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Sunday, 5 August 2012

Ziegfeld Follies (1945) - Star of the month... Gene Kelly


"Here's to the beautiful ladies, here's to those wonderful girls... Adele's and Molly's, Lucille's and Polly's, you'll find them all in the Ziegfeld Follies... this is the mixture to start the picture, so bring on the beautiful girls..." - Fred Astaire (as himself in 'Ziegfeld Follies')

'Ziegfeld Follies' is the 1945 MGM musical extravaganza celebrating the Florenz Ziegfeld's 'Ziegfeld Follies'.

The film features a cavalcade of MGM musical talent in special guest apperances, including Fred Astaire, Lucille Ball, Marion Bell, Lucille Bremer, Fanny Brice, Cyd Charisse, Hume Cronyn, William Frawley, Judy Garland, Kathryn Grayson, Lena Horne, Gene Kelly, James Melton, Victor Moore, Virginia O'Brien, Red Skelton, Esther Williams, Keenan Wynn and William Powell repising his role as the great Florenz Ziegfeld.

With the exception of the opening scene, the film does not have a plot as such, as consists of a series of song, dance and comedy segments.

I have structured my blog post in the same way as the film, by discussion each of the segments individually. I have also managed to locate many of the segments on YouTube, should you wish to watch as you read.

But first I'd like to give you some context on the 'Ziegfeld Follies'?


The Ziegfeld Follies

Inspired by the Folies Bergeres of Paris, the Ziegfeld Follies were a series of elaborate musical productions conceived by Broadway producer Florenz Ziegfeld and presented on Broadway in New York City from 1907 to 1931.

Many of the dominant entertainers of the time period appeared in the Ziegfeld Follies at some point, including Fanny Brice, Sophie Tucker, Eddie Cantor, W.C. Fields, Josephine Baker, Will Rogers, Ruth Etting, Ray Bolger, Helen Morgan, Marilyn Miller, Ed Wynn and Gilda Gray.

The Ziegfeld Follies were also famous for the beautiful chorus girls, known as Ziegfeld Girls. Another film called 'Ziegfeld Girl' was produced in 1941, and gave insight into what it meant to be a Ziegfeld Girl.


William Powell as The Great Ziegfeld


Florenz Ziegfeld in Heaven

The film opens with Florenz Ziegfeld (played by Powell) in heaven, remembering Broadway of 1907. His memories are presented in animation, with animated likenesses of Ziegfeld stars including Marilyn Miller, Fanny Brice, Will Rogers and Eddie Cantor.

Whilst in heaven, Ziegfeld decides to create one more Ziegfeld Follies...


"Here's to the Girls / Bring on the Wonderful Men" - Fred Astaire & Virginia O'Brien (with Lucille Ball & Cyd Charisse) 

Lucille Ball tames a pack of cat women
with a whip
Ziegfeld decides to open the Follies with a pink number, introduced by his dear friend Fred Astaire.
Astaire sings 'Here's to the Girl', which includes a dance speciality by Cyd Charisse and an interlude with Lucille Ball taming a pack of cat ladies with a whip.
Cyd Charisse in a pink tutu


Lucille Ball tames a pack of cat ladies while
Cyd Charisse dances

The sequence concludes with Virginia O'Brien biting back with 'Bring on the Wonderful Men'.

Song: "Here's to the Girls" - Fred Astaire (with Lucille Ball & Cyd Charisse)





Song: "Bring On the Wonderful Men" - Virginia O'Brien





"A Water Ballet" - Esther Williams

The beautiful Esther Williams floats at the top of her pool
No MGM musical of the 1940s would be complete without an underwater ballet sequence from the million dollar mermaid, Esther Williams.

Not one of Williams' best or most elaborate underwater ballets, but still entertaining.








Song: "A Water Ballet" - Esther Williams




"Number Please?" - Keenan Wynn

Some comic relief is provided with Kennan Wynn has some difficulty with a telephone operator in 'Number Please'. By the end of this short sketch, Wynn is driven to the brink of sanity.

Clip: "Number Please" - Keenan Wynn





"Traviata" - James Melton & Marion Bell

James Melton and Marion Bell star as Alfredo and Violetta, as they sing excerpts from 'La Traviata in an elaborate costume musical production number. Although Melton and Bell both have fine singing voices, they were relatively unknowns and did not make many films. Had this film been made a few later, I am certain this sequence would have featured Mario Lanza and Kathryn Grayson.  Although Grayson appears in 'Ziegfeld Follies', Lanza had not yet become known.

