Max Reinhardt’s legendary Hollywood Bowl production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream was transferred to the big screen by the famous German director for Warner.
Reportedly, Reinhardt convinced studio head Jack Warner to make the audacious film, because “the fairy sequence offers magic for the big screen.
A commercial failure at the time of first release, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” remains a bold Shakespearean film, adapted to the screen by Charles Kenyon and Mary C. McCall. Relying on a large ensemble of gifted actors, it was an impressive film to have come out of the studio machine.
Like most of Shakespeare’s comedies, the story contains several plot lines, linked together by a single unifying event, here the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta. At the center is the mistaken-identity romances of four young Athenians. Then there is a group of “rude mechanicals” who plan to stage a production of “Pyramus and Thisbe” in honor of the wedding.
In another strand, we witness the mischievous misbehavior of invisible fairies Oberon, Titania, and Puck.
One of the members of Reinhardt’s original stage cast, Olivia De Havilland (Hermia), was retained for the film version, but the other roles went actors under contract at Warners.
James Cagney, then known for his crime-gangster films, is brilliant as vainglorious amateur Bottom, Joe E. Brown is the reluctant female impersonator Flute. De Havilland and Jean Muir are more impressive than their lovers, Dick Powell and Ross Alexander. Mickey Rooney is fun to watch as Puck, Anita Louise is a lovely Titania, and Victor Jory a menacing Oberon.
While the performances and direction (by Reinhardt and William Dieterle) are uneven, the art direction and special effects, especially the nocturnal dance of the fairies, are thrilling.
Mendelssohn’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream” music is orchestrated by the genius composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold.
The cinematography by Hal Mohr earned the first write-in Academy Award in Hollywood history.
Oscar Nominations: 3
Cinematography: Hal Mohr
Film Editing: Ralph Dawson
Oscar Awards: None
Oscar Context:The Best Picture winner was “Mutiny on the Bounty.”
Running time: 117 Minutes.
Co-directed by William Dieterle and, Max Reinhardt
Screenplay: Charles Kenyon and Mary McCall, based on the play by William Shakespeare
Released: October 9, 1935.
DVD: August 14, 2007