Now Playing: The Great Ziegfeld (1936)

During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.


“The Great Ziegfeld” is yet another long-winded biopic and musical from the ‘30s. In it, we follow the many rises and falls of Florenz Ziegfeld Jr, a Broadway producer best known for the Ziegfeld Follies: elaborately choreographed and staged Broadway products that had elements of Vaudeville. But this is not a modern-style biopic that seeks to teach you about the life of someone you may or may not know. “The Great Ziegfeld” is more a celebration in which you will learn nothing but you will be entertained.

Though a biopic, “The Great Ziegfeld” does little to humanize its subject. Rather than being portrayed as a flawed human, Ziegfeld is shown as an impossible charmer and dreamer. Modern films tend to gloss over the worst of a person to celebrate their best, but anytime “The Great Ziegfeld” comes close to a human moment (with one or two exceptions), time skips ahead or cuts away to one of Ziegfeld’s productions. Outside of his inability to save any money he earns or his chronic indebtedness, this film did nothing to explain Ziegfeld the man.

Ziegfeld - 2.png

My favorite character was Frank Morgan as Billings. He and Ziegfeld had a delightful rivalry throughout the film. His scenes were often the ones that got the most laughs from me.

And that’s a shame. For all intents and purposes, Florenz Ziegfeld Jr was an interesting person. The rights to this movie were sold by his wife to help pay his debts, and it was released only four years after he passed away at age 65. While my research hasn’t painted Ziegfeld as a particularly terrible person, he did seem to be a constant philanderer with the women he hired, and though the movie alludes to his indiscretions, it ultimately turns a blind eye by looking away every time.

One of my favorite things about several of the movies we’ve watched thus far is their willingness to cover large spans of time. “The Great Ziegfeld” is no exception. However, I do wish this were a modern movie, if only so I could learn more of the history of his life and career. Since the film spans nearly 30 years of his life, it comes off as the cliff notes version. Even the shows he helped produced are under explained despite their elaborate portrayal.

Ziegfeld - 3

Imagine something like this shot in HD and color. ALL THE SPARKLES!

If anything does hold up for this movie, then its lavish portrayal of the Ziegfeld Follies that defined so much of the man’s career. According to Wikipedia, the movie’s budget was $2.183 million (with a $4.5 million plus box office) and it shows. From the film’s opening to all of its stage productions, “The Great Ziegfeld” remains a great spectacle. The “Wedding Cake” sequence in particular is phenomenal, over the top, and absolutely insane by any time’s standards. If you have never seen it, then you absolutely must whether you like this kind of thing or not.

There were a couple of instances of blackface which obviously do not hold up. The longer of the two featured an actor performing a song called “If You Knew Susie”. The scene stood out to Diane and I not because of the blackface itself but because we couldn’t figure out why it was used. There was nothing racist or racial about the performance or the actor’s dancing. We were both laughing in how silly and pointless it felt.

Beyond its glossing over the facts or its elaborate productions, “The Great Ziegfeld” suffers from its length. Neither Diane nor I ever felt bored because of the visuals, humor, or acting, but this movie could’ve been half as long and still be twice as fun. At 177 minutes, complete with an intermission, it is just too much movie to say so little, especially when some of its key players were the actual performers involved in the real Ziegfeld’s productions.

Ziegfeld - 4

William Powell did okay as the charming Ziegfeld, but he didn’t have a lot of material to work with.

“The Great Ziegfeld” is an enigma. We both enjoyed it, though I’d hesitate to put it at the top of the list for its many flaws. Still, I’d hate to tell anyone not to watch it, as the movie is both entertaining and funny. Also, despite its length, it left me wanting so much more. I’d love to see a remake of this movie with a more true-to-life story and depiction of the subject while replicating its spectacular recreations of what were likely some of the most beautiful, coordinated, and weirdest things ever set on a stage.

