Love is blind, fickle and true. And under the sway of capricious fairies it becomes blinder ( a queen romances as donkey), more fickle (best friends swoon over each other's beau) and truest of all (lovers repledge their de... more »votion). "Lord, what fools these mortals be!" in Shakespeare's bewitching comedy!« less
Balaste | 1313 Wistful Vista, Anyplace, USA | 12/26/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"There have been criticisms here of Reinhardt's AMND as "un-Shakespearean," but truly: who among us would really want to sit in a theater with almost no props or backdrops, minimal costuming, men performing the women's parts, and audiences that were anything but quiet during the show? -For that's exactly what Shakespearean theater conditions amounted to. Our idea of Shakespeare derives simply from modern Masterpiece Theater style productions, which make a virtue of sober lucidity, and do a fine job of it, too.But Reinhardt gives us a German High Romantic version of AMND, and displays a very different virtue, seldom seen in modern screen transcriptions of older works: a sense of well-conceived and executed style. You may not like his Mendelssohnian fairies, but their integration into the play--by choice of dialog, imaginative staging and costuming, brilliant special effects and incidental music--is consistent. Mendelssohn's music was in fact intended to accompany actual performances many years previously; and the ballet sequences built around it have a way of stopping time even today with their visionary beauty, a matter of movement, staging, lighting (the remarkable Hal Mohr), editing and effects. A book in fact could be written on Reinhardt's multi-level application of thematic materials, which is done in a manner that's far less boring than the way it sounds. This is a brilliant conception of Shakespeare, far from the "let's be different to grab attention" Shakespeare of punk Romeos that have fled across our screens in recent years.The casting is generally very good. Mickey Rooney, in his first film role, displays all the remarkable energy and focus which were his greatest gifts. (What a shame the film industry kissed him off when he matured into a short, pudgy man, who was just as talented!) No prim, polite observer, his Puck is an elemental force, taking malicious delight in the strongly felt emotions of the humans that have come to the forest. Everything is brilliant, bright mockery: his deliberately garbled imitation of the speech and gestures of Lysander prior to the latter's magical sleep is a good example. This is not a Puck you would want call Robin Goodfellow, not unless you wanted to please him--and you most definitely would want to please him. It is a taut, kaleidoscopically varied performance.The comic players are also well cast. James Cagney is superb as Bottom, particularly in the monologue that follows waking from what he considers "his dream." Hugh Herbert brings more variation to a giddy giggle, both for accompanying expression and meaning, than any other human being probably ever has. Frank McHugh is a delight as Peter Quince. Only Joe E Brown, as Flute, goes overboard, trying to steal the scene from others during their lines; but he makes up for it with a delightful Thisbe. Arthur Treacher is very much wasted, with nothing to say; and their are indications in the action that more may have been filmed, or at least planned of their material to film. Considerations of length and/or budget probably intervened.Victor Jory, so well known even today for his villainous roles (especially in Flash Gordon serials), is a superbly dark Oberon: not sinister, but more of a somber Herne the Hunter type, in contrast to Anita Louise, who is all Elven gossamer. Presumably Reinhardt saw them as a balance of light and dark, perhaps with an overlay of contemporary Austrian psychoanalysis: masculine/dark/forceful against feminine/light/receptive. No, I don't buy the silly pop analysis of Men Are From Mars, Women From Venus; but in Reinhardt's AMND, we may be looking at an earlier incarnation of the same values, definitely presented on a more creative level. I don't buy into Reinhardt's portrayal of Oberon's followers as a bunch of anthrompomorphized bats, but I have to admit it works in context. This especially holds true for the ballet sequence where one bat follower symbolically forces a fairy follower of Titania to the ground, overshadows her, then bears her off, horizontal, her hands waving delicately in the air. I suppose we can only be thankful that the Hayes Office wasn't really paying attention to high prestige Art films.The lovers are not quite as effective. All four are good, with Olivia de Haviland perhaps the best of the lot; but there's little sense of emotional depth in their performances, at least enough to draw forth Puck's disparaging remark about "what fools these mortals be." Some of this, again, may be due to the director's conception. Reinhardt clearly plays them more for laughs, cutting a fair amount of the four-way badinage, and deliberately staging at least one famous piece of it as a four-way, non-stop, unintelligble harrangue, in which opponents trade off to continue arguing. The quartet in Adrian Noble's 1996 AMND is to be preferred, here (though the staging is, IMO, awful).To round out, I have to return to Reinhardt. He gave many of Hollywood's greatest talents during the 1920s-40s their apprenticeships. The contemporary notices for his productions are unanimous raves for his artistic insight, integrity, intelligence, directorial ability, and brillance of execution. Yet he would be no more than a footnote in some theatrical encyclopedia if it were not for this single film, made after Reinhardt escaped from the Nazis. A modest success in box offices at the time, Hollywood could not countenance the huge expenditure of resources on such a film, and Reinhardt was a respected pariah in the film community until his death in the early 1940s. But AMND lives on, and provides an excellent sense of what all the excitement was about this master visionary of theater...and potentially, cinema."
