Romeo and Juliet (1936)

Romeo and Juliet (1936), directed by George Cukor.

Lavish treatment, not entirely stage-bound but still pretty formal. MGM was racing with Warner to put big Shakespeare on the screen. The other studio had Reinhardt's A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935). Neither film was very successful.

The lovers are supposed to be teenagers and our actors are quite a bit older. In the case of Leslie Howard it gives us a more mature, good humored and reflective Romeo than we might otherwise have. Norma Shearer is more of a problem. Apparently the cast was intimidated by some high-culture theater consultants and she particularly was shocked into artificially stiff blandness. She's better at the tragic than the romantic bits.

They spend time on a horror-movie segment that often gets skipped over: Juliet considering the sleeping potion. Is it really poison, and is the Friar trying to cover his tracks? What if it works and she awakens in the tomb surrounded by mouldering corpses? Only the vision of Romeo been attacked by her cousin's ghost enables her to go through with it: she has to be there to save him.

The courtyard scenes are presented in front of a bordello, to the vast entertainment of the prostitutes (when "the bawdy hand of the dial is on the prick of noon").

John Barrymore as Mercutio is madcap throughout. Andy Devine (in tights!) is given a prominent part. Speaking of prominent parts: Benvolio wears a monstrous fringed doily in front of his crotch. I don't know they were trying to conceal but it's distracting.

A bit of Tchaikovsky ballet music is used for the balcony scenes. For the wedding night we do better than a simple fade to black: first stars, then flowing water, flowers, stars again and then the dawn. We find Romeo leaning on the bed, but with both feet on the floor.

This is a production of impressive profiles: Leslie Howard, Barrymore (famously), craggy-featured C. Aubrey Smith (born 1863), and Basil Rathbone. Even long-faced Edna May Oliver would be hard to mistake in silhouette.

I have capsule reviews of other versions of the play here.