Backstory Time #DND

Last week, I talked about the one-shot character Roldoon and I teased a story about Calibos, a Bugbear Monk. Calibos was a cali-bust (fun, but too many folks at the table to do anything important, though I did fly over the boss and whip him from the skies before helicoptering down via my twirling whips when the Bard’s concentration broke).

Instead, I thought I’d share a backstory I wrote a while back for a character concept I hope to use one day.

His name is Asariel and he is an Aasamir Warlock (The Celestial)/Sorcerer (Favorited Soul):

On my thirteenth birthday, my origins were revealed to me, though I had suspected them long before knowing, by a journeymen priest who let the words slip after too much wine. He said my mother was a virgin priestess and that the truth of both my conception and inception were a miracle.

I had suspected this because, from a very early age, I had a gift for healing. Simply by touch and eventually by sound once I was taught the words, a warmth from within me would spring forth toward the sick or infirm and soothe their pains. In time, even as a young boy, I was called to the bedside of the most stricken before some of the more trained and more experienced clerics.

Even before I knew the truth of my heritage, I noticed the priests, clerics, and acolytes treating me reverently. Other orphans were treated differently. I may have looked similar and had some similar duties to them, but I never belonged with that lot. They were more like servants of priests where as I was born to be a servant to the gods.

For the first thirteen years, the temple was my only home and my only refuge. The Brothers and Sisters who ran it were my mothers, fathers, and cousins. They clothed me and taught me all they knew. Despite their attempts at challenging me with their lessons, never were they too difficult to overcome. My fate was etched at my conception. I was like a fish and their baptism a pool of water for me to swim in.

As I grew out of boyhood, the Temple District itself became my playground. I loved to listen to the acolytes and observe the rituals of the city’s many religions. I learned everything there was to know about every kind of “man of the cloth.” I learned to bark and curse and cajole. I learned to beg and speak in tongues. I helped elicit donations for the poor, the sick, and the orphaned. I single-handedly, simply by my passion and my spirit, raised enough money to roof a leaky infirmary.

My reputation grew quickly, despite my age. People adored me for my abilities and my dedication. They respected my faith.

Not long after turning fifteen, my world moved beyond the Temple District to the rest of the city. In a chance encounter, I made friends with another boy, only slightly older than me, but far more aware of matters at court or within the city or even beyond its walls. He was a princeling, furthest from the throne, accompanying an older brother whose newborn son had fallen ill and needed tending. The brother came for me directly on my reputation alone, but it was the princeling who asked me to banquet after healing his nephew.

The banquet was lavish and ornate. Despite my natural beauty, my priestly robes were nothing compared to clothing of the court. I looked more a servant than an honored guest, but the princeling and I took to one another like kindling and spark. Soon, we were running all over the city on what he called ‘quests’ in favor of more romantic notions of knighthood. Truthfully, he had never met someone as provincial as me and he wanted to show me everything I had missed.

He taught me how to drink spirits stronger and viler than the watered wines of the Temple. He draped me in clothes more fitting my status as his friend and companion. He had me taste foods from places, cooked by people, I had never known to exist. He even procured for me my first woman, whom we shared and worshipped like the idol that she was.

You could describe the first fifteen or so years of my life as being dedicated to the elevation of my soul, but the year I spent with the princeling was equal in passion and entirely dedicated to the revelation of my body.

In time, he admitted his intimate love for me. We quieted away to the shadows to protect our reputations, but I soon moved onto prettier things. I cannot recall his name, but the lesson he helped me learn has not been forgotten.

He taught me to embrace life and myself. He revealed to me a larger world. A world that needed me as much as the Temple District still did. A world that wanted me and that I wanted in turn.

This revelation led me away from the only home I had ever known in pursuit of something more. Finally embracing my internal and external beauty, I took to the road to share my love. I never called upon one god, but I was happy to provide a blessing to all.

All the while, I chased temple virgins and dockside whores. I ate better than dukes and sometimes their kings. I reveled in adulation and adultery.

I was a saint, a miracle worker, and the greatest lover most women (and a few other men) ever had. I commanded crowds.

I was loved. Respected. Happy.