New DVD is somewhat disappointing
B. G. Carroll | Liverpool, England, UK | 08/26/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The much awaited DVD release of the classic 1935 Warner Brothers production of `A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM' is something of a disappointment, in spite of the blurb on the keep case about its "sparkling restoration from original film elements".
This film, one of the most remarkable projects of 1930s Hollywood, was released in October 1935 in a 143 minute roadshow presentation. This was trimmed back to 132 minutes for general release (with the overture & exit music removed) and trimmed again to 117 minutes for its October 1936 re-release.
Apparently, only the original nitrate camera negative of the 117 minute version survives, which means that Warners discarded the trims. However, there is also a nitrate positive of the long version, and a nitrate dupe negative of same. I believe that they also have a nitrate fine grain of the short version, which was used as the basis for the very first Laser Disc and subsequent VIDEO release in the late 80s.
So, the team assembling this DVD had a number of excellent source materials from which to work and to produce a definitive version at last. Regrettably, they didn't and unless I am mistaken, no frame-by-frame digital restoration has even been attempted. Given all these choices, I would have thought they could have made a better job. Clearly WB just wouldn't spend the money.
Indeed, the team that was responsible for assembling the materials made some pretty poor decisions. This film is one of the most beautiful, visually, of the entire era and deserves better. Hal Mohr's spectacular photography (he deserved his Oscar) and wonderful lighting produces some breathtaking effects. While for the most part, we can enjoy a cleaner, crisper and finer image than ever before, sometimes, the image deteriorates greatly with excessive grain and serious frame damage with marks, lines and other blemishes that really should have been sorted out. A particularly crucial example is perhaps one of the most famous sequences in the entire film - the Awakening of the Elves (at Chapter 7 on the DVD) where the fairies slowly emerge from the mist and run UPWARDS along the moonbeam.
In the old VHS Video version, this entire sequence was in perfect condition and looked terrific, not a mark or a scratch anywhere. On the new DVD it is very poor with continuous lines marring the image. Given that this scene appears in all the various prints, and especially the nitrate camera negative, any damage could easily have been repaired and/or digitally removed. For the Video & Laser Disc versions, they obviously used the best material available for this sequence.
There are several other places where similar damage occurs.
As the film has been bundled with other Shakespeare movies, Warners presumably didn't think it would sell on its own and nobody wanted to commit the resources to restore it properly - a great opportunity missed.
On the plus side, the soundtrack (and especially Korngold's marvellous music score which he ingeniously based on numerous works by Felix Mendelssohn) is in much improved audio and there are also some nice extras. Chief among these is an excellent, highly informative and very entertaining commentary by historian Scott McQueen, who has made a special study of this movie over many years and provides copious facts and figures, anecdotes and excerpts from the extensive production memos that fortunately still survive at the Warner Archive at the University of Southern California.
There are the several teaser trailers, and a reissue trailer (previously released on the Laser Disc version) and most importantly, the first ever release of the special short subject A DREAM COMES TRUE which, as well as providing unique footage of the Hollywood Premiere on Oct 16 1935, also includes behind the scenes shots of the production and the only known footage of Erich Wolfgang Korngold playing the piano. This little film was not available when the Laser Disc was made and I think probably came from a private collection. It's great to finally see it available for all of us to see.
In addition, there is Olivia De Havilland's 1936 screen test for a film that was never made - DANTON - which was to have been Max Reinhardt's follow-up picture after DREAM, to star Paul Muni with a score by Korngold. Ms De Havilland donated the reel of film (which she had owned since 1936!) to the Motion Picture Academy Archives last year, when she came to Los Angeles to attend a special tribute evening organised by the Academy. She deserves our profound thanks!
