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YESTERDAY, WE SHARED DETAILS of Henry V, Titus Andronicus, and Hamlet. Today in Part 2, Chimes at Midnight and A Midsummer’s Night Dream complete my top five, and I discover a must-find revealed in researching these. In retrospect, I confess that my choices