Then everyone who I knew loved me left me. My beauty began to leave me. My glory wilted and my passion subsided. The love, the respect, and the happiness that I had rightfully earned was gone.

And why, dare you ask, did such a creature as me fall so far from grace? Was it a grave mistake? Poor judgement? Did I sleep with the wrong man’s wife? Pride?

One night, in a drunken stupor, a voice called to me. It called to me with a warmth and familiarity I had never felt before. The voice named itself my Father and offered what it called a fitting opportunity. Accept my challenge and be eternally loved. Do you agree?

I would say only the gods know why I answered the way I did, but that statement is more truth than a cliche uttered by faithful man in desperate need.

I muttered through wine-coated lips, “Yes” and the voice replied, Heal the world. Do good works. Do it earnestly and without expectation and be revered. Do it dishonestly or for reward and be forgotten.

I awoke the next morning, not yet knowing the calamity to which I had agreed. My purse was empty from the previous night’s revelry dedicated to a local god whose name I never bothered to learn. Hungry, I sauntered to a busy intersection and began my song and dance like so many times before. I made promises. I proclaimed great truths. I offered salvation in the name of beautiful goddesses whose likenesses I used to whet the appetites of passing men, heavy with coin but lacking direction.

Then, a puddle of water in the street caught my eye. My reflection, normally golden and bright, looked white and aging. Fear overcame me until the voice’s words from the night before flashed across my mind.

Do it dishonestly or for reward and be forgotten.

Dear Father, whom I have never known, you bitchless son of the nether. May you fade into obscurity an unthanked god for this affliction you have placed upon me. The phrase ‘No good deed goes unpunished’ never struck as true as this day!

You want me to walk the straight and narrow in your name? Fuck you and all you stand for!

I will die or waste away before I do your bidding!

… But this world wants and needs my beauty, my passion, my providence. Force me with a curse you blaspheme by calling a blessing? I walk my own path and always have. I will do something so great that the world will know me before it ever knows you again. I will be so beloved that all the other gods resting atop your high mountain laugh at the Father who has been outshone by his mortal son.

It is but a whisper now. My name, echoed by all whom I have touched. Their love for me absolute.

Dear Father, listen, for soon it will be the only one our names that ever gets repeated again.

Now Playing: A Night at the Opera (1935)

During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.

In a huge departure from last week’s film “Mutiny on the Bounty”, this week we return to New York (yawn) for an attempt to make it big in show business (yawn) with another romantic subplot (yawn) and the antics of the Marx Bros (huh?).

This week’s movie is 1935’s “A Night at the Opera”.

This was my first Marx Bros. movie though not the first time I’ve been exposed to their comedy styles. Why I was naked in front of them, I am not sure. Speaking of comedy styles, did you ever get a look at the Marx Bros. Woof! Literally, they look like dogs returning from a bad groomer. So anyway, I was exposed to them first (specifically Harpo) through I Love Lucy. I was standing naked in front of it on a projector playing the scene where Lucy kept yelling ‘le crayon’. That’s no way of talking about a man’s penis!

I could go on forever, much like this movie, but I won’t. Frankly, for the few jokes and bits that did land, there was a seemingly endless supply of misses. The romantic subplots and characters didn’t keep my attention either. I loved the opera singing, but even it went on longer than necessary. All in all, for me, this felt closer to “Scary Movie” or some other “throw everything at a wall and see what sticks” type comedy.

Night Opera - 1.png

Yes, I am sure some of you move/comedy/Marx Bros. buffs are upset I didn’t enjoy this movie.

That’s a shame because when it worked, the collective talent of the Marx Bros. was apparent even for someone like me who has only heard of them through pop culture history. At times it felt like a slightly funnier Three Stooges (which I have never liked), but my generation is so far removed from Vaudeville that I really didn’t get much of the appeal and I am not sure I should have.

Some bits did land for us both. I loved the scene where they stuffed as many people as they could in Groucho’s room on the ship going to New York City. It went on until it stopped being funny, like most of the jokes in “A Night at the Opera”, but unlike those attempts it kept going until it was funny again.

