In the golden era of Hollywood, “The Great Ziegfeld (1936)” stood as a beacon of grandeur and extravagance. A cinematic masterpiece that showcased the opulence of its time, one of its standout moments was the breathtaking musical sequence, “A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody.” This iconic scene, often compared to a towering wedding cake or a “giant meringue,” is a testament to the artistry and creativity of Hollywood’s past. In this article, we’ll take you on a journey through the mesmerizing “A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody” performance and delve into the history of this cinematic gem.
The “Wedding Cake” Sequence
At the heart of “The Great Ziegfeld,” the “A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody” sequence was a spectacle like no other. The set alone was a marvel, costing an astounding US$220,000, equivalent to approximately US$4,639,520 in 2022 dollars. It featured a towering rotating volute of 70 feet in diameter, comprising 175 spiral steps, weighing a staggering 100 tons. This set was a visual feast that left audiences in awe and earned the scene an Academy Award for Best Dance Direction in 1936.
The Creative Minds Behind the Scene
The music for this extraordinary performance was crafted by renowned composers Walter Donaldson, Irving Berlin, and lyricist Harold Adamson. The elaborate dances and ensemble sequences were choreographed by the talented Seymour Felix and Harold Adamson. “A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody” itself was originally a part of Irving Berlin’s 13th annual edition in 1919, and it found new life in this cinematic masterpiece.
The Sequence Unveiled
The “A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody” sequence begins with Stanley Morner, soon to be known as Dennis Morgan, alone on stage, serenading the audience. However, what makes this scene truly remarkable is the theatricality that follows. As the front curtain slowly pulls away, the entire stage begins to rotate, revealing performers in elaborate 18th-century costumes. The chorus continues to sing, taking the audience on a journey through romantic musical history, culminating in an intricate dance number. The sequence’s crescendo is a spellbinding moment when Virginia Bruce, seated atop the tower, appears in a voluminous gown, creating a visual spectacle that remains etched in cinematic history.
The Cinematic Brilliance
The cinematographers behind “The Great Ziegfeld” achieved a theatrical sense by shooting the “A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody” sequence in virtually a single take. The scene’s use of tracking shots, lighting changes, and intricate set design is a masterclass in visual storytelling. The camera moves seamlessly through the enormous platform set contained within a curtained proscenium, enhancing the immersive experience for the viewers. This visual storytelling technique not only showcased the opulence of the scene but also highlighted the talent and dedication of the filmmakers.
A Symbol of Womanhood
Intriguingly, the “A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody” sequence in “The Great Ziegfeld” goes beyond mere extravagance. It serves as a symbol of womanhood, vividly portraying women as the raw material for male aesthetic vision and design. The scene delineates womanhood through the “young, white, blond, and slender” females, symbolized by the fluffy, artificial tiers of costuming and staging.
“A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody” is not just a scene; it’s a cinematic marvel that continues to captivate audiences to this day. With its awe-inspiring set, mesmerizing choreography, and lavish costumes, it stands as a testament to the grandeur of Hollywood’s past. “The Great Ziegfeld (1936)” remains a timeless classic, celebrated for its musical brilliance and the iconic “Wedding Cake” sequence. Explore this unforgettable moment in cinematic history and be transported back to the golden age of Hollywood.