Wednesday, April 29, 2015

1936: Luise Rainer for The Great Ziegfeld

In this ridiculously long Best Picture Winner, which I blogged about before here, Luise Rainer plays singer Anna Held, who becomes Ziegfeld's common-law wife (though the movie doesn't make it clear that they're not actually married...production codes). Even though she still loves him, she ends the relationship because of his womanizing.

Oh my gosh, this movie feels even longer the second time. It's a little over three hours, which wouldn't be so bad except there's only about an hour's worth of story. Luise Rainer's not actually in that much of the movie, but she's in most of the interesting parts. Her musical numbers are among the best, although maybe I'm just saying that because they don't drag on as long as most of the other numbers. Her performance might seem over-the-top, but her character's kind of a diva, so it works. And she's good at trying really hard to hide her true feelings and failing. Hence the famous telephone scene, which is definitely the best part of the movie - unless you really like women in fancy dresses on staircases - and is generally considered to be the reason she won this award.

It's her last scene in the movie. We haven't seen her for a while; Ziegfeld's moved on. She reads in the paper that he's just married Billie Burke, and she decides to call him and congratulate him. With tears streaming down her face, she manages to put a smile in her voice, and keep all but the smallest trace of a quiver out of it, as she tells him how happy she is for him. Once the call is finished, she collapses into sobs. It's definitely not the most amazing scene ever filmed, and certainly not worth sitting through the entire movie for, but it's a very moving piece of acting, so I would call it Oscar-worthy. If you want to see it, just look up that scene on youtube or something. Seriously, don't bother watching the whole movie. It's not that terrible, but it's not very good.

Luise Rainer won this award again the following year, becoming both the first actress to win two Best Actress Oscars and the first person to win back to back Academy Awards. So I'll talk more about her next.

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