Ziegfeld Follies (Vincente Minnelli, George Sydney, Charles Walters, Roy Del Ruth & Lemuel Ayers / U.S., 1946):

Happy-hour at Ziegfeld’s celestial proscenium is the jumping-off point, with the showman (William Powell) nostalgic for "eternal toys." (Stop-motion puppets re-enact a 1907 Broadway revue, to utterly horrifying effect.) The spangled hodgepodge that follows is meant as the impresario’s posthumous bash, conjured up for the benefit of Powell-Pressburger and Ken Russell, among others. In the opening number, "Here’s to the Girls," George Sidney glorifies the American showgirl on a soundstage/carousel/giant wedding cake, fulsome pink ideals burlesqued by Lucille Ball’s knowing smile and Virginia O’Brien’s horny clowning. The rapid progression from Esther Williams modeling lipstick underwater to Keenan Wynn eating a telephone to an aria from La Traviata nicely illustrates the project’s genesis, an eager-beaver brainstorming session in Arthur Freed’s office. Victor Moore and Edward Arnold bring Kafka to vaudeville in "Pay the Two Dollars," "This Heart of Mine" is a seduction danced between Fred Astaire and Lucille Bremer, given alarming swathes of crimson and azure by Vincente Minnelli. "A Sweepstakes Ticket" and "When Television Comes" are records of dead comic styles, Fanny Brice’s mock-Yiddish truculence and Red Skelton’s stratospheric mugging, respectively. Lena Horne sings "Love" in a Caribbean dive, Judy Garland blooms under Charles Walters’ gentle staging of "A Great Lady Has an Interview," an arch satire of arch divas. ("Well, gentlemen, you’ve caught me pitifully unprepared," she tells a gaggle of reporters while adjusting her spotlight.) "Limehouse Blues" is a torrent of phosphorescent Orientalia, and a Minnelli master class in mise-en-scène; "The Babbitt and the Bromide" positions Astaire’s aristo gliding next to Gene Kelly’s prole gymnastics, a polite pas de deux rather than the collision of styles and epochs it should have been. The closer ("Beauty") alternates between Kathryn Grayson’s musical cavity-drilling, Dalinian suffusions, and Cyd Charisse nearly drowning in colored suds. After this, Kenneth Anger just had to do Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome. With Hume Cronyn, William Frawley, James Melton, Marion Bell, Robert Lewis, and Grady Sutton.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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