I almost didn’t bother with Max Reinhardt’s 1935 version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I figured it would be dated and old-fashioned, not worth my time. Wow, I was wrong. I loved it.
What’s to love? It’s visually stunning. There’s beautiful music (Mendelssohn) and fantastic ballet. Fairyland is wonderful—dazzling, sparkling, fantastic (in the sense of a fantasy!). The special effects (remember, this is 1935!) are amazing—the fairies fly and glide and dance and everything is magical and weird (in a good way). Oberon (Victor Jory) is definitely a king, not menacing, but with authority. Titania (played by Anita Louise) is all sweetness and light in the manner of Glinda the Good Witch, and it works well here. Mickey Rooney’s Puck took some getting used to, but grew on me. He’s strange—very mischievous and naughty and given to loud cackling.
James Cagney does a great Bottom. I still like Paul Rogers’ Bottom from the 1968 version better, but Cagney really brings out the fool in this foolish character. He’s fun to watch, and all the mechanicals are funny. I especially enjoyed Joe E. Brown’s performance of Thisby. Hysterical.
What’s not to love? They cut some of the speeches, yet the movie still ends up almost 2.5 hours long. It didn’t drag, but that’s a bit long for me. Aside from the length, I would recommend this version for kids to watch. It’s beautiful and magical and there’s nothing too adult in it. That said, my kids weren’t particularly interested.
I don’t like their fussy costumes, but I otherwise enjoy the Athenian lovers. This is Olivia de Havilland’s screen debut (as Hermia). She is fine in the role, as are all the young lovers. I read most critics agreed that Dick Powell was miscast as Lysander, that he didn’t want the role and didn’t understand his lines. Still, I like his performance! He brings good humor and teenage smart-alecky eye-rolling to the role, which I find amusing. I think he gives Lysander some personality.
This beautiful film won Oscars for Best Cinematography (a write in!) and Best Editing. I think it’s well worth watching.
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