Song: "Traviata" - James Melton & Marion Bell




"Pay the Two Dollars" - Victor Moore & Edward Arnold

After Victor Moore is fined $2, he wants his lawyer Edward Arnold to pay the two dollars, to prevent him going to jail. Below average comedy sketch has its funny moments, but overall is too long.



"This Heart of Mine: A Dance Story" - Fred Astaire & Lucille Bremer

Fred Astaire returns, this time paired with Lucille Bremer. Fred serenades Bremer, before leading her in an extravagant ballet sequence. The choreography features rotating floors, concealed treadmills and swirling dance motifs.

Song: "This Heart of Mine" - Fred Astaire & Lucille Bremer




"A Sweepstakes Ticket" - Fanny Brice, Hume Cronyn & William Frawley



Norma (Fanny Brice) will stop at nothing to get the
winning ticket back from Mr. Martin (William Frawley)
Hilarious comedy sketch where Norma (played by Brice) wins A Sweepstakes Ticket, however
her husband Monty (played by Cronyn) has given it to the landlord Mr. Martin (played by Frawley). In a desperate plight to get the winning ticket back,  Norma and Monty discover honesty is the best policy.
Fanny Brice is as hilarious as ever as Norma. For me, this is the non-musical highlight of the film.







Clip: "A Sweepstakes Ticket" - Fanny Brice, Hume Cronyn & William Frawley



Lena Horne sings

"Love" - Lena Horne

The beautiful Lena Horne appears and sings her rendition of the Hugh Martin-Ralph Blaine standard "Love".







Red Skelton shows us whats happens when
television comes

"When Television Comes" - Red Skelton

Rubber faced Red Skelton shows us what happens when television comes in a hilarious comic sketch.














Clip: "When Television Comes" - Red Skelton




"Limehouse Blues" - Fred Astaire & Lucille Bremer

Fred Astaire & Lucille Bremer are back with a dramatic pantomime called "Limehouse Blues".
Tai Long (played by Astaire), a Chinese labourer is infatuated with Moy Ling (played by Bremer).


Song: "Limehouse Blues" - Fred Astaire & Lucille Bremer




"A Great Lady Has an Interview" - Judy Garland

One of my favourite images of Judy Garland
One of two musical highlights from the film. Judy Garland plays a Great Lady, who is typecast in dramatic Oscar winning roles and just happens to have an interview. During the interview she reveals her desire to "sexy" roles, and her next film, a biography on Madame Cremantante, inventor of the safety pin.

This was written by Kay Thompson, originally for Greer Garson, who turned it down. The sequence was also originally meant to be directed by Charles Water, however Vincente Minnelli (who was dating Garland at the time), ended up directing it. Walters remained as choreographer.

This features one of my favourite images of Judy Garland, where she rubs her scarf under her chin and neck.


Song: "A Great Lady Has an Interview" - Judy Garland



"The Babbitt & the Bromide" - Fred Astaire & Gene Kelly

Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly's first and only appearance together in a film (until the documentary film 'That's Entertainment Part II' in 1976). The challenge dance routine was choreographed by both Kelly & Astaire - this is the other musical highlight in the film.





































Song: "The Babbitt & the Bromide" - Fred Astaire & Gene Kelly




"Beauty" - Kathryn Grayson (with Cyd Charisse)

Kathryn Grayson sings "Beauty" in the finale
This was originally meant to be sung by tenor James Melton and filmed as a ballet with Fred Astaire, Lucille Bremer and Cyd Charisse dancing through a maze of soap bubbles. Due to a malfunction with the bubble machine, only a small amount of footage featuring Cyd Charisse was used in the final film. It was also decided to replace Melton with Kathryn Grayson.







Closing remarks

'Ziegfeld Follies' is an amazing and extravagant musical experience. When I think about the MGM musical, and why they were so popular and fantastic, the first thing that springs to mind is 'Ziegfeld Follies'.

The film embodies all the characteristics which made MGM musicals so unique...

  • the signature MGM musical stars: Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire and Esther Williams
  • directed by the great Vincente Minnelli
  • the sparkling glamour of the lavish sets and costumes
  • the images filmed in dazzling Technicolor
  • the beautiful chorus girls

'Ziegfeld Follies' is among one of my favourite films, and recently inspired Kylie Minogue's 2011 tour 'Aphrodite: Les Follies', which features a number of references to this film. 

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