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A Midsummer Night's Dream - Olivia de Havilland,Joe E. Brown

A Midsummer Night's Dream

Author: Olivia de Havilland,Joe E. Brown
Book title: A Midsummer Night's Dream
ISBN: 0790790106
Category: The Works
Rating: 4.7/5
Votes: 410
More formats: lrf txt mbr lrf

Reviews: (7)
When I lived in Zanesville, Ohio, back in the 1980's, there was a television programme called "Night-Owl theatre" w/your host, Fritz The Night Owl, that showed the Cagney version of this moving picture about every six months or so. I used to love it, so last week when I were at a computer I thought to myself "A Midsummer Nights Dream" must have gone to VHS or DVD by now. Sure enough, I was right. So I bought it. I wish I'd thought of the 1960 "Falstaff" w/Orson Wells I saw two-years ago, when I was in Saint Francis Hospital, I might have got a deal on postage fees.
If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber'd here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
if you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to 'scape the serpent's tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.
Beautiful and strange, wildly overdone yet magical, this has been a favorite film of mine since I first saw it in the early Sixties. As in my review of the 1931 "Island of Lost Souls," this film demonstrates much of the stilted and unnatural delivery common to many early-Thirties films, as they struggled to come up with an aesthetic that merged pre-talkies dramatics with a more naturalistic character that would soon come to dominate film.

Case in point: Victor Jory's Oberon overacts, and Mickey Rooney's Puck -- as I've said for years -- is the apotheosis of "over the top." Yet we love them both for their intensity and fire. At the same time, a young (and impossibly beautiful and desirable) Olivia de Havilland as Hermia shows the way towards a natural, poignant and believable realm of acting that presage her own amazing performances, in films like "The Snake Pit."

Using the music of Mendelssohn adds immeasurably to the luscious, magical theme, even when the music in question is from his sublime "Lieder Ohne W├Ârte" rather than his incidental music for "Midsummer." And a balletic interlude with the exquisite Nijinksa, while not really characterizing any specific scene in the original Shakespeare script, highlights this film's stunning art direction.

But it's impossible to say anything about this film without mentioning the "rude mechanicals," the Athenian workmen "who have not labored in their minds till now." Made up of a crew of great vaudevillians of a generation previous, they are dominated by a young James Cagney as Bottom, whose transformation into an ass-headed monster causes his friends to panic and makes up much of the humor when Titania, Queen of the Fairies, is made to fall in love with him by Puck dropping love-juice into her sleeping eye. ("What angel wakes me from my flowery bed?")

And as always with Shakespeare, there is so much in here that has slipped into common usage, "familiar in their mouths as household words," as his Henry V says in his own play. When Lysander (played by Dick Powell) tells Hermia, "The course of true love never did run smooth," it wasn't something we'd all heard a million times before. And near the end, Oberon, here attired as the Horned God (if in a slightly campy, glittery way), lends his power to the three couples who marry at the end:

"To the best bride-bed will we,
Which by us shall blessed be."

As a Shakespeare scholar, I have my favorite scenes and speeches, and I admittedly vacillate between Prospero's "We are such stuff as dreams are made on" ("The Tempest, IV, 1) and Puck's closing speech here. Yet whenever I am called upon to deliver a kind of benediction -- before a friend's wedding, before a performance in a new venue, or just to close off some major life event -- I rely on Puck's valedictory address to the audience. Else the Puck a liar call!
My first assumption is that if you've gotten to this point of reading user reviews you must enjoy Shakespeare's comedies or at least be willing to sit through this movie. That said, this is a curious and fun outing. From the beginning it is obvious that the stable of players at Warner Bros. Studio for the most part didn't have a classical stage background. In fact, most of them were vets of vaudeville and musical comedy. The players generally are proficent and compensate for any deficiencies with their enthusiasm and theatricality. Standouts include Ross Alexander, James Cagney, Mickey Rooney, the gorgeous Olivia de Havilland, and the luminous and ethereal Anita Louise. The sets are lush and visually appealing. I particularly loved looking at the actors moving through the maze of fictional forest and the veritable swarm of fairy lights. The costuming was so appealing that even in black and white the contrasts were apparent and almost appeared to jump out of the screen. This movie is an interesting example of how Hollywood handled Shakespeare and creative casting.
As a lover of live Shakespeare performances, adaptations, movies, every genre of interpretation and set design and costuming and presentation of Shakespeare, this 1935 production simply blew me away. Whodathunkit? James Cagney in the role of an ass, which he plays with grace and aplomb; Mickey Rooney as a fairy, which he plays with impish agility - despite a broken leg. Filmed with a dreamlike quality that is mesmerizing even by today's computer-aided standards. The film score adapted from Mendelssohn's masterpiece by the great Erich Korngold, provides a perfectly matched backdrop to this movie that you will watch over and over and over.
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