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Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Shakespeare in Hollywood took a near-fatal double hit when this big-budget pic from Warners along with M-G-M’s ROMEO & JULIET/’36 (a vanity project for Irving Thalberg & Norma Shearer) tanked. The latter is a stiff, but this adaptation of Max Reinhardt's legendary Hollywood Bowl production is not only visually luscious (thanks to Hal Mohr's ravishing lensing), but often charming & funny. Casting from the Warners stock company generally works out and is a lot of fun just to see. (No doubt The Globe used similar ‘types’ over & over again.) A few unsure line readings from some players can’t mar Joe E. Brown's inspired clowning, Victor Jory's billowing nightride or Olivia de Havilland's enchanting romantic fancy. Mickey Rooney hasn’t the technical variety to pull off Reinhardt’s wild-child conception of Puck, but he certainly looks amazing. And if some of the big set pieces hang fire, the adaptation is smartly done (though a lot of poetry gets the ax), easy to follow (thanks to some fine narrative tips in the editing) and quite respectful. Plus, using all that Mendelssohn on the soundtrack was a clever bit of nose-thumbing at the Nazis who had just banned his music in Austria & Germany.

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