“Lovers and madmen have such seething brains — such wild imaginings that apprehend more than cool reason ever comprehends.”
In mythical Greece, several storylines intersect to wreak magical havoc: beautiful Hermia (Olivia de Havilland) is in love with Lysander (Dick Powell), but has been told by her father (Grant Mitchell) that she must marry Demetrius (Ross Alexander), who is pursued by lovestruck Hermia (Jean Muir); a team of actors, including Bottom the Weaver (Jimmy Cagney), gather to rehearse a play in honor of the upcoming marriage between a duke (Ian Hunter) and his fiancee (Verree Teasdale); and when the king of the fairies (Victor Jory) is displeased by his wife Titania’s (Anita Louise) disobedience, he orders the fairy Puck (Mickey Rooney) to cast naughty spells — including turning Bottom into a donkey and causing Titania to fall in love with a literal ass.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Actors and Actresses
- Dick Powell Films
- Ian Hunter Films
- Jimmy Cagney Films
- Living Nightmare
- Love Triangle
- Mickey Rooney Films
- Mistaken or Hidden Identities
- Olivia de Havilland Films
- Play Adaptations
- Royalty and Nobility
- Star Crossed Lovers
- William Dieterle Films
William Dieterle directed this adaptation of Max Reinhardt‘s famed theatrical production of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy featuring lovers, actors, nobility, fairies, mixed identities, sleep, dream, and mischief. It’s about an hour too long, rambles, and doesn’t always cohere — but it remains an entirely unique cinematic outing on numerous counts. The sets, costumes, and special effects transport us to an ethereal, almost undefinable time and space, and we’re frequently shown images and characters — i.e., the big-eared bald creatures (who are they?) — unlike anything else seen in movies of this period. Rooney, while annoying, is well-cast as Puck; Cagney has a field day getting hyper and hee-hawing as Bottom; and earnest de Havilland (in her movie debut) sparkles with angst and love. Fans of Some Like it Hot (1959) will surely enjoy seeing Joe E. Brown in an early role (cross-dressing, no less) — and while the final theatrical performance put on by Cagney’s troupe at the wedding feels like a lengthy addendum to an already-overlong show, it’s an invaluable glimpse at what broad comedy during Shakespeare’s time might have looked like. Be sure to check out TCM’s article for more information on this unusual production, which opened to mixed reviews but was critically lauded for its artistic elements (including the dance numbers and numerous dream-like sequences).
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Luminous sets and costumes
- Byron Haskin’s special effects
- Hal Mohr’s cinematography
Yes, once, as an unusual Hollywood outing. Listed as a film with Historical Importance in the back of Peary’s book.