Watch A Midsummer Night's Dream
- 2 hr 13 min
A Midsummer Night's Dream is a cinematic adaptation of William Shakespeare's play of the same name. The 1935 film is a lavish, star-studded production that brought the Bard's enchanting comedy to life during the height of Hollywood's golden era. Directed by Max Reinhardt and William Dieterle, the movie captures the whimsical and surreal elements of the original play while showcasing the elaborate stagecraft and production values typical of the period's grand cinematic spectacles.
The film opens by transporting the audience to the mythical realm of Athens and the surrounding enchanted woods, where both mortals and mystical creatures become entangled in a web of romance, mischief, and misunderstanding. The story is intricately woven around three primary groups of characters: the Athenian nobles, a troupe of amateur actors, and a band of mischievous fairies who inhabit the forest.
Within the Athenian nobility, the central storyline revolves around the romantic entanglements of two young couples: Hermia (played by Olivia de Havilland), who is in love with Lysander (Dick Powell), and Helena (Jean Muir), who pines for Demetrius (Ross Alexander). Hermia's father Egeus (Grant Mitchell), however, wishes her to marry Demetrius, leading to a conflict that the powerful Duke Theseus (Ian Hunter) must adjudicate. Hermia and Lysander decide to defy Egeus's wishes and elope, setting off into the enchanted forest.
Simultaneously, a comical subplot unfolds following a bumbling group of craftsmen led by Peter Quince (Frank McHugh), who intend to put on a play for the Duke's upcoming wedding. The most notable among these amateur thespians is Nick Bottom (James Cagney), a weaver with lofty theatrical aspirations and an ego to match. Their rehearsals within the woods inadvertently cross paths with the otherworldly inhabitants of the enchanted forest.
The magical dimension of the film is dominated by the fairy kingdom, ruled by the quarreling King Oberon (Victor Jory) and Queen Titania (Anita Louise). The fairy realm is teeming with sprites and mystical beings, including the puckish and playful Puck (Mickey Rooney), who serves Oberon. With the wave of a wand and the sprinkle of some fairy dust, the lines between reality and illusion blur as Puck meddles with the hearts and affections of the mortals, leading to a series of comical and fantastical misadventures.
With an iconic scene involving a love potion, the movie dives into hilarity and whimsy as characters fall in and out of love with unusual pairings, dictated by the fickle whim of enchantment. The lush forest is both a playground for fairy pranks and a backdrop for the mortals’ tumultuous escapades. Throughout the multiple entanglements, viewers are treated to extraordinary set pieces, ballet sequences, and special effects that were groundbreaking for their time.
The production is a cinematic feast for the eyes, with splendid costumes and sets that recreate the fantastical setting with meticulous attention to detail. Mendelssohn's music, famously associated with the play, accentuates the film's magical and dreamlike atmosphere, providing an enriching auditory experience that complements the visual splendor.
The ensemble cast includes many prominent actors of the era. James Cagney, known primarily for his tougher, gangster roles, shows remarkable versatility and comedic chops in his portrayal of Bottom, particularly in scenes where he must deal with a transformative spell cast by Puck. Dick Powell, who was usually seen in musicals, proves to be a charming romantic lead as Lysander. Young Mickey Rooney owns the screen as Puck, inhabiting the role with mischievous energy and acrobatic skill, keeping the audience engaged and amused by his antics.
A Midsummer Night's Dream represents a unique and historical blending of Shakespearean drama with the glamour and production values of early Hollywood films. It serves as a tribute to the timelessness of Shakespeare's writing and the universality of its themes of love, magic, and transformation.
Despite being a product of its time, the film's timeless qualities and the performances of its cast have made it a classic that is still appreciated by audiences today. The movie maintains its legacy as an important part of cinema history, offering a glimpse into how the magic of Shakespeare was interpreted through the lens of 1930s filmmaking. It stands as a bold attempt to bring the complexity and beauty of Shakespeare's play to the silver screen, an endeavor that remains a testament to the ambition and artistry of Hollywood's golden age.
A Midsummer Night's Dream is a 1935 comedy with a runtime of 2 hours and 13 minutes. It has received mostly positive reviews from critics and viewers, who have given it an IMDb score of 6.8.