At Home at The Movies Part One: Ziegfeld Girl

Our filmic odyssey begins with Ziegfeld Girl (number 352 picked by )

Ziegfeld Girl, 1941. Directed by Robert Z Leonard, musical numbers by Busby Berkeley. Starring Judy Garland, Lana Turner, Hedy Lamarr, James Stewart.

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Nobody did musical films like MGM. When I say that, I’m not always being complimentary. My outstanding memory of this film is that MGM threw all its pretty girls and glamorous costumes at Ziegfeld Girl but forgot a decent plot. Let’s see if my memory is faulty. Hit play, somebody!

So… Lana Turner is a pretty elevator girl, James Stewart is her beau. Fortunately, this is established almost immediately so there’s no faffing. Gosh, Stewart’s gotta be six inches taller than her. Also established is Lana’s disaffection for her job (can’t blame her) and her chance to be a Ziegfeld girl. Snogging ensues and Jimmy Stewart’s hair is in the place it always should be – perched right on the back of his head.

I think I’m supposed to think that being a Ziegfeld girl is the pinnacle of something, and that Florenz Ziegfeld is a benevolent god atop the Broadway Mountain.

And now, here’s Judy, sat in the waiting room with all those Generic Pretty Girls.

Musical number! Judy’s character and her dad doing their vaudeville routine on stage in Harlem. Perfunctory at best with the poor girl in a ridiculous costume that’s half-majorette, half-tutu. Fortunately it’s not too long.

The reason I’m recapping rather than writing about the film is because I don’t recall it striking me the first time and I can’t see it happening this time.

There’s some stuff with girls walking up and down stairs with books perched on their heads. Jackie Cooper turns up almost-all-grown-up. Sparks fly between Judy and Jackie.

Hedy Lamarr alert! Now that’s a face, right? She gets pulled in to be a Ziegfeld Girl when her husband is there to be audition (unsuccessfully) musician. You can see where this is going right?

I can’t remember how the film ends. Did I see to the end last time or did I get bored? Maybe I got bored and left it running while I played The Sims.

Eve Arden alert! Principal McGee as a young, wisecracking woman. Dude comes in to give a long speech about what happens to Ziegfeld girls once they step onto that stage, but then absolves Ziegfeld of any guilt for things going wrong. Not foreshadowing at all…

Because being a Ziegfeld girl is all life, condensed, apparently.

Musical number: Tony Martin sings ‘You Stepped Out of a Dream’ and the parade of Generic Pretty Girls waft across the stage in gauze and wearing stars on wires. Hedy does the walking-up-stairs without a problem. Certainly she looks very beautiful but… this is not interesting watching. Generic Pretty Girls wearing gold lame curtains do some walking-down-stairs. Various ridiculous ‘glamorous’ costumes are worn. More walking up-and-down stairs. I am watching the clock.

Oh, to have been MGM’s chief gauzy material supplier!

I recall parts of this from the clips in That’s Entertainment! and rather wish I was watching that instead, so I at least had the promise of Gene Kelly in a minute.

As usual, Berkeley’s ‘choreography’ consists almost entirely of lots of people just moving. Apparently he’d been something to do with parade drills in the military. It shows, as far as I’m concerned. It’s glitzy, it’s big but it’s not interesting.

Did I specify no fast-forward/skipping in the original post for this? I hope not… the film has been on for half an hour and it feels like twice as long.

Ah… Lana’s clearly a snotty bitch in this. The set up is established that her relationship with James Stewart is going to get screwed up. She’s going to pick up with the rich bloke, she’s going to get sucked into the image, she’s going to be the one who starts to believe her own press. The only way it could be more obvious is if there was a tickertape at the bottom of the screen telling us.

I’m having no luck getting into this particular picture at all. It’s all glitz and glamour but not much heart or head. Most unforgiveably, the music is uninteresting. While Hedy is undeniably very, very beautiful, I don’t think it’s something to base an entire movie on. Tony Martin (Mr Cyd Charisse when he wasn’t singing) is clearly going to make a play for Hedy – I’m not bothering to use character names because it’s clearly unimportant in this film.

So, what have we learned so far? The melodrama isn’t that dramatic and the music isn’t that hot.

OH! Jimmy Stewart just started punching people! He’s Todd Wilkins! He’s Todd Wilkins if Elizabeth went and got herself into a show and got ‘sponsored’ by Bruce Patman. Since when does Jimmy Stewart punch people? It’s Bizarro Hollywood.

It is said that Lana Turner was discovered in a cafe of some sort, which I believe if only because she can’t possibly have been discovered at an audition: as an actress she makes an excellent sweater girl.

Melodrama escalates: Jimmy Stewart becomes a gangster because Lana cares more about money. I’m reaching for the fast-forward button, man… Judy and Dad are still trying to make it as a duo when the audience realised during their first scene that it will end in tears. Judy auditions to be a singer but does badly because she’s doing vaudeville when the Ziegfield lot want glamor!! instead. Listening, I don’t blame them. Judy does it her way and predictably pulls so many heartstrings that a flood warning is issued. Actually, so far it’s the only scene in 53 minutes that I haven’t wanted to skip through. The dad ditches himself for her sake as we always knew he would. Still, at least this character has a soul.

An hour and five in, Lana’s definitely drunk.

Oh my GOD. According to imdb, this is 130 minutes long. HOW? Seriously how? I’m already losing the will to live…

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Part Two, The Next Day, after some sleep.

