Feb 9, 2014

Luise Rainer, The Great Ziegfeld

 photo ScreenShot2014-02-02at82554PM.jpg
Won: Academy Award - Best Actress | New York Film Critics Circle - Best Actress

There's a quote from William Powell on Luise Rainer that I believe is very fitting in terms of what she contributes to The Great Ziegfeld: "she is one of the most natural persons I have ever known...She is an extremely sensitive organism and has a great comprehension of human nature...Everything she does has been subjected to painstaking analysis. She thinks over every shade of emotion to make it ring true." I thought that The Great Ziegfeld was terribly manufactured, stuffed with characters and subplots and musical numbers that lacked integrity. However, I did feel that Rainer was the most organic offering in a film that otherwise feels annoyingly faux and refined. She's definitely the lesser of all The Great Ziegfeld's evils, and whether you love or hate her performance, I am firmly of the belief that she is the only reason to watch the film.

 photo ScreenShot2014-02-02at80507PM.jpg

 photo ScreenShot2014-02-02at91710PM.jpgRainer has a magnetism in this film that I found to be unmatched by anything and anybody else. The glimmer from those massively fabulous but dreadfully dull musical numbers only lasts so long. But Rainer grabbed my attention from her very first frame, wherein she appears on a stage, singing a song in rather shabby english. She is so perfectly coy and coquettish, even more so afterwards in her dressing room when she sees the flowers Ziegfeld has sent her. She infuses just the right amount of charm and naiveté into Anna Held, so that when she says lines such as, "who is this Florenz Ziegfeld Jr.? And why is it junior, is he a little boy?" it packs an amusing punch. She also flourishes these lines with tiny details, such as little facial expressions squeezed in here and there, even the way she moves her eyes up and down as she's checking out William Powell for the first time or as he's describing "the hook" to her, it all suggests that she has invested much thought into her character. As the film progresses, Anna gets more and more sloppy with her emotions, requiring some histrionics which I don't believe is fitting with Rainer's sweet presence. I found that her acting is sometimes a bit more self-aware and over-the-top than I'd have liked, and she never quite reaches the same level of natural charisma as seen in her earliest scenes. Perhaps some people found trouble with her here--digging through blogs and comments, I got the impression that people found her to be annoying. But in spite of this, I thought that she was always, at the very least, interesting to watch, and she effortlessly breathes some much needed life into a stuffy picture that's trying too hard to be too many things. And much has been said about her famed telephone scene; it is considered by many as the scene that clinched her the Oscar. I wasn't completely dazzled by said scene though--I found it all to be a bit hokey, but I respect it as it is and understand the difficulty in executing it. Rainer only has a little over half an hour's worth of screentime, and in a three hour film that's as much as you'd expect from a supporting character. The Academy created the supporting categories in 1936, and had Rainer been put there instead I wouldn't have debated it. But she creates a lasting impression on you. She uses up every minute and does it well enough so that she feels lead. She makes herself seem so essential to the film with her entertaining spirit that once she's gone The Great Ziegfeld sucks two-fold and it's all a downhill decline from there. And that, I feel, is a testament to this woman's talents.

NOTE: I find that sometimes I blabber on more than I need to on one review, and then I have to muster the strength to equal that word count in the next one. Forcing out words takes the fun out of blogging for me, so I'm trying my hand at shorter, more succinct posts now.


  1. Yay for Luise, I am so happy you gave her 4 ( as you said, people usually don't like her).

    About your review: I love it that you write a little bit more...well, I am the king of blabblering so I obviously do :-) But I realized that the main reason for my slow blogging are thos endless reviews so I also might start to shorten them in the future...anyway, just do what you want to do, it's your blog!

    1. Fritz--based on what I'd read from other people, I wasn't expecting to like her as much as I did. But she was a delight!

      And I'm glad that you like my longer posts--but I can't say I think of myself as much of a writer, so longer, drawn-out posts are generally tougher for me to do. However I'm sure if I overwhelmingly love or hate a particular performance I'll have much to say! As for your blog, I'd love to see more posts from you, but do whatever you'd like! :)

  2. 4? hmmm. a bit much :)

    Btw, I was tempted to click on your Best Actress 1935 ranking, but had to stop myself. Since it's a year for my draw, and I haven't seen ANY of the performances (can u believe it, not even my darling Bette), I don't want to be influenced in case I end up myself with this year. :)

    1. I know, I know, I was surprised that I liked it as much as I did.

      Haha, 1935 is...an interesting year. I'll leave it at that. :)