Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 30, 2022)
June 2022 marks the 100th anniversary of Judy Garland’s birth. To commemorate, Warner Archives devotes all three of their Blu-ray releases for the month to the actor.
For the first of these, we go to 1941’s Ziegfeld Girl. An all-star production, this one acts as a spin-off from 1936’s Oscar-winning Great Ziegfeld.
In the 1920s, The Ziegfeld Follies stands as the biggest show on Broadway. Young women dream of the chance to become stars as “Ziegfeld Girls”.
We follow the manner in which three ladies chase this fantasy. Elevator operator Sheila Regan (Lana Turner), teen veteran of the vaudeville circuit Sue Gallagher (Garland) and European musician’s wife Sandra Kolter (Hedy Lamarr) all find themselves caught up in the hopes of Broadway fame.
As implied by the two reviews linked above, Girl becomes my third experience with a film related to Broadway producer Flo Ziegfeld. Great Ziegfeld offered a fairly straight biopic, whereas 1945’s Ziegfeld Follies essentially attempted to recreate one of his classic shows.
Unlike the other two, Girl offers no on-screen representation by Ziegfeld himself – well, no direct appearance, at least. We get scenes set in his office that involve his representatives, but we never see the Big Man.
Given its title, we find an unsurprising emphasis on the three female leads, though don’t expect the film to spread its running time equally among them. Set in a love triangle with long-time blue-collar boyfriend Gil Young (James Stewart) and wealthy Geoffrey Collis (Ian Hunter), Sheila’s story dominates.
As the young singer torn between show biz aspirations and devotion to her father “Pop” (Charles Winninger), Susan’s narrative comes in second. Far in the rear, we find another love triangle that focuses on Sandra’s rift with husband Franz and her potential interest in vocalist Frank Merton (Tony Martin), an also-married performer.
With 132 minutes at the movie’s disposal, it feels like Girl should find room to explore all three characters sufficiently, so the decision to keep the three unbalanced surprises me. There seems to be no need to focus more on one than the other, especially since none of the different roles ever becomes especially compelling.
All three follow fairly cliché paths and I can’t claim that any of them become more than mediocre. Given the star power on display, this creates an obvious disappointment.
Girl comes packed to the gills with legends. Garland, Lamarr, Stewart and Turner remain famous decades after their deaths, and we also find talents like Edward Everett Horton, Eve Arden, and Jackie Cooper in tow.
With so many notables involved, I find it tough to accept that Girl turns into such a dud. It brings a mix of comedy, melodrama, music and romance, so how can it seem so dull?
I don’t know, but the film’s extended length certainly becomes a factor. If Girl managed to explore its characters in a dynamic way, perhaps it would justify 132 minutes of celluloid.
However, since everything remains superficial, the running time turns deadly. Girl simply drags and drags and drags, as it can’t find anywhere interesting to go.
Given all those stars along for the ride, you’d think Girl could muster some pleasures, but even those actors can’t redeem the project. It doesn’t help that the casually charming Stewart feels like a psychopath, and none of the others manage to bring much to the table.
Girl does come with sassier sexual innuendo than I expect from a circa 1941 film. Nothing truly smutty emerges, but the lines can seem tawdrier than I’d anticipate.
Some mild sex talk aside, Girl ends up as a slow, forgettable star piece. The movie delivers too many Hollywood legends to become such a boring trip.