Night Opera - 2.png

This scene was genuinely funny and fantastic physical comedy on the part of everyone involved.

Diane was also partial to the hotel scene where they kept switching beds in adjoining rooms to hide the other stowaways from the police. I didn’t care for it.

I hate writing a review this negative. I don’t think “A Night at the Opera” bests “The Broadway Melody” for my worst yet, but it is close. I wanted to enjoy it, but this isn’t my kind of comedy and the attempts at plot and character development were just piss breaks for the main attraction.

And I wasn’t attracted to it at all.

Night Opera - 3.png

I don’t recall noticing this when I first watched it, but Harpo pouring a drink with his foot is also great. I would watch more Harpo Marx, but his brothers I could do without.

The Short Tale of Roldoon the Bard #D&D

I have always wanted an Irish accent. There’s just something especially lovely about it. In a way, I’ve always heard an Irish accent as being a Southern (US) accent with all the charm and none of the baggage. All that baggage largely comes from my “fish out of water” upbringing in the rural South and my total ignorance of most things Irish, but let’s move on.

On a recent evening out to a bar, Diane and I decided to have a few drinks. I am a lightweight. I also do not eat much during the day. Combining those two factors with an especially strong and tasty hard cider, plus it being the end of a long work day, and I was soon feeling pretty good about life.

After the meal, she and I walked around the local shopping area and I entertained her with a sing-song-slurry-slur-a-long. She laughed – her mistake – and I persisted. With an upcoming Dungeons & Dragons one-shot coming up, the evening gave birth to my first D&D bard: Roldoon the Dwarf Bard.

In written form, I’d say Roldoon’s voice is explained best as soft, melodic way of saying every word without using any of the vowels, at an extreme enough tilt that no one knows when one word has ended and another begun, without ever going so fast as to seem like you are trying to rap badly. Oh and lots of swearing.

I was nervous to “do a voice” for what turned out to be a two-shot instead, but it ended up great.  My party consisted of a Barbarian named Korg (pronounced Krrrrg), a Fighter named Karlus who went by ‘Carl’ (pronounced like ‘curl’ if you forced into a sudden single syllable). There was also a lot of “O! feck uee ahcurse I speak c’mmmm’n. Ime a brd fer cryn ootlowd” (Translated: Oh fuck you. Of course I speak common. I am a bard for crying out loud!) since the DM had no idea what I was saying most of the time – nor did my party, though they let me speak for them frequently.

In the adventure, the three of us arrived at a port city besieged by disease in desperate need for a rare sentient mushroom in a nearby jungle. Our quest was to brave the dangers of the jungle, find this incredibly rare creature, and bring it back.

I got in a lot of taunting, but I mostly failed to land any spells while hiding behind trees. The other two cleaned up.

I am unsure I’d try to do another voice again, but it was a nice change of pace. It really helped me get into the character, even if I was torturing everyone with a bad Irish/Scottish/still somehow Southern voice. It went over well though, so I am imagining a whole line of dwarves: maybe Doldoon the Shepard Druid or Woldoon the Warlock!

For my next single use character though, I am running a Bugbear Kensai Monk whip master named Calibos. I am excited for 15ft stunning strikes!

Now Playing: Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)

During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.

Sorry for the delay! Diane and I were busy last week with her sister’s birthday plans. We watched the movie on time, but I kept getting sidetracked from doing this write. Please don’t mutiny!

Speaking of which, last week’s movie was “Mutiny on the Bounty” from 1935 starring Clark Gable. More importantly, the movie featured Charles Laughton, an actor I have never heard of before, but who was more impressive than the entire rest of the cast. And – spoiler alert – I actually really enjoyed this movie.

“Mutiny on the Bounty” was based on a novel based on actual history. As such, it seems fairly removed from anything that may have actually happened. The story follows the shipmates of the HMS Bounty under the leadership – some may call it abuse – of Captain Bligh (Charles Laughton) and Fletcher Christian (Clark Gable). What follows is easily the goriest and more disturbing of any movie we’ve seen thus far plus or minus some of the racism in previous films.

