Ziegfeld Follies was a movie fraught with so many delays,shooting schedule work arounds,cancellations,scene deletions,etc.,that this picture is one of very few to finally be released so long after its' original production had stopped.A few pre-release screenings were done in 1944 and 1945 but the film got such a tepid response it was returned to have more work done on it.The studio got the jitters and finally shelved it.
Fred Astaire personally wrote the production chief Arthur Freed wondering when the film would be released;he was very anxious to say the least.He told him it was the first time he had made a film that would be seemingly released so long a time afterwards or at all.Freed assured Fred that Ziegfeld Follies would be released in 1946 and not to worry.The film was copyrighted in 1946 but wasn't released nationwide until January 11,1948!
One of the other reasons Astaire was worried was that he felt his routines might get dated.He needn't have worried for the routines Fred appears in(there are three;technically four if you count his brief opener)are the highlights of this film.In fact after William Powell opens the movie reprising his /36 role as the show master himself,Florence Ziegfeld,Fred Astaire opens the movies' first number(in his trademark top hat and white tails!)with "Bring on the Beautiful Girls".We find a very young Cyd Charisse here along with then screen veteran Lucille Ball.Next we have swim star Esther Williams doing the "Water Ballet" sequence; it is amazing how graceful and poised she could be underwater.Next we have vaudeville star Ed Wynn's son,Keenan,doing a funny turn with "Number Please".Next famous tenor James Melton and Marion Bell do a fine number pulled from the opera La Traviata.We then go back to comedy with Victor Moore playing the plaintive plaintiff and Edward Arnold doing the wise-guy/lawyer bit in "Just pay the two dollars".Next we are treated to Fred Astaire and Lucille Bremer in a wonderful dance/story sequence called "This Heart of Mine".Comedy makes its' comeback again with veteran stage star Fanny Brice,Hume Cronyn and William Frawley in "Sweeepstakes Ticket".Frawley plays a disgruntled apartment landlord and it is very easy to think that since Ball appeared in the picture also,that when she was casting for just such a landlord for her "I Love Lucy" show that she would remember Frawley!
The next vignette stars singing sensation Lena Horne doing a sultry song called "Love".Red Skelton next reprises his wonderful Guzzlers Gin sketch in a more modern fashion in "When Television Comes".Astaire and Bremer come back again to dance in arguably the best musical/fantasy sequence of the film,"Limehouse Blues".If you doubt for a single second Astaire's peerless dancing technique watch any of his routines here but don't miss this one!Judy Garland comes on next for what I feel is the weakest vignette of the movie "An Interview".It's played to the edge by Garland but the song and lyrics push the entire production right over the cliff.Next in their only dancing partnership on film Gene Kelly and Astaire sing "The Babbitt and the Bromide"(the smug businessman and the bore!).This is a number which Fred had great success with when performed in the 1927 stage production of "Funny Face" with his wonderful and talented sister Adele.Kelly apparently had reservations about doing the number at all but acquiesced in the end.To end the picture we have the lovely Kathryn Grayson singing "Beauty".
This film is viewed like a book,with each different numbers' title and star's name(s) highlighted for us to see on a page as it is flipped over.However unlike a book,there is nothing structured or anything with a plot to tie it all together with.All are distinctive and stand alone vignettes of music,dance and comedy.Some sketches thrive because of it or fall for the same reason.
MGM has brought this to DVD with a just above-average print transfer.It is very nice to watch but much could have been done to really make this print shine.Along with the film itself we have in the special features section a featurette on the film"An Embarrassment of Riches","The Luckiest Guy in the World",starring a young Barry Nelson,two cartoons and some nice audio only outtakes from the film.
All in all this movie is highly recommended.It is best watched and savoured as each vignette plays out before you.Each sequence will either fly or fall on its' own merit as there is no common thread to be found. This film is definitely the sum of all its' parts.There are relatively few weak spots in this picture and there are many that are must sees,and most of them belong to the legendary Fred Astaire.