I watched the Renato Castellani 1954 version of Romeo and Juliet last night. Thanks to blog reader Tue for recommending this one to me. It was a nice way for me to wrap up my R&J viewing. I liked it very much. My favorite remains the 1968 Zeffirelli version, but I enjoyed this one, as well. It is not currently available from Netflix, but Amazon offers a one-week instant rental for $2.99.
I started my blog by viewing the Zeffirelli version before I read the text of the play, so if I watched it again now, I might notice different things about characters or plot variations or scenes left out and that kind of thing that I’m attuned to now. I don’t plan to watch it again for now, but welcome any conversation about that if readers want to bring anything up.
So, let’s talk about the 1954 version. It’s lovely. It was filmed in Italy and the towns are a wonderful backdrop for the action. I enjoyed the scenery a lot. It’s filmed in Technicolor and the colors are vivid and striking. I love the costumes. It’s very visually appealing.
Laurence Harvey plays a slightly effeminate Romeo, but he grew on me. He has sort of a swashbuckling, old-fashioned style to his acting. It worked fine for me. I’d read criticisms of Susan Shentall’s Juliet (her one and only performance as a film actress), but I liked her. Yes, she over-emotes sometimes and under-emotes at others, but she’s girlish and naive and lovely. I titled this post The Last Picture Show partly because I saw a strong resemblance between Shentall and the young Cybill Shepherd in that film.
I really enjoyed several of the other characters in this film. Mervyn Johns’ Friar Laurence was the best I’d seen. He portrays the friar as slightly odd and dithering and in his own little dream world of flowers and herbs and potions. This seems very much to me what Shakespeare intended.
Similarly, I loved Flora Robson’s portrayal of Juliet’s Nurse. This nurse is loving and kind to Juliet and runs on at the mouth with hilarity. I enjoyed her.
And my favorite character is Sebastian Cabot’s Capulet. I felt like he really nailed Capulet’s corpulent, self-important, bad-tempered self. I know Cabot from his later years in A Family Affair and maybe celebrity appearances like on the Hollywood Squares, so it was interesting seeing him in a meaty role. His angry scenes with Tybalt at the Capulet feast and later with Juliet when she shows disinterest in Paris are really, really fun to watch.
Did I love everything about this film? No. It takes liberties with Shakespeare’s language and plot. Really, many liberties that seem unnecessary to me. Mercutio is basically a no-show, and hardly discernible from Benvolio. There’s no Queen Mab speech, there’s no marketplace scene with the nurse (a sail! a sail!) and there’s no swordplay. None! There are just sudden stabbings.
I think staying closer to Shakespeare would have improved this version for me, but it’s still a really nice one to watch as my last picture show of Romeo and Juliet. (Last, that is, unless someone brings another must-see version to my attention!)
On to A Midsummer Night’s Dream! The animated version arrives from Netflix today!
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