Mutiny - 2

Clark Gable gets by mostly on his charm. Here he’s leading a “press gang” which historically were men who forced other men into the military/navy with or without notice. Kind of like the draft, but they come and grab you at your favorite bar instead of just expecting you to show up.

From the outset of the movie, when men in a tavern are compelled into the Navy to serve on the HMS Bounty, when they find they’ll be captained by Captain Bligh, they immediately try to escape. Bligh’s reputation as a tyrant far proceeds him and, as easily my favorite character in the whole movie, he lives up to it.

Captain Bligh is an effective heel because he doesn’t hold back. His first real introduction is in regards to a man who has been held prisoner for “punching his captain”. Bligh calls the entire ship on deck to witness the prisoner being flogged for his discretion. When the taskmaster announces he is dead from the inhumane treatment he received even before being whipped, Captain Bligh commands the flogging proceed since that’s the punishment he has already decreed for the man, dead or alive.

Mutiny - 3.png

Here’s Captain Bligh. Do not punch him or he will have you beaten until you are dead and beat your dead body for the trouble.

Captain Bligh also has a great line when one of his men speak out of line against him and he asks another man to rat him out. He refuses to rat out his friend, but before Captain Bligh has him flogged in place of whomever may of spoke, the man who did speak against him came forward so his friend wouldn’t be beat in his place. Captain Bligh has him whipped and he has the friend whipped as well since, “When I ask questions, I expect answers.”

Charles Laughton’s performance is outstanding. His face emits glowing rays of hatred at all times. He scowls and scorns his way through the entire movie. Even after a large portion of his crew mutinies and casts him and those loyal to him off in a small sail boat, he refuses to allow his only comeuppance in the movie to change his expression. Even as they are set adrift, Bligh dares the sea to swallow him up with just a look.

Mutiny - 4.png

One thing I do miss about men in Old Hollywood is they had believable bodies. Everyone these days is chiseled!

The rest of the movie’s characters were okay. Clark Gable plays the handsome good guy, but I felt like there was a disconnect between his beginning the mutiny and everything leading up to it. Sure, he tries to stick up for the men under Captain Bligh’s horrifying punishments, but he doesn’t really snap until after Captain Bligh accuses him of stealing coconuts.

The morality of the mutinying is also undercut by Roger Byam, a blue blood sailing newbie who disagrees with Captain Bligh’s practices, but wants to follow the captain’s orders at sea and would likely try and bring charges against him once they return to England. Think a Lawful Good character in D&D. He ends up getting stuck on the HMS Bounty with the mutineers and lives in Tahiti with Fletcher Christian and the others somewhat against his will.

Mutiny - 5.png

The Tahitians greeting the men of the HMS Bounty was quite a site. I loved seeing all the boats and the excitement of a bunch of men who haven’t seen land or woman in months.

Speaking of Tahiti, I loved the depiction. I imagine it wasn’t very accurate, but there wasn’t any “these people are stupid savages”. If anything, the movie leaned too hard on the ‘noble savage’ trope since the island was idyllic and peaceful. The movie also featured two female love interests for Christian and Byam to marry. Diane and I could thought one of the women was a straight up white girl, but it turns out she was Hawaiian born and the other actress was Mexican-American. Even if they had no character development and did little more than titillate, it was nice to see some women of color in a prominent role.

Our biggest downside for “Mutiny on the Bounty” was its run time. At 132 minutes, much of the Tahiti stuff could’ve been cut or streamlined. They also spend a ton of time on Captain Bligh’s miracle return to civilization after being left at sea which felt unnecessary. The movie ends with a few days of court proceedings as well, which seem to drag on, especially when compared to the bigger action sequences earlier in the film that still hold up well.

Mutiny - 6.png

The young man on the and his wife (and mother of his child) was pressed into service at the beginning of the film. He spends the entire time getting flogged until he decides to mutiny. Afterward, he intentionally gets captured just so he can return to England in hopes of seeing his child before being executed. He’s a happy character.

