstage melodrama is a major bore. But the “A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody” number and Rainer’s (relatively brief) performance – don’t miss her phone scene – make The Great Ziegfeld a must-see.

Julien Duvivier’s The Great Waltz (1938) is one of the most sumptuous movies ever made. Some will lament the fact that it’s not in color, but I find Joseph Ruttenberg’s black-and-white cinematography a crucial part of the period drama’s visual appeal.

The story of composer Johan Strauss (Fernand Gravey; here as Fernand Gravet), The Great Waltz earned opera singer Miliza Korjus a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination. But in my view, the film belongs to Luise Rainer, once again in a relatively brief role but effortlessly stealing every scene she’s in.

My favorite Luise Rainer vehicle is one of her least known and least appreciated: Robert B. Sinclair’s Dramatic School (1938). Rainer is flawless as an ambitious young actress – not unlike herself – torn between love for a man (Alan Marshal) and love for her craft. The outcome is rather unusual for a Hollywood movie of the 1930s.

In the Dramatic School supporting cast: Paulette Goddard, Lana Turner, Genevieve Tobin, and Gale Sondergaard. Screenplay by Ernest Vajda (who penned several Ernst Lubitsch movies) and Mary McCall, Jr., from Hans Szekely and Zoltan Egyed’s play.

Luise Rainer movie schedule (PST) and synopses from the TCM website:

5:30 pm The Good Earth (1937)
Epic adaptation of the Pearl Buck classic about Chinese farmers battling the elements.
Cast: Paul Muni, Luise Rainer, Walter Connolly, Tilly Losch Dir: Victor Fleming BW-138 mins

8:00 pm Luise Rainer – Live From the TCM Classic Film Festival (2011)
Cast: Luise Rainer, Robert Osborne

8:30 pm The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
Lavish biography of Flo Ziegfeld, the producer who became Broadway’s biggest starmaker.
Cast: William Powell, Myrna Loy, Luise Rainer, Frank Morgan Dir: Robert Z. Leonard C-185 mins

11:45 pm The Great Waltz (1938)
Composer Johann Strauss risks his marriage over his infatuation with a beautiful singer.
Cast: Luise Rainer, Fernand Gravet, Miliza Korjus, Hugh Herbert Dir: Julien Duvivier BW-104 mins

1:30 am Dramatic School (1938)
A young actress struggles to make a hit on stage and in married life.
Cast: Luise Rainer, Paulette Goddard, Alan Marshall, Lana Turner Dir: Robert B. Sinclair BW-80 mins

Previous article:

At 5 p.m. PT, Turner Classic Movies will present a Special special: Luise Rainer, two-time Academy Award winner and centenarian (101 years old today, to be exact), will be talking about her life and career. That’s because TCM will be presenting the interview Robert Osborne conducted with Rainer at last year’s TCM Film Festival held in Hollywood.

Rainer is notable for a variety of reasons. I’ll name a few here: She was the first performer to win back-to-back Academy Awards, for The Great Ziegfeld in 1936 and for The Good Earth in 1937. She left Hollywood at the height of her career after only four years at MGM. In the late ’30s, she was married to playwright Clifford Odets. And last but certainly not least, she was a stupendous film actress, much underrated by those who had never seen her on-screen but who resented her having won an Oscar the year Greta Garbo was nominated for Camille (1937).

Don’t miss the Luise Rainer interview. If you’re a film lover, you’ll be hard-pressed to find another such highlight on American television in 2011.

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