Ziegfeld Girl (1941). Directed by Robert Z. Leonard. Starring James Stewart, Judy Garland, Hedy Lamarr and Lana Turner.
Robert Z. Leonard’s Ziegfeld Girls finds itself caught between glamorously portraying The Ziegfeld Follies in all their sequined, tasselly glory and constructing a grimy, realist tableau of the impact such short, sharp bursts of adulation and success can have on the frail human psyche and normal human relationships.
It is a real mess as the screenplay tries to cover every single base including thwarted romance, bootlegging gangsters, depression, alcohol addiction, insanely racist light-hearted musical routines, teen ingenues, crazed vaudeville circuit hoofers and a boxer who inexplicably buys a dame a beer and then punches her in the face.
This lesser spotted MGM musical is on its surest footing when it focuses on the dazzle of the lights and the backstage shenanigans required to continually refresh Florenz Ziegfeld’s acclaimed show. There is some fun to be had with Judy Garland’s hoofing routine with her dad which suggests the brilliance which would be attained in the “Couple of Swells” routine with Astaire in Easter Parade. She also has the best number in the film, beautifully singing “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows” in her all too short Ziegfeld audition sequence. However, you must also endure her crazy-eyed, brown-faced routine as “Minnie from Trinidad” which is a monumentally ill-judged and problematic number which must be seen to be believed.
The rest of the piece is dramatically confused stuff. Jimmy Stewart is top billed but barely used, Lana Turner handles her descent into dissipation reasonably well and Hedy Lamarr is an architectural wonder of free-standing cheekbones and eyes you could lose yourself in but as it delves more into the kitchen sink addiction stuff in the latter stages it begins to feel dreary beyond words – ultimately breezing on way past the logical end point before stopping in ludicrously abrupt fashion just as it seems to be warming up for a final big dramatic scene.