Classic Movie Countdown: Best Picture #’s 38 and 37 — The Great Ziegfeld (1936) and Around the World in 80 Days (1956)

38. The Great Ziegfeld (1936)

Other Nominated Films:
Anthony Adverse, Dodsworth, Libeled Lady, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Romeo and Juliet, San Francisco, The Story of Louis Pasteur, A Tale of Two Cities, Three Smart Girls

Florenz Ziegfeld was one of the most famous theater producers of the early 1900′s, producing hits such as the Ziegfeld Follies and Show BoatThe Great Ziegfeld is an extravagant film with gigantic dance sequences, one of which featured 180 performers, 4,300 yards of rayon silk, and cost $220,000. The film in total cost M-G-M about $2 million to make, which, for today, would probably be a budget of $200 million. Luckily for M-G-M, the film was able to bring in over $40 million, and rightly so. Ziegfeld led an interesting life, one that started with little money, but like so many other Americans, he worked his way to the top. While I don’t know much about the man (aside from the fact that the Ziegfeld Theater in Manhattan is named after him), by watching William Powell’s portrayal, I saw how hard of a worker Ziegfeld was, or Flo, as many of his friends called him. But the real star of the show is Luise Rainer, who won an Oscar for playing Flo’s ex-wife Anna Held. Rainer was great from beginning to end, but the one scene that truly stands out for me is when after she finds out that Flo has married Broadway star Billie Burke, (who would go on the play Glinda the Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz) and she phones him to pretend she’s glad for him. Rainer plays the heart-broken woman so well that many believe this is the scene that won her the Oscar. While The Great Ziegfeldtakes many liberties with the life of Ziegfeld, it can’t take away the fact that Robert Z. Leonard creates a fun and exuberant film.

Nominated for 7 Oscars; Winner of 3
Best Actress in a Leading Role – Luise Rainer (WON)
Best Dance Direction – Seymour Felix for “A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody(WON)
Best Picture – M-G-M (WON)
Best Art Direction – Cedric Gibbons, Eddie Imazu, Edwin B. Willis (WON)
Best Director – Robert Z. Leonard
Best Film Editing – William S. Gray
Best Writing, Original Story – William Anthony McGuire

Anna Held: [on the phone with Ziegfeld after learning of his marriage to Billie Burke] Hello, Flo… Yes. Here’s Anna… I’m so happy for you today, I could not help calling you and congratulate you… Wonderful, Flo! Never better in my whole life!… I’m so excited about my new plans! I’m going to Paris… Yes, for a few weeks, and then I can get back, and then I’m doing a new show, and… Oh, it’s all so wonderful! I’m so happy!… Yes… And I hope you are happy, too… Yes?… Oh, I’m so glad for you, Flo… Sounds funny for ex-husband and ex-wife to tell how happy they are, oui?… Yes, Flo… Goodbye, Flo… Goodbye…

37. Around the World in 80 Days (1956)

Other Nominated Films:
Friendly Persuasion, Giant, The King and I, The Ten Commandments

There are very few films that can match the amount of fun that Around the World in 80 Days brings to a viewer. They travel to Spain to India to Hong Kong to Japan to San Francisco to..well..back to Britain. And in 80 days! It’s fantastic! And I don’t know how Michael Todd did it, but he was somehow able to convince a treasure trove of legendary actors to appear in the film, most of them as extras. The stars of the film are David Niven, Cantinflas, Shirley MacLaine, and Robert Newton. The cameos? Well, I’ll just name a few to save time: Marlene Dietrich, George Raft, Frank Sinatra, Buster Keaton, and I’ll just stop there. The film has a very simple plot: Phileas Fogg makes a wager with the fellow members of the Reform Club that he can circumnavigate the world in eighty days. As for the production of the film…well…they really did travel all over the world to shoot the film. There were 74,685 costumes designed, the cast and crew flew over 4,000,000 miles, 68,894 extras were used, the film was shot in 13 countries, and the list goes on and on. Around The World in 80 Days is filled with laughs, and you find yourself pulling for Fogg to win the wager. And just one more thing to point one…if you watch the film, make sure you watch the seven-minute-long animated title sequence at the end of the film…it’s worth it.

Nominated for 8 Oscars; Winner of 5
Best Cinematography, Color – Lionel Lindon (WON)
Best Film Editing – Gene Ruggiero, Paul Weatherwax (WON)
Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture – Victor Young (Posthumously) [WON]
Best Picture – Michael Todd (WON)
Best Writing, Best Screenplay – Adapted – James Poe, John Farrow, S.J. Perelman (WON)
Best Art Direction-Set Direction, Color – James W. Sullivan, Ken Adam, Ross Dowd
Best Costume Design, Color – Miles White
Best Director – Michael Anderson

Sir Francis Gromarty: One thousand pounds for an elephant? It’s outrageous! You’ve been diddled.
Phileas Fogg: Undoubtedly. But it’s not often one needs an elephant in a hurry.

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