Romeo and Juliet (1936)
Directed by George Cukor
IMDb Link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0028203/
Description: Romeo and Juliet, the scions of old Verona's two most powerful families, become the playthings of fate & the fools of fortune.
This was a Very Big Film for MGM in 1936. No (reasonable) expenses spared. Not only was the Studio tackling The Bard for the first time in a major way, but the extreme celebrity of the original play guaranteed a great deal of public attention. Several choice roles were available for MGM's brightest stars and the part of Juliet would be the desire of every young actress on the lot.
Almost predictably the role went to Norma Shearer, who, as Irving Thalberg's wife, could almost pick & choose what she (or Irving) wanted. However, it should be stated at once that she is splendid in the role. Sweetly demure, innocent, apprehensive, fiercely protective of her love & recklessly heedless of her fate - she is Shakespeare's heroine.
She is matched by Leslie Howard's Romeo. A bit giddy at first with puppy love, he quickly matures into a tender lover & vengeful killer, finally willing, like Shearer, to forego all of his Catholic teaching and commit self-murder, thus dooming himself to Perdition.
Although decades too old for their roles (Juliet was 12, Miss Shearer 34; Romeo about 16, Mr. Howard was 43) they understand and speak their lines much more beautifully & proficiently than any teenager. Shakespeare's lines are really verse of a high order and demands skill & maturity. Howard & Shearer certainly have no problem there. Nor were they the only members of the cast whose ages were rather past the prime.
In his only feature length Shakespearean film, John Barrymore amply displays his celebrated talent in a bravura performance as an aging, sottish Mercutio. Barrymore understood the character thoroughly and he turns this strange, brilliant man into one of the film's chief treasures. Interestingly, much of his dialogue is rather scatological & gross, but being Shakespeare it seems to have flown under the radar of the Hays Office.
Edna May Oliver steals nearly every scene she's in as Juliet's waspish, eccentric Nurse. Basil Rathbone makes a fiery, insolent Tybalt. Reginald Denny adds a touch of distinction in the throwaway role of Benvolio, while wonderful old Sir C. Aubrey Smith & Violet Kemble Cooper are colorful as Juliet's parents.
At first blush, Andy Devine seems an odd choice for a Shakespearean production, but he is very competent as the Nurse's simpleminded servant.
Somewhat lost in this excellent cast is English actor Ralph Forbes in the rather thankless role of the County Paris. His is a somewhat sad story. Although replete with talent & charm, he still never quite reached the top echelons of stardom. He would have made a great Romeo.
Movie mavens will spot Katherine DeMille as the fair Rosaline (her cousin Agnes de Mille was the film's choreographer) and Ian Wolfe as the impoverished apothecary, both uncredited.
The film has wonderful production values - the sets, costumes and background score (borrowing themes from Tchaikovsky) all of the highest quality. For a small chuckle, watch closely during Juliet's dance at the Capulet ball - one of the dancers behind her steps on her dress hem and nearly trips. It's very fast, but worth catching.
2 Discs, Runtime: 125minutes, 1.3GB Total File Size, No Password
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