“The Follies is life, in one stiff jolt — life running, instead of walking; life speeded up to a mile a minute. But if you’ve got the right stuff, the pace won’t bother you.”
Three young women find their lives upended once they become “Ziegfeld girls”: an elevator girl (Lana Turner) loses her trucker boyfriend (James Stewart) when she allows a wealthy suitor (Ian Hunter) to wine and dine her; a teenage singer (Judy Garland) must ignore the dated performance advice of her vaudevillian father (Charles Winninger); and the exotic wife (Hedy Lamarr) of a classical violinist (Philip Dorn) finds her marriage strained when a suave singer (Tony Martin) pursues her.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Aspiring Stars
- Dan Dailey Films
- Eve Arden Films
- Hedy Lamarr Films
- Ian Hunter Films
- Jimmy Stewart Films
- Judy Garland Films
- Lana Turner Films
MGM’s follow-up to its Oscar-winning biopic of Broadway showman Flo Ziegfeld (1936’s The Great Ziegfeld) was this fictionalized exploration of how life was changed for those girls (un)lucky enough to be touched by the magic wand of Ziegfeld’s selection committee. Originally intended to star Joan Crawford, Eleanor Powell, Walter Pidgeon, and Virginia Bruce, by the time the film actually got made the studio had recast the central roles, thereby providing upcoming starlet Lana Turner an opportunity to shine in one of her first memorable starring performances. Indeed, while Jimmy Stewart, Judy Garland, and Hedy Lamarr are all top-billed above Turner, she’s the character given the most screen time and complexity, and is clearly the film’s central (tragic) protagonist. Riffing on her celebrated (albeit apocryphal) discovery as “the Sweater Girl” at a drug store counter, her character — Sheila Regan — is “discovered” by Ziegfeld himself while she’s operating an elevator, and is quickly lured into a life of glamour and wealth she doesn’t seem to want to resist. While we feel some sympathy for her plight, her eventual comeuppance is nonetheless well-deserved. She does a surprisingly fine and nuanced job in the role, only occasionally dipping into melodrama (as when she “counts her blessings”; eek!).
Meanwhile, Garland’s dilemma of old-versus-new performing styles is eerily reminiscent of that in Babes in Arms (1939), down to the presence of Charles Winninger as her resistant vaudevillian father (he was Rooney’s resistant vaudevillian father in Babes… — same difference). Clearly, audiences at the time were receptive to watching and exploring the angst inherent in this profound cultural and generational shift. One wishes Garland’s character were given more prominence, but at least she shines in several musical numbers, most notably her plaintive rendition of “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows”. Lamarr’s role is the least fleshed out and least interesting of them all; without giving too much away, her story seems to primarily serve as a counter-balance to the bad relationship choices consistently made by Turner. Stewart is fine but not particularly remarkable in the top-billed role as Turner’s rejected boyfriend, who turns to bootlegging out of cynical desperation; After making this movie, Stewart left to serve in the war and wouldn’t return to the screen until It’s a Wonderful Life (1946).
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Lana Turner as Sheila
- Judy Garland’s melancholy performance of “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows”
No, though it’s recommended for one-time viewing.