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Warner Home Video presents
Ziegfeld Follies (Classic Musicals from the Dream Factory) (1946)

"Here's to the beautiful ladies,
Here's to those wonderful girls,
Adeles and Mollys, Lucilles and Pollys,
You'll find them all in the Ziegfeld Follies."

- Fred Astaire, singing the opening salute to Ziegfeld showgirls

Review By: David Krauss   
Published: April 25, 2006

Stars: Fred Astaire, Lucille Ball, Lucille Bremer, Fanny Brice, Judy Garland, Kathryn Grayson, Lena Horne, Gene Kelly, James Melton, Victor Moore, Red Skelton, Esther Williams, William Powell
Other Stars: Hume Cronyn, Edward Arnold, William Frawley, Cyd Charisse, Virginia O'Brien
Director: Vincente Minnelli

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:57m:28s
Release Date: April 25, 2006
UPC: 012569791084
Genre: musical


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- BBA- A-

DVD Review

By 1945, the relationship between MGM and Broadway producer Florenz Ziegfeld was well established. The studio reaped a 1936 Best Picture Oscar for its sumptuous biography of the impresario, The Great Ziegfeld, and five years later chronicled the ups and downs of a trio of Follies showgirls in the equally mammoth Ziegfeld Girl. Producer Arthur Freed, however, couldn't resist capitalizing on the Ziegfeld name one final time, and tapped MGM's peerless talent pool for a Technicolor revue the likes of which the screen had never seen. On this occasion, Freed sought not just to honor the Follies, but recreate them to a fare-thee-well by lassoing all of the considerable artistry on the lot. And who better to headline this vaudeville extravaganza than the valedictorians of MGM's musical class: Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, and Lena Horne.

To be sure, Ziegfeld Follies dazzles the senses, but this sophisticated, eye-filling spectacle never quite equals the sum of its illustrious parts. The lack of a storyline or any tangible unifying thread requires every sequence to be judged on its own merits, and while some soar to breathtaking heights, others never get off the ground. The performers try their damnedest, pulling out all the stops in their effort to entertain, but sometimes seem dwarfed by the garish opulence that constantly competes for our attention. Director Vincente Minnelli shifts his imagination into overdrive, but inspires only fleeting moments of awe.

MGM always claimed it had "more stars than there are in the heavens," so where better to open Ziegfeld Follies than at the pearly gates, where we encounter a celestial Ziggy (William Powell, reprising his Great Ziegfeld role) pining for the chance to mount just one more edition of the Follies. As he begins to jot down ideas, he calls on his "old friend" Fred Astaire to headline the opening number. Here's to the Girls allows Astaire to don his trademark top hat and tails and briefly twirl a young Cyd Charisse, but it's Lucille Ball (in her most glamorous—and bizarre—movie moment) who grabs the spotlight when she grabs a whip and tames a pack of sequined female dancers who slink about the set like panthers.

Deadpan singer Virginia O'Brien proves turnabout is fair play with the delightfully sardonic Bring on Those Wonderful Men, but Esther Williams' water ballet is a yawner, a stab at La Traviata falls flat, and the various comedy sketches—featuring such renowned funnymen (and women) as Red Skelton, Fanny Brice, and Keenan Wynn—drag on far too long and provoke only indulgent chuckles instead of the intended guffaws. Though it's a treat to see Brice in her element as a Yiddish hausfrau who tries to coax a winning sweepstakes ticket out of her landlord (William Frawley), she outclasses the weak material, and Skelton's signature Guzzler's Gin routine hasn't aged well. The best comedy skit is Victor Moore's Pay the Two Dollars—a clever satire of our tangled legal system that still resonates today—but it's hardly memorable.

Horne heats things up with her sizzling rendition of the steamy Martin-Blane tune, Love, and in the process proves she's just as formidable a force as the song's subject matter. Ditto Garland, whose sexy, scintillating turn as a self-absorbed actress with airs to spare shows off her supreme comic timing and terrific sense of fun. The clever musical spoof (written by Kay Thompson and Roger Edens) was originally intended for Greer Garson, but the stuffy actress felt the material hit too close to home and declined to participate. Thankfully, Judy harbored no such reservations, and with tongue firmly in cheek, deliciously portrays an Oscar-winning grande dame who grants an interview to a throng of admiring reporters, during which she laments her highbrow image and expresses a hidden desire to flash her gams and show the world she's really "hep." The ultra-glam Garland shimmies, shakes, flounces, and vamps through the number, which incisively skewers Hollywood pretension.

The Garland and Horne sequences are definite high points, but if any one star dominates Ziegfeld Follies, it's Astaire. The dancer contributes three knockout numbers, beginning with the elegant This Heart of Mine, in which he portrays a debonair jewel thief who crashes a fancy ball in order to pinch a diamond bracelet off the wrist of Lucille Bremer. Though ethereal and graceful, the piece is merely a warm-up for the pair's subsequent Limehouse Blues, the centerpiece of Ziegfeld Follies and one of Minnelli's masterworks. The searing musical pantomime takes place in Chinatown, and features Astaire as a poor, melancholy Asian who's bedazzled by a cool beauty (Bremer) who never gives him a backward glance. An elaborate dream sequence drips with color and pageantry, but the trimmings never eclipse the team's magnificent terpsichorean feats. Better known for portraying Garland's older sister in Meet Me in St. Louis than for her exquisite dancing, Bremer stands apart from the pack as one of Astaire's best post-Rogers partners. It's not easy to match Astaire's unrivaled precision, but Bremer keeps pace with a fluidity and style only equaled by Ginger Rogers, Rita Hayworth, and Cyd Charisse.

