Each week this column will highlight one winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture, progressing chronologically until all winners have been discussed. There will be a brief discussion of the film itself followed by a mention of what we wish won from the nominees in the given year (though in many cases, there were films that were superior in terms of quality and/or impact that were not nominated). This week’s entry is The Great Ziegfeld (1936).
In many ways, The Great Ziegfeld parallels the winner from a few years earlier, Cimarron. Both films are epic in proportions and detail the cultural and societal shifts in America over a number of years with a handful of highly expensive scenes that still look magnificent, but both, though receiving praise at the time of their release, have not delighted modern audiences nearly so much. Unfortunately, I am in the camp of modern critics who have been less than thrilled with The Great Ziegfeld. In effect, a study of American entertainment before the motion picture took center stage as the primary form of amusement, it has some interesting assertions to make and some dazzling executed dance numbers, but it drags on for about two hours too long and is overly sentimental and often schlocky. Perhaps it would’ve been better for an audience actually familiar with Ziegfeld but today, despite some excellent scenes, it offers very little as a full film.