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Film / Ziegfeld Follies (1945)

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Ziegfeld Follies is a 1945 musical movie from MGM, which attempts to recreate the style of the actual Ziegfeld Follies by dispensing with a connected plot and just having short, unrelated skits for 110 minutes. It stats some of Hollywood’s biggest talent of the day, including Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Judy Garland, Myrna Loy, and even Fanny Brice, who really was a Ziegfeld performer back in the day (as the opening claymation shows). The program for the movie is as follows:

  • After the overture, the first person we meet is Florence Ziegfeld (William Powell), who is up in heaven and ready to tell the audience about how wonderful his old Follies were. He demonstrates this using his “toys” (claymation puppets) to show us the follies of 1907 on Broadway, featuring such stars as Marilyn Miller, Will Rogers, Eddie Cantor, and the aforementioned Fanny Brice. Then, after Fred Astaire says a few words about how amazing a guy the real Ziegfeld was (and about how this movie won’t have a single plot because “The Follies never had a story”), we segue into the film proper.
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  • Here’s to the Beautiful Girls: An exhibition of models in pink dresses on a carousel, all about “glorifying the American girl” as the late Ziegfeld said the follies were all about. The main model is a pre-television Lucille Ball who takes to carrying a whip and snapping it in front of a bunch of women in sexy cat outfits (seriously)
  • Bring on the Wonderful Men: Virginia O'Brien spoofs the former sequence by riding a horse while singing about how she’s unlucky in love.
  • Water Ballet: Esther Williams, the famous swimming champion, does some dancing to instrumental music in a pool made to look like a reef.
  • Number Please: Keenan Wynn does a comedy bit about trying to reach someone on the phone, while the operator connects him to everyone BUT his party.
  • Traviata: While dancing at a ball, James Melton and Marion Bell sing the titular song, about the glories of drinking wine and partying.
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  • Pay the Two Dollars: Edward Arnold spits on a subway train and gets fined two dollars ($28.79 in 2020), and he wants his lawyer, Victor Moore, to pay it. Hilarity Ensues.
  • This Heart of Mine: Fred Astaire sings a song written especially for him, as he plays a conman who weasels his way into a fancy party so he can steal all the jewelry. When he dances with Lucille Bremen, it seems as though there may be true love in store after all.
  • A Sweepstakes Ticket: Fanny Brice plays a housewife who wins a sweepstakes, only to have her husband give the winning ticket to his boss to cover a minor debt. Together, they have to lie their way into getting the ticket back.
  • Love: In what seems to be a Caribbean bar room, Lena Horne sings to the weary patrons about how love can be amazing, horrible, and everything in between.
  • When Television Comes: In an oddly prophetic sequence, Red Skelton tells the audience what television is gonna be like once it becomes more popular.
  • Limehouse Blues: Fred Astaire in yellowface plays a Chinese man looking to buy a fan for his love (Lucille Bremen, also in Yellowface). He gets shot during a robbery, and goes into a Chinese-inspired Dream Ballet sequence.
  • The Great Lady Has an Interview: Judy Garland plays a actress who wants to be in sexy roles a la Katharine Hepburn, but only gets Oscar Bait roles such as "the lady who invented the safety pin". She tells her troubles to a bevy of newspaper men.
  • The Babbit and the Bromide: Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly tap dance to a song about two friends meeting each other when they’re young, old, and in heaven.
  • Beauty: As the grand finale, Kathryn Grayson sings about the titular subject while a lot of surreal dancing happens around her. Originally this was supposed to involve a lot of bubbles, but the machine broke and so they’re only in one scene.

Tropes present in this film include:

  • Blackface: Not in the musical numbers themselves, but in the claymation opening, Eddie Cantor's model shows him singing in blackface.
  • Distaff Counterpart: Ziegfeld talked about “Glorifying the American girl”, so the film also has a number about the wonders of men, albeit with a way less fancy presentation.
  • Dream Ballet: Astaire, playing the Chinese man, gets shot and goes into a coma, where he dances with his lady love in a dream sequence
  • Excuse Plot: Averted. The Great Ziegfeld and Ziegfeld Girl both wrote plots around their musical numbers, but this movie doesn’t even try to do that.
  • Gargle Blaster: On "When Television Comes", Red Skelton does an ad for Guzzler's Gin, whose slogan promises "a nice, smooth drink", then sputters and coughs after downing a shot. With each new commercial he does, he gets more and more drunk, until he's completely incoherent ("SMOOOOTH!")and unable to stand up.
    With Guzzler's you don't need a chaser; nothing could catch it!
  • Gold Digger: Subverted. Fred Astaire starts out as one in This Heart of Mine, but he soon falls in love for real with Lucille Bremen’s character.
  • No Plot? No Problem!: Fred Astaire says as much in his opening monologue. The Follies themselves never had a plot, so why should the movie?
  • Nostalgia Filter: Invoked by Ziegfeld at the beginning, talking about how glorious the Follies were back in the day.
  • Oscar Bait: Judy Garland plays an actress who is tired of doing these movies, but she apparently can't get anything else.
  • Shout-Out: To the 1936 movie The Great Ziegfeld. In the claymation opening, Eddie Cantor’s model dances the same way Buddy Doyle did when he portrayed Cantor in that movie (complete with blackface). The voice heard singing is also Doyle’s, again taken from that movie.
  • Token Minority: Averted and played straight. In the deleted opening sequence, Bert Williams was the only black follies performer shown, but he was cut in the final product. In the actual dance sequences, however, a single one is dedicated to showing Lena Horne singing to black bar patrons. The Limehouse blues number doesn’t count, because neither performer is actually Chinese.

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