A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM (1935) B/W 144m dirs: Max Reinhardt, William Dieterle
w/James Cagney, Dick Powell, Joe E. Brown, Jean Muir, Hugh Herbert, Ian Hunter, Frank McHugh, Olivia de Havilland, Ross Alexander, Mickey Rooney, Victor Jory
From The Movie Guide: "Cigar-chomping Jack Warner does Shakespeare? What fools these mortals be! Theatrical genius Max Reinhardt had successfully staged the play in Europe and felt that A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM was ideal for film, because the fairy sequences offered the proper magic for celluloid. Reinhardt, though, had no idea how to shoot this masterpiece, and blurry rushes of several forest scenes suggest that entrusting him with $1.5 million was unwise. So experienced Hollywood man Dieterle and a new cinematographer were added; Hal Mohr's lensing of the film (the only time a write-in ever won an Oscar) turned out to be its one real triumph. Years later, Powell would claim that he never really understood his lines. While such a remark may be after-the-fact cynicism, it does speak to the generally strained acting from a cast of Hollywoodians unschooled in blank verse. Above all else, this play needs inspiration to fly; the acting must be daringly effortless, clownishly gossamer, and if there's one thing Cagney and pals are not, it's gossamer. One would think that de Havilland, who had played Hermia onstage, would steal it, but she's too new to films to have refined her technique, and her emoting seems as heavy as everyone else's. Rooney is one of the few who really looks like he's having fun, but he's having too much fun and it begins to grate. (Life imitates art: the high-flying youngster broke his leg tobogganing during a production break and had to be wheeled around on an unseen bicycle for much of the shoot.) Cagney, Muir and Brown have their moments, but only Hunter and a few others with classical backgrounds work against the private school class play feel to the film. Typical Warners touch: the delicate original ballet sequences by Bronislava Nijinska and Nini Theilade (the lead ballerina in the film) were cut and re-choreographed in the Busby Berkeley mold."
The film won an additional Oscar for Best Editing (Ralph Dawson) and was also nominated for Best Picture.