But come on Warners! Couldn't somebody have written up a brief title card to explain what this TEST actually is? Or listed it correctly on the menu and slipcase? Or even thanked Ms De Havilland and explained its provenance? Instead, it is just thrown onto the disc with no explanation or correct title. Such cheap and sloppy behavior, as if nobody gives a damn!
I would have liked to see a stills gallery (there are hundreds of these, plus behind-the scenes- shots, all preserved at George Eastman House in New York) and in addition, surely some of the extensive radio material that surrounded the various premieres of this film could have been traced for an `audio vault` extra? Because the original nitrate optical tracks for this movie were discarded in the late 1970s (when Warners shamefully destroyed its entire sound archive), no audio out-takes survive - a pity, as there would be plenty to hear. The extant score materials contain numerous songs and other pieces arranged by Korngold that were recorded (with Dick Powell and others) and subsequently cut.
It was very nice to see the long-unseen animated Intermission card (only included for the initial road-show presentations) which was apparently on a separate negative roll. However, WHY the DVD producer could not put a brief pause after this - instead of slamming into the opening of the second half, I just do not know. Again, no thought, no care.
While I am pleased that the film has made it onto DVD, I guess we are still some way off from the definitive restored version. At least as long as these precious archival materials survive intact, there is a chance - but nitrate will not last forever, and time is running out.
Perhaps the Library of Congress might consider A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM as a major priority for its film preservation programme. It is a classic one-of-kind film, unlike any other produced in Hollywood and a unique record of the genius of Max Reinhardt and Erich Wolfgang Korngold.
Buy the Film for the Visuals.
Gerard D. Launay | Berkeley, California | 08/09/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"A great production of Shakespeare overwhelms us with its oral perfection and sensational visuals. In this case it is the latter, the remarkable stage visuals, that astonish us, as opposed to the elocution of the actors and actresses.
Max Reinhardt was a superstar theatre producter of the Berlin twenties. (Being Jewish, he had to flee the Nazis, once they assumed power). He has created a German High Romantic version of the play. For example, the film has a spiritual glow, a soft-focus radiance when the fairies are in display. Even the palace in Athens has dreamlike, amorphous spires. At moments, I thought I was experiencing a religious vision of the Virgin and Child when Titiana and Bottom were in the forest. Other times, the spiral of fairies ascending in the air reminded me of a William Blake painting of Jacob's Stairway to Heaven.
Regarding the actors, the undisputed star of the film is Mickey Rooney. In this movie, he communicates a manic energy, a malevolent laugh, a force of nature in his peformance. I thought the other actors were substantially weaker...so if you are primarily interested in the language, go for the Peter Hall version of Midsummer Night's Dream.
Nevertheless, the film is so overwhelmingly stunning that it must belong in anyone's list of the top 1000 films anywhere. It's so ironic that with the development of movie special effects in the last 70 years, today's filmmakers cannot replicate the truly magical effects that Max Reinhardt delivers. Go for the experience, forget the weaknesses, and appreciate this photographic masterpiece for what it is."
Supremely Satisifying Experience
PSC | 12/14/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Actually, I would give this film 10 stars, but the site doesn't allow it. This particular version of A Midsummer Night's Dream is entrancing to watch and a joy to listen to. It is quite possibly the most visually beautiful film I have ever seen in either black & white or color. If that were all it was it would be worth watching over and over. But all that visual beauty is augmented by Mendelsson's music written especially to accompany Shakespear's words and actions. And even that would be enough, but there is more! The actors speak their lines clearly and so naturally that the viewer is transported by the tale itself which is just plain fun. There may be many more productions, there will never be better.PSC"
Better than the new version.
PSC | 06/24/1999
(4 out of 5 stars)
"In the new version, the idea of it being a comedy is lost. Barely any laughs there. But in the older version still held fast the concept that THIS IS A SHAKESPEARE COMEDY. THINGS ARE TO BE DONE FOR LAUGHS. Cagney is once again excellent as Bottom the weaver, the comic lead who unfortunately (and hilariously) is turned into an ass by the character of Puck. Puck was portrayed annoyingly by Mickey Rooney. Though he looked the part, he is overbearing and needed to tone down a bit. The rest of the cast was fine, especially Olivia de Haviland (in her screen debut) as Hermia. Hands down beats out the new version. Four Stars."