Friday, 15 May 2015

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1936: Frank Morgan in The Great Ziegfeld

Frank Morgan did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Jack Billings in The Great Ziegfeld.

The Great Ziegfeld is an overblown biographical film about Florenz Ziegfeld (William Powell) the producer of various stage shows.

The first third of The Great Ziegfeld works considerably better than much of the film as it tightens its focus on the actual character of Florenz Ziegfield, mostly through rivalry with Jack Billings played by Morgan. The film opens with the two of them hosting rival shows at the World's Fair, and acting directly against each other as they each try to hype their shows to the public, with Billings being the more successful initially. Morgan works well as an opponent for Powell here. Firstly he, like Powell, is certainly good at being the showman trying to get his crowd to watch his show over the other. He works with Powell well because they have a similar style in terms of their screen presence. Both often carry this certain jovial quality about themselves yet with a certain acerbic twinge, although Powell's is perhaps a bit stronger in that regard. Morgan though stands his own with Powell and the two are rather enjoyable together in creating the rivalry between the two. Their similar manner actually works particularly well in creating the friendly rivalry as they both project a certain charm whenever they interact though at the same time they do carry a certain deviousness.

As the film progresses it is often Ziegfeld getting the better of Billings one way or another, and eventually he kinda defeats Billings so to speak when Billings has to settle for a lower position than the Great Ziegfeld. Morgan though still makes his appearances as for whatever reason Ziegfeld is always running by a new idea with Billings in the room. Morgan continues to be entertaining in portraying basically the exasperation of Billings with every defeat, but does well to eventually transform it to more of a bemusement as he just knows what Ziegfeld is up to even when it does not even concern him personally. Now the film's problems come in the form of its endless musical numbers which loses too often the story of Ziegfeld himself. A good comparison is Yankee Doodle Dandy, which is isn't a perfect itself, but it did not stretch the numbers out to three hours, and more importantly the central character was actually part of it. Here Ziegfeld is lost in his own movie oddly, forgetting his rivalry with Billings almost entirely and does not really regain his footing until he's about to die. The film reverts back to Billings and Ziegfeld in the final scene of the film. Morgan and Powell are both rather moving in the last scene as they look upon the rivalry with nostalgia. Morgan is especially heartwarming as he tries to cheer Ziegfeld up by saying they should do one more show. It works because Morgan manages to create the friendship with Powell, even if the film did its best to diminish it by losing the personal touch. Morgan gives a good performance which frankly helps to illustrate what was wrong with the movie.


luke higham said...

Just Two Paragraphs... WOW!

luke higham said...

Louis: Any Other 4.5+ Female Performances for 1936.

Louis Morgan said...


Did not have anything more to say.

And no.

luke higham said...

Louis: Don't worry, I wasn't criticizing you, It's a rarity in your reviews to have less than three paragraphs.