A Midsummer Night's Dream - 1935 ( Fairies, Forest scene)
Published at : 22 Jan 2021
A Midsummer Night's Dream 1935
Directed by William Dieterie , Max Reinhardt
Puck - " Lord, what fools these mortals be."
The advent of the shimmering 1935 Hollywood interpretation of Shakespeare’s ethereal A Midsummer Night’s Dream was appropriately enough the result of public adoration of the stage work that ultimately inspired it. Back in the days of the pre-code cinema, theater director Max Reinhardt was known for his flamboyant and controversial stage incarnations of the Bard, and his production of Midsummer was a huge hit in Vienna. Attending one of the stagings, coincidentally enough, was Warner Brothers film mogul Jack Warner, who was executive in charge of overseeing what films the studio would be producing. While at the time crime dramas and backstage musicals were the rage, Warner wasn’t oblivious to the Oscar bait films that could bring added prestige, what with the slew of successful literary adaptations crafted at M-G-M. Two such works in fact debuted in the same year as Midsummer, and both ere based on Dickens’ novels: A Tale of Two Cities and David Copperfield. While Reinhardt had long scoffed at the possibilities of cinema approaching the “superior” form of live theater, he quickly reversed himself after Warner offered him a sweet deal and the complete access to the studio’s advanced technical capabilities; that for example would enable characters to dissolve into this air. Sold into expanding the possibilities of the stage Reinhardt drastically reversed himself, stating with unbridled enthusiasm: “The motion picture is the most wonderful medium for the presentation of drama and spectacle the world has ever known. The screen has leaped further ahead in the last few years than the stage has evolved in centuries.”
After he signed on Reinhardt to his chagrin was told by Warner that New York stage players would not be considered for casting; rather, the studio stock company was asked to try their hands at Shakespeare. Demetrious was played by Dick Powell, Hermia by Olivia de Havilland, Puck by Mickey Rooney, Flute by Joe E. Brown, and Oberon by Victor Jory. By then the absolute king of the lot, James Cagney was basically allowed to pick any role; he chose Bottom, sensing that the ultimate challenge for a great actor is to play a bad one. (Accounts from the period are contradictory with some contending that Cagney really hankered for the role, while others make claim that he preferred any role to Bottom.) Warner hoped that the big name marquee would attract a public that was unpredictable when it came to the Bard on the big screen. As Reinhardt worked to create and acting style able to bridge the gap between ultramodern performances and stylized poetic dialogue, Jack Warner apparently decided that the stage veteran -who had never before directed a motion picture- needed some help, so he assigned studio stalwart William Dieterle, who Reinhardt knew from Germany, having assigned him his first role as an actor. Dieterle’s own experience enabled him to assume responsibility for the technical elements, leaving the then sixty-two year old Reinhardt to focus on issues of image and interpretation. Reinhardt’s extravagance knew no limits as he upped an already excessive one million dollar budget another half million by utilizing the largest soundstage in movie history to that point, ordering nearly a hundred truckloads of trees and shrubs, and bringing to bear an intense lighting system and a massive supply of luminous paint. Ravens, owls and turtle doves were added to complete the textural density of an alternative universe. The studio’s celebrated maestro, Erich Wolfgang Korngold wrote a score that included Felix Mendelssohn’s famed music, which was inspired by the play. Extending the parameters even further, a Bronislawa Nijinska ballet was inserted.
When the initial public reaction was middling, Warner ordered the film cut by thirty minutes, with the ballet sequences getting most of the trimming. One major critic praised the “breathtaking set designs and cinematography” but took issue with the “monotonous howlings” of ten-year old Rooney and the “over energetic jabberings” of Cagney. The Times of London declared: “The most lamentable mistake in the cast was the Bottom of James Cagney. He seemed to me to misconceive the character, and only became tolerable in the scene where he discovers the ass’s head on his shoulders.” Cagney’s response was along the lines of “The only thing I was going by is that Bottom was the greatest ham that Shakespeare had ever written. He wanted to play all the parts.
A Midsummer Night's Dream (Play)Fairy (Character Species)William Shakespeare (Author)