1. Florenz Ziegfeld (William Powell) in heaven, his reminiscences as puppet animation (Lou Bunin, Florence Bunin). He decides to produce a new revue from heaven.
2. Introduction by Fred Astaire: "Here's To The Girls" / "Bring On the Wonderful Men" with Cyd Charisse, Lucille Ball, and a parody by Virginia O'Brien (*) D: George Sidney.
3. "A Water Ballet" - Esther Williams's underwater number. D: Merrill Pye.
4. "Number Please" comedy skit with Keenan Wynn. D: Robert Lewis.
5. James Melton and Marion Bell: "Libiamo ne' lieti calici" from La traviata (Giuseppe Verdi).
6. "Pay the Two Dollars" comedy skit with Victor Moore and Edward Arnold (lawyer). D: George Sidney.
7. "This Heart Of Mine" (Harry Warren, Arthur Freed) with Fred Astaire (as a jewel thief) and Lucille Bremer (as a rich heiress). D: Vincente Minnelli. *
8. "A Sweepstakes Ticket", a comedy skit with Fanny Brice, Hume Cronyn, and William Frawley. D: Roy Del Ruth.
9. "Love" (Hugh Martin, Ralph Blane) sung by Lena Horne. D: Lemuel Ayers. *
10. "When Television Comes", a comedy skit with Red Skelton. D: George Sidney.
11. "Limehouse Blues" with Fred Astaire and Lucille Bremer. D: Vincente Minnelli. ***
12. "The Great Lady Has An Interview", starring Judy Garland, D: Vincente Minnelli, SC: Kay Thompson, CH: Charles Walters. *
13. "The Babbitt And The Bromide" with Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. D: Vincente Minnelli. *
14. "Beauty" / "There's Beauty Everywhere" with Kathryn Grayson under Daliesque shadows of clouds. D: Vincente Minnelli.
110 min. 35 mm print viewed at Arsenal, Berlin, 26 Dec 2014.
"Ziegfeld Follies is a 1946 Hollywood musical comedy film released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and directed by Lemuel Ayers, Roy Del Ruth, Robert Lewis, Vincente Minnelli, Merrill Pye, George Sidney and Charles Walters. It stars many of MGM leading talents, including Fred Astaire, Lucille Ball, Lucille Bremer, Fanny Brice (the only member of the ensemble who was a star of the original Follies), Judy Garland, Kathryn Grayson, Lena Horne, Gene Kelly, James Melton, Victor Moore, William Powell, Red Skelton, and Esther Williams."
"Producer Arthur Freed wanted to create a film along the lines of the Ziegfeld Follies Broadway shows and so the film is composed of a sequence of unrelated lavish musical numbers and comedy sketches. Filmed in 1944, '45 and '46, it was released in 1946, to considerable critical and box-office success."
Key songs/dance routines
"Dance director was Robert Alton, Astaire's second-most-frequent choreographic collaborator after Hermes Pan. All of Astaire's numbers were directed by Vincente Minnelli."
"Here's To The Girls/Bring On The Wonderful Men: by Roger Edens and Arthur Freed. Sung by Astaire with a short solo dance by Cyd Charisse, followed by Lucille Ball cracking a whip over eight chorus-girl panthers, and finally Virginia O'Brien spoofs the previous scene by singing "Bring on those Wonderful Men""
"This Heart of Mine: Classic standard by Harry Warren and Arthur Freed and written specially for Astaire who sings it to Bremer and then leads her in an extravagantly romantic dance of seduction and power-play. The choreography integrates rotating floors, concealed treadmills and swirling dance motifs."
"Love: Another standard, this time by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, sung by Lena Horne"
"Limehouse Blues: Conceived as a "dramatic pantomime" with Astaire as a proud but poverty-stricken Chinese labourer whose infatuation with the unattainable Bremer leads to tragedy. The story serves as bookends for a dream ballet inspired by Chinese dance motifs in a vast and extravagant, albeit racially-stereotyped, setting."
"The Great Lady Has An Interview: Written by Kay Thompson originally for Greer Garson (she turned it down). Judy Garland spoofs a movie star who can only be cast in Oscar winning dramas, but wants to play "sexy" roles (a la Greer Garson, or Katharine Hepburn) giving an interview to dancing reporters about "her next picture": a bio-pic of Madame Cremantante (the "inventor of the safety pin"). Originally to be directed by Garland's friend Charles Walters, Vincente Minnelli ended up directing the sequence (the two were dating at the time), and Walters was reassigned as choreographer."
"The Babbitt And The Bromide: Astaire and Kelly team up in a comedy song and dance challenge in three sections, to music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin. All choreography was by Astaire (third section) and Kelly (sections one and two). This was the only time Astaire and Kelly appeared on screen together in their prime. In spite of efforts by Freed and Minnelli, the two would not partner again on film until That's Entertainment, Part II in 1976."
"There's Beauty Everywhere: Originally filmed as a balletic finale with tenor James Melton singing and Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, and Lucille Bremer dancing in a melange of soap bubbles. But when the bubble machine malfunctioned (leaving only a fragment of the number filmed) and the formula flowed into the hallways of the soundstage, the number had to be restaged and the Astaire and Bremer part of this number was cut out altogether." Kathryn Grayson replaced Melton. Segments of the "bubble dance" with Charisse remain in the final film." (Wikipedia)
AA: Revisited a MGM genre feast from the golden age of the Hollywood musical. This episode film is uneven but there is a generous supply of truly fine numbers.
The highlight now and always is "Limehouse Blues", a tragic ballet with Fred Astaire and Lucille Bremer, one of the all-time greatest musical production numbers, masterfully directed by Vincente Minnelli. They are good in "This Heart Of Mine", too.
The comedy bits are mostly forgettable. The gems are the witty satires with Virginia O'Brien and Judy Garland.
Ziegfeld Follies was produced during 1944-1946, and it is striking to observe the familiar approach to death here. The film begins with Florenz Ziegfeld in heaven. In "The Babbitt And The Bromide" we follow the comedy duel of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly to the beyond. And of course, most unforgettably, there is "Limehouse Blues" with its sublime death dream sequence.
The print screened was complete and clean but perhaps from a duped source without full Technicolor intensity.