If Bremer complements Astaire's sophisticated side, Gene Kelly allows Fred to show off his hoofing in The Babbitt and the Bromide, which cleverly documents three isolated meetings between two (very) casual friends over the years. Showcased in That's Entertainment, the light-hearted, high-spirited sequence marks the only time (save for a geriatric reunion in That's Entertainment, Part 2) the two legendary artists ever worked together on screen. Their dancing styles surely differ, but their visible respect and regard for each other adds a euphoric jolt to the number that enhances the magic of their taps, leaps, and twirls—and makes the weaker aspects of Ziegfeld Follies (including its "sudsy" finale) much easier to endure...and forgive.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: The folks at Warner labored long and hard to spruce up Ziegfeld Follies, and although the finished product sports beautifully saturated hues and fine clarity, it can't compete with other transfers in the Classic Musicals from the Dream Factory set. The devil is in the details, and from the opening frames, an overabundance of grain saddles the image. Thankfully, it dissipates somewhat after the prologue, but like a pesky insect it returns to plague the picture off and on throughout the film. Specks, marks, and scratches also litter the print, fleshtones are a bit unsteady, and at times, colors seem so boldly pushed, they look primed to bleed. These troubling issues afflict some sequences more than others, but cast a pall over the entire movie, and hamper our enjoyment of what should be a visual feast. Despite spotty content, the original Follies always looked spectacular; unfortunately, this disc doesn't quite honor that Ziegfeld tradition.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishyes
DS 2.0Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Warner technicians have nicely scrubbed the mono track, erasing any age-related pops, crackles, distortion, and hiss. The vocals enjoy fine fidelity and pleasing tonal depth, while the dialogue in the comedy sketches is always clear and comprehendible.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 19 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Great Ziegfeld, Ziegfeld Girl
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Vintage short, The Luckiest Guy in the World
  2. Vintage cartoons, The Hick Chick and Solid Serenade
  3. Three audio outtakes
Extras Review: Befitting the follies format, Warner supplies a smorgasbord of supplements, beginning with the 14-minute featurette, Ziegfeld Follies: An Embarrassment of Riches. Conceiving and assembling the star-studded musical was a "rollercoaster ride" for producer Arthur Freed, and biographer Hugh Fordin, performers Cyd Charisse and Kathryn Grayson, and others lovingly recall the chaos. Charisse especially regales as she recounts how an ocean of soap suds flooded the soundstage during the "bubbly" finale, choking and panicking cast and crew members, while Grayson remembers initially refusing to sing the song chosen for her...until she learned it was penned by her boss, Mr. Freed. In addition, we hear about scads of proposed and deleted segments, and the painful process of whittling down the film's whopping three-hour rough cut. Vocal arranger Kay Thompson also receives a well-deserved tribute during this breezy piece.

The Luckiest Guy in the World, a 21-minute, Oscar-nominated short from the upstanding Crime Does Not Pay series, may seem like an odd choice for inclusion on a fluffy musical disc, but—as always—there's a method to Warner's madness that's not immediately apparent. About halfway through this tightly knit, well-acted noir tale that steals its message, a potent plot element, and a recognizable stock shot from the previous year's The Postman Always Rings Twice, who should come on the radio but Red Skelton reprising his Guzzler's Gin routine. The brief comedy lends a jarring accent to this riveting mini-thriller, in which Barry Nelson portrays an icy young businessman whose reckless pursuit of easy money lands him in desperate financial straits. A series of coincidences—all cleverly intertwined—quickly turn his life upside-down and inside-out before director Joseph M. Newman hammers home the final moralistic message. An outstanding short subject, The Luckiest Guy in the World reminds us how many forgotten gems reside in the Warner vaults, and the studio deserves kudos for their commitment to preserving and exhibiting them.

An amusing Tex Avery cartoon, The Hick Chick, and the Tom and Jerry animated short Solid Serenade (both of which run seven minutes) follow. The former features a title character with a voice modeled after Katharine Hepburn, while the latter allows Tom the chance to sing the bluesy jazz standard, Is You Is Or Is You Ain't My Baby, and imitate Charles Boyer.

Fans of classic musicals will especially appreciate the trio of audio outtakes from Ziegfeld Follies, beginning with the snappy If Swing Goes, I Go Too. Fred Astaire sings the rhythmic number, a precursor of sorts to his Drum Crazy routine from Easter Parade. We Will Meet Again in Honolulu features vocals by opera star James Melton (and was originally intended as the backdrop for Esther Williams' water ballet), as does the initial version of There's Beauty Everywhere, before it was passed on to Kathryn Grayson. Reportedly, preview audiences reacted negatively to Melton crooning popular songs, but luckily the tracks have survived, and reveal a singer who's quite comfortable with the contemporary material.

A Ziegfeld trailer gallery, featuring original theatrical previews of Ziegfeld Follies, The Great Ziegfeld, and Ziegfeld Girl, completes the first-rate supplements.

Extras Grade: A-

 

Final Comments

Like the Broadway legend it honors, Ziegfeld Follies is an uneven mixture of music, dance, and comedy that both captivates and bores. The MGM star brigade labors valiantly, but even its potent wattage can't illuminate a host of dim sequences. Thankfully, DVD technology allows us to skip the subpar sketches and wallow in the brilliance of Astaire, Garland, and Kelly, if we so wish. (And we do wish.) Warner's transfer falls short of expectations, but then again, so does the film.

 


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