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Ziegfeld Girl

Gasser

Ziegfeld Girl (1941)

 
     Lana Turner‘s Sheila is picked by Mr. Ziegfeld when he spots her operating an elevator. She happens to already possess the poise necessary to walk gracefully down a flight of stairs with a book balanced on her head. Hedy Lamarr‘s Sandra is at the theater while her husband Franz (Philip Dorn) auditions as a violinist. He does not get the job but Sandra does land employment. Judy Garland as Susan gets approved for a cast spot after Mr. Ziegfeld follows through on seeing her in a father-daughter vaudeville act. The three women become friends but their involvement in the follies will impact their lives differently.
 
     The plot puts the greatest emphasis on Sheila who gets the most attention from audience members. She is dating Jimmy Stewart as Gilbert, a truck driver working toward the responsibility of hauling a larger load, which would hopefully precipitate the couple’s marriage. Sheila’s newfound attention, however, has her meeting a lot of wealthy men, one of whom she permanently goes around with in exchange for a lavish apartment and loads of shoes and furs. Sandra’s love life is also toppled by the success of the show. Although she loves her husband, he disagrees with the woman supporting him and the two split up, with Sandra moving into a boarding house. The woman takes up with a married singer in the cast thinking it will be a safe platonic relationship; although, the man has other plans. Lastly, Susan struggles with separating from her performer father (Charles Winninger) but manages to impress the casting director with her spectacular singing and gets a bigger place in the show. Her love life is marked by Sheila’s younger brother Jerry (Jackie Cooper), and the two have a standard young-person courtship.

Lana, Hedy and Judy

 
     Ziegfeld Girl is one of those instances when Garland found herself feeling rather inadequate among the stars of MGM. The studio was generally known for having the most glamorous actors on its roster and Garland failed to meet the standard. I previously mentioned Louis B. Mayer’s nicknames for the girl, and her casting alongside the exotic Hedy Lamarr and stunning Lana Turner only emphasized her insecurities. Nevermind that her character is essentially relegated into adolescence –despite Garland being only two years younger than Turner– while the other stars battle with big-time romantic turmoil.  
 
     The Sheila character in Ziegfeld Girl not only screws up her love life but spirals into alcoholism, which eventually impacts her career and threatens her life. The character was originally depicted as dying before the film’s close but initial audiences reacted poorly to that ending. The movie instead shows the woman in a dying state before action switches to the stage and the film closes on a high note, although with Sheila’s fate ambiguous. The picture also seems to have a major flaw in terms of costuming. If the plot is meant to take place in the 20s, the fashions are reflective of the 40s when the movie was made. The follies ran on Broadway from 1907 to 1931.
 
  • Ziegfeld Girl is set for 10:15 a.m. ET Jan. 25 on TCM.
 
Sources: Get Happy: The Life of Judy Garland by Gerald Clark, TCM.com
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Reunion in France

Gasser

Reunion in France (1942)

      Only Joan Crawford could make a movie about the hardships of war and still manage to be glamorous. Reunion in France sets the star in Paris in 1940 when the French were still naive enough to think Hitler could not invade their country. He does, of course, and the stylish Crawford manages to survive with her image in tact.

     Crawford is the wealthy Michele de la Beque, who by her name seems to be French, but we have no other indication that she might actually be a native of the country (her parents are in a different country or perhaps have gone to the US). She is in love with an engineer who is more devoted to his country than his girl, so he stays put when Michele leaves for the south of France possibly to escape the turmoil of war, but we aren’t given an actual explanation. When she returns some months later after France’s surrender, she finds her house is being used as a Nazi office of some sort and she is permitted to live in the concierge quarters, where her effects are delivered. She discovers her engineer, Robert (Philip Dorn), has survived untouched by the German occupation, his lavish home still full of classical artwork and food galore. When Michele is taken to dinner at a once-ritzy restaurant she discovers why. The eatery, now a Nazi hangout, is filled with top German military officials. Robert, it seems, has been building tanks and trucks for the enemy.

     Michele is immediately rebuffed by this revelation and forgets about the prior-arranged betrothal. She asks for a job working in the house of fashion run by a designer who used to dress her personally. She works alongside the model and assistant who also used to cater to her ever stylish whim. Leaving work one day, she is approached by a man who holds her tights and begs she play as though she knows him. Two investigators, one French, one Nazi, follow the duo. The mystery man is an American fighting for the British army whose plane crashed in France. Pat’s (John Wayne) leg is hurt and he has not slept nor eaten in days. The police are unsure if he is the man they think he is.

     When the pair reach Michele’s flat, she drags the nearly collapsed man inside and the French officer writes them off as lovers. The German, however, is not convinced and sticks around all night. Pat and who he is now calling “Mike” (Michele is typically the French version of Michael) are a bit romantic together, but Michele immediately identifies an opportunity to help the country she is so starkly defending against her ex by achieving the necessary goals for Pat to exit the country safely. Several twists and stressful situations ensue.

     I quite liked Reunion in France despite the two-star rating my TV gave it. Crawford’s acting is typical for her –good, but not jaw-dropping. The story has a good message about loving one’s country. Whereas Michele could not relate to Robert’s devotion to lady France at the film’s start, once the Nazis move in she is flabbergasted by his reversal and understands herself the importance of patriotism. Wayne, who was apparently used to lure Crawford onto the picture and who got a roll in the hay with her to boot, is young and handsome enough that one cannot quite decide with which man Michele will end up.

     The real star of Reunion in France might be the costumes. Irene designed the gowns and one can understand why Crawford favored the designer’s work. By some luck, when Michele returns to her home, all her possessions remain, so she still has access to a year’s worth of high-end gowns. She fits perfectly in the fashion shop where she works and has the necessary formal wear for the fancy Nazi events she attends. Pat makes some comments about how the woman’s wardrobe does not suggest she should be selling such garments, but Michele declines to explain her prior social position. The story certainly found an ingenious way to ensure Crawford could have her glamour despite the subject matter. And what glamour it was.

  • Reunion in France is set for 6 a.m. ET May 26 on TCM.

Source: Bette & Joan: The Divine Feud by Shaun Considine

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