Midsummer Night's Dream, A (1935)

A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935), directed by William Dieterle.

My feelings for this extravaganza are more generous now than previously. Then it seemed like a awkward attempt by non-Shakespearean Hollywood actors, dressed up with glitter and cobwebs as much as they might, to perform material well beyond their range.

Now: it's fun to watch and I appreciate their efforts more. Productions of MSND must balance the fantasy and romantic comedy dimensions. If they chose to over-weight the former with ballet and opera staging in this case, the actors just had to cope.

It's true that Americans are not natural Shakespeareans, but he belongs to the world now and anyone can take a whack at his plays. You never know what's going to work. For example: young lively James Cagney seemed terribly miscast as Bottom the Weaver, traditionally portrayed as middle-aged, over-weight and balding. But Cagney gives a delightful interpretation, one of the best things about the film. When such experiments fail they are called "miscasting", when they work they are celebrated as "reinvention".

The story of the production deserves its own film treatment. Consider:

Available on DVD. A humorous commentary by Scott MacQueen gives a vast amount of production detail. He says that the British theater, natural guardians of Shakespeare, never forgave the film for Cagney's Puck. Michael Powell A Matter of Life and Death (1946) lampoons Americans trying to put on the play, a jab at this film.