“Mutiny …” also ends with a “happy ending”. Byam lives, despite being found guilty of mutiny and sentenced to die, but he is saved because his family is rich and can get an audience with the king. His fellow shipmates, all of which were destitute to begin with, are executed. Yay for rich white people?

“Mutiny on the Bounty” is still a good film and my personal favorite of this series thus far. I edge out “Cimarron” if only because Charles Laughton’s performance as Captain Bligh was so memorable for me. Whereas most pirate/naval movies tell you their Captain is a grizzled bad ass, Captain Bligh looks like he could chew you up, spit you out, and still have time to munch on a cheese wheel he stole. With everything else still holding up (give or take a script that overstays its welcome), I’d say give this one a shot.


Now Playing: 42nd Street (1933)

During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.

Next up, we return to New York City for “42nd Street”, a comedy musical from 1933. Well, that was the implication at least. The movie takes place almost entirely in rehearsal for the upcoming in-movie musical, Pretty Lady, before the show opens up in … Pennsylvania. Yeah, we didn’t get it either.

42nd - 2.png

It’ll take you most of the movie to get to the “shrimp dip” of women.

We won’t bore you as much as this movie did us. The first two-thirds of the film is a vaguely humorous exploration of practicing for a big musical. There’s some broken hearts and star-crossed lovers, a Harvey Weinstein-esque producer who uses his money/power to force the show’s lead to go out with him, a gangster named Slim Murphy, and dancing.

The acting was pretty good. Warner Baxter plays a soon-to-retire director named Julian Marsh. He lost all his money in the stock market crash and this show is his last chance to make enough money to quit show business for good. He was easily the most convincing of all the actors, from his yelling at the dancers to how worn out he looked in several scenes.

42nd - 3.png

There is a subplot about the director dying that never goes anywhere. Still, great job acting.

The rest of the cast has their charms. The focus of most of the story is on Peggy Sawyer (played by Ruby Keeler). She’s a fresh face and this is her first show. She manages to straddle that line of ignorant amateur and doe-eyed girl next door without teetering too far toward being annoying. That said, she’s hardly an underdog with everyone rooting for her by the film’s climax.

Though “42nd Street” was mostly a waste of our time, the last twenty minutes were a big hit for both of us. The musical Pretty Lady didn’t make any damn sense, but the choreography, staging, how it was shot, and the music itself were all great. It all stands the test of time too, especially the folding train scene, the stairway to the New York skyline, and of course the forest of legs.

42nd - 4.png

This speaks for itself…

If you are a sucker for Broadway and you want to see Old Hollywood’s take on it, “42nd Street” is okay. Diane and I both struggled to say much more about the movie than this if that tells you anything. Still, if you are a sucker for Broadway and you don’t want to waste your time, skip to ~1h9m mark and enjoy the only show that really entertained.

Here – I’ll save you some of the trouble:

Persona 5: One “Dungeon” In

Over the last month plus, I’ve been trying to tackle my first ever Persona game and … my feelings are mixed.

When Persona 5 dropped (and, to be honest, before it dropped too), it was a huge hit. My days of playing every JRPG are largely behind me, but the game did peak my curiosity. A friend offered to loan it to me after he was done, which is how we’ve arrived at this point.

I don’t think I have ever been more confused, more interested, or more overwhelmed all at once by a video game. I wouldn’t say I love it, but after beating the first palace (which seems loosely equivalent to a dungeon), I am ready for more.

The game is a weird mix of living an alternate life AND playing a JRPG, only you do it at the same time. Just like my real life, I have to carefully balance the few hours I have in the day for entertaining, self-improvement, relationship building or some mix of the three.

It isn’t my ideal game or my ideal RPG, but it is growing on me. I am genuinely excited to find out what sort of pseudo-psychology, acid trip we are going on next. BUT I don’t want to be playing this game for the next three months either.

We shall see.

%d bloggers like this: