Midsummer Night's Dream, A (1935) (DVD)
Love is blind, fickle and true. And under the sway of capricious fairies it becomes blinder ( a queen romances as donkey), more fickle (best friends swoon over each other's beau) and truest of all (lovers repledge their devotion). "Lord, what fools these mortals be!" in Shakespeare's bewitching comedy!
James Cagney and Mickey Rooney romping in a Shakespearian fairyland? This could only be A Midsummer Night's Dream, Warner Bros.' 1935 attempt at classing up the proletarian studio. The legendary German stage director Max Reinhardt had produced the play at the Hollywood Bowl to enchanted, sold-out audiences, and Warners decided to hand Reinhardt the keys to the studio (along with fellow Germans William Dieterle, co-director, and Erich Wolfgang Korngold, who adapted Mendelssohn's music). Reinhardt created an eye-popping phantasmagoria, a movie laced with sparkling sequins, flying fairies, and moon-kissed forests. As for the words, Reinhardt had a collection of Warners studio players, notably James Cagney as Bottom, whose playing of "Pyramus and Thisby" with Joe E. Brown is perhaps the movie's comic high point. The other actors are decidedly varied, and they tend to be overwhelmed by the production design. Not so Mickey Rooney, whose performance as Puck is a feral, antic act of imagination (he was 14 during filming); picture a boy raised by wolves who somehow memorized Shakespeare. His Puck growls and screams and mocks the drama of the other characters, a little postmodern imp before his time. (Critic David Thomson called this Puck "truly inhuman, one of the cinema's most arresting pieces of magic"). The rest of the movie comes to earth with some regularity, but it's a one-of-a-kind production, and a reminder of the lavish, unreal possibilities within a movie studio. --Robert Horton