It is a Biopic about Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. (Powell) Broadway's most famous producer of his day. From humble beginnings as a carnival barker managing a strongman, Ziegfeld reaches the heights of success, producing hit show after hit show and staging the famous Ziegfeld Follies. It is also a showcase for numbers from his most famous shows. Rainer stars as Anna Held, Ziegfeld's first wife, a French singer who Ziegfeld manages to sign in what is a big step forward for his career. Loy is Ziegfeld's second wife, stage and film performer Billie Burke (the Real Life Burke played Glinda in The Wizard of Oz). And speaking of The Wizard of Oz, Frank Morgan plays Billings, one of Ziegfeld's producer rivals.
It was a huge success, winning the Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Actress for Rainer. The next year Rainer won again for The Good Earth, making her the first person ever to win back-to-back acting Oscars and one of only four to this day (the others being Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, and Tom Hanks). Oddly, not long after picking up her second golden statue her career tanked and by 1938 she was out of Hollywood.
This film features examples of:
- The Alcoholic: Audrey Dane, who is drunk onstage and backstage, and whose indiscretions ruin both her career and Ziegfeld's first marriage.
- Autobiographical Role: Ray Bolger, Harriet Hoctor, and Fanny Brice, all veterans of the Ziegfeld Follies.
- Blackface: One of the acts in the "Ziegfeld Follies" show, apparently Al Jolson.
- Call-Forward: Ziegfeld suggests that Will Rogers expand his act beyond rope tricks, by including jokes and commentary on current events. Rogers, of course, became very famous by doing exactly that.
- The Casanova: Ziegfeld is an incorrigible womanizer."I love all the girls."
- Character Title
- Costume Porn: Both on and off his stage shows.
- Downer Ending: Ziegfeld is ruined by the stock market crash of 1929, and dies broke, unable to put on another show. (In Real Life, this movie came about after Billie Burke sold the rights to Ziegfeld's life story in an effort to pay off his debts.)
- Famous Last Words: The page quote; his last words were a bit different.
- Friendly Rivalry: Between Ziegfeld and his rival producer, Mr. Billings. They are constantly trying to one-up each other, with Ziegfeld usually winning.
- Inspired by...: "Suggested by romances and incidents in the life of America's greatest showman, Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr."
- Large Ham: Latter-day viewers may wonder how Luise Rainer won an Oscar for all that overacting.
- Oscar Bait: Big splashy biopic of a showbiz impresario, with lots of musical numbers.
- Pretty in Mink: His first wife wears an ermine muff, hat, and trimmed jacket. His second wife is given a chinchilla cape for Christmas.
- Running Gag: Ziegfeld is constantly stealing business, girlfriends, secretaries, and clients from Billings. Later in the film Billings is shown with a dour, plain secretary, presumably one that Ziegfeld won't try and steal away.
- Sex Sells: Early in the movie Ziegfeld is having trouble getting customers to see the Sandow the Strongman act. He realizes that rather than centering the act around Sandow lifting things, he should emphasize Sandow's physique. Ziegfeld invites the middle-aged ladies at the circus to feel Sandow's muscles. It works.
- She Is All Grown Up: Mary Lou, the feisty little girl who is studying piano at Ziegfeld's father's house, pops up several years later as an attractive young woman looking for a job as a dancer in his show. Ziegfeld completely fails to recognize her. Her obvious sexual attraction for him is a little weird.
- Worst News Judgment Ever: "ANNA HELD LEAVES ZIEGFELD" is a big-type banner headline in a New York newspaper.
- Your Cheating Heart: Ziegfeld has an affair with Audrey Dane—or it least it it very strongly implied that he does. Thanks to The Hays Code, it's never explicitly shown.