A Midsummer’s Night Dream (1935)
Reviewed on 2008 February 18
This is a gaudy, glittery, over-the-top interpretation of Shakespeare’s famous comedy about fairies playing pranks on lovers, and I loved every sparkly minute of it. The play itself is one of my favorites because the Bard came up with as good a reason as any for why we fall in love, and in addition to the fine acting, this version was just pretty. For something created in 1935, the effects are amazing.
Theseus of Athens (Ian Hunter) is preparing for his marriage to Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons (Verree Teasdale) and it’s a joyous occasion, except for a handful of lovers. Demetrius (Ross Alexander) is in love with Hermia (Olivia de Havilland), who is in love with Lysander (Dick Powell). This is a cause of concern to her father Egeus (Grant Mitchell), who wants her to marry the noble Demetrius, and to poor Helena (Jean Muir), who loves Demetrius and is left out in the cold since all the men seem into Hermia. Add to this the struggle of some village idiots (Joe E. Brown and James Cagney stand out here) trying to launch a play to entertain the wedding banquet participants, and this would almost be enough for an hour-long comedy, but we haven’t seen anything yet.
We move to the forest, where puny mortals can take heart in knowing that even supernatural beings have difficulties in the love lives. Oberon, King of the Fairies (Victor Jory) is fighting with his queen Titania (Anita Louise). Puck the troublemaker (Mickey Rooney) is egging them both on but soon loses interest in their squabbles when the four hapless lovers and the acting group all wind up in the woods. It’s much more fun to meddle with humans!
Some complained that Jory’s depiction of Oberon was too dark. I didn’t think so; I thought it was an interesting take on the character, and I think the menace counteracted a costume and beeeg crown that would have been too Priscilla, Queen of the Desert otherwise. The 1999 version (also very good) with Michelle Pfeiffer and Rupert Everett in the Titania and Oberon roles depicted them more like a couple pranking each other than actually fighting — and that was funny — but a dark fairy king really appealed to me since I grew up reading Grimm’s unedited fairy tales. You want a menacing fairy, read some of those things. And while Mickey Rooney was over the top, he was just a fourteen-year-old kid doing this. I thought he was amazing, for being able to nail the lines as much as anything else. But the real star is the set design itself. The whole woodland set seems to shimmer, and the fact that it is shot day for night just makes it more unreal and ethereal. Throw in some ballet sequences and symphonic music and you have something special.
Three chocolate morsels and a fyne glasse of meade.