I’m trying to watch, really… I’m an hour and a half in. Lana’s in a state of perma-drunkness even when on stage in some strange costume that looks like it’s inspired by Hitchcocks The Birds. Hedy’s decided to stick with her husband instead of Tony Martin after the most civilised wife-and-mistress conversation ever committed to film. Civilised and boring. Haven’t seen much of Judy in awhile.

There’s more walking up and down stairs. Lots more, until a beach scene which involves a beast of burden of some kind – I think it’s a white ox but could just as easily be a cow or something.

Ethnic Tokenism! Some faux-flamenco by slightly dark-skinned persons. I can only assume this is separate from the storyline and not featuring any leads so that MGM could cut it out for the racist audiences…

and we’re back at the stage-beach and it’s JUDY! Hurrah! She singings! She… may be slightly blacked up. I shall repeat to myself *1941, 1941* as if that makes it OK. Song is called Minnie from Trinidad I think. Ethnic Tokenism includes a fake parrot tied to Judy’s shoulder as part of her costume. Choreography remains just a bunch of people moving. No wonder Gene Kelly had such a hard time with Berkeley.

Now, I’ve never been inside the New Amsterdam Theatre but the size of the stage for this number wouldn’t fit inside Wembley Stadium!

Drunk Lana fell off the stage. Judy and Hedy are sympathetic but don’t actually seem to care. Hedy and Violinist reconcile. Lana is fired. Judy goes for milkshakes with Jackie Cooper. Clearly she’s totally over the kid-roles…

Time passes (fortunately, we don’t have to watch it), Lana is still drunk and now apparently a whore of increasingly low rent.

For the LAST WEEK!! of the Follies, we learn that Hedy’s leaving to accompany her husband on a concert tour. And now JUDY’S ON THE MARQUEE! But what’s this? She wants to LEAVE to help her Pop! It’s her Pop!

The first sensible thing I’ve heard all movie: "Leave Hoboken where it is."

Lana is now so down on her luck she makes Dicey Reilly look good, and I still don’t care. Honestly, I couldn’t give a damn about this character. Moral of the story: girls who like drink always get their comeuppance and girls who want to not live in poverty will always get their comeuppance. Douchebag slaps Lana. She collapses. It’s Oh So Tragic.

Lana goes home to be nursed by her mommy and daddy and Jackie Cooper. James Stewart turns up, fresh out of clink and all Jimmy Stewarty again instead of a nasty gangster. You can see what’s coming, can’t you? She even has the special Hairdo Of Tragic Near Death that I’ve previously seen on every other actress who did the Gracious Death Scene. Still, there’s another half an hour of this bloody film to go. She’s got it all: the slightly raspy voice, the slow stammer, the wide eyes… girl’s definitely doomed.

They kiss. I still don’t care. Jimmy seems eager to forgive her for the last two hours’ worth of being a selfish bitch, but I suppose it’s Lana Turner. Some stuff about ducks ensues but I’m not really listening: watching the time counter tick over is actually better than the film itself at this point.

I just know this post is dull as anything, but man I cannot make this interesting.

Discussion is had between Tragic Lana and Reformed Jimmy about how she’s two people and neither’s any good. Jimmy disagrees, I do not. She declares that she simply must go to Judy’s big opening night, which is presumably what takes up the last half hour. Meanwhile, I’m sat here getting older. Tragic Lana is Tragic.

Judy’s Pop gets to go on stage with his mate to do their vaudeville routine on the Ziegfeld stage.

Lana turns up at the show. The box office guy doesn’t let her pay for a ticket because ‘Mr Ziegfeld wouldn’t like it’. Just like the never-seen Big Z didn’t like her getting pissed and falling off the special stairs? Tragic Lana must very tragic because she’s speaking very quietly and being very nice. Judy’s Pop and his mate go down a storm with the posh audience. Judy is pleased so can clearly now go on and do her thing without guilt. Hurrah!

Generic Pretty Girls are now generic and surrounded by balloons. "To be a perfect Ziegfeld girl you don’t need much knowledge." No shit. Tragic Lana watches tragically and thinks "I could’ve still been there if I wasn’t such a hoor." or something. More walking on the stadium-sized stage continues and still isn’t that interesting.

INTERESTING WIKI FACT: The real Ziegfeld was married to Billie Burke, who played The Good Witch Glinda in The Wizard of Oz.

Tragic Lana walks down the staircase of the theatre like it’s the one on stage as the music swells. But OH NOES! At the bottom of the stairs she collapses Tragically. Hedy and Violinist come to her and Tragic Lana tells her, while in position for Glamorous Death, that she’s going to raise ducks with Gil. Judy ends the film on the top of the Magical Staircase dressed like one of those toilet roll covers from the 70s and the final shot is from a completely different film which I recognise from That’s Entertainment! A suitable end, I think.

Verdict: If this hadn’t come as part of the Judy Garland Signature Collection, I wouldn’t own it in a million years. It’s proof that for every truly stupendous musical film, there’s at least six films like this. Urgh.

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Next: The Bible… In The Beginning. At least that’s got PETER O’TOOLE

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One Response to At Home at The Movies Part One: Ziegfeld Girl

  1. windtear says:

    Er… I’m sorry. I’ve never heard of this film before, and it sounds to me like that was a good thing.

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