A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935)

What an odd film. Odd that a Hollywood studio would adapt this play in the mid-30s, a time when Hollywood served up fantasies by the dozen but not of this kind; even though the success of Max Reinhardt’s theatrical production of 1934 was what moved Warner’s to make it, it still seems like a curious choice. And odder still that Warner’s made it, too; I could imagine MGM doing it more easily than them. I have to admit this was one of big Bill’s plays I’ve not only never read but I knew almost nothing about it—though obviously I recognised some of the lines just because Shakespeare’s so ubiquitous in the language—so I had only a dim idea what I was in for. And to some extent I suppose I got what I was expecting, which was, you know, a 1930s high Hollywood spectacle. On which level, of course, it really is something special; on reflection I suppose this actually is the Shakespeare play best suited to the big spectacle tendencies of that period. It’s a veritable extravaganza of cinematography and production design, winning the Oscar for the former, and it let Reinhardt indulge in some tricks I don’t suppose even he could’ve pulled off on stage. There is something inexplicably yet hugely moving, too, about that ballet where the fairies depart. I’m less convinced by the people who actually perform in this astounding set. Dick Powell apparently later admitted he didn’t fully understand his dialogue, and a little of Mickey Rooney’s screeching Puck goes a long way indeed; conversely, the incongruous casting of James Cagney actually works rather well, he’s very obviously enjoying himself as Bottom. On the whole I suspect it’s a film with more things in its favour than against it, once you look past the oddity of its very existence; alas, for whatever reason, it flopped at the box office and ended Reinhardt’s limited career. Obviously stage success was no guarantee of screen success even for him…

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