Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935, Max Reinhardt, William Dieterle)

****
USA



Absolutely the final word in Depression era studio excess kitsch: Ancient Greece, as rendered through the merry pranksterism of medieval mythology and Elizabethan backstage shenanigans, is further rendered through a Warner Bros. prestige department intent on out-prestiging the competition with a set that is a mash up of every 'Europe'-set Astaire-Rogers frivolity and Fritz Lang's take on Die Nibelungen. Then you have pint-sized Mickey Rooney - palpably high on something an overworked child actor should never be prescribed - as Puck, and a prima ballerina in a representation of dawn descending upon an enchanted forest, and what looks like a chandelier strewn through every frame. The entire film is heavy-duty 'magical' and all in all: Hypnotic.

In a cast of predictably overripe rascals and over-enunciators, a few manage to muster up some real fire: a radiant Olivia De Havilland in her screen debut, and an unhinged James Cagney at the head of a slew of character comics as the amateur troupe of 'mechanicals' (among whom you'll recognise Joe E. Brown, Jack Lemmon's future suitor, already gaying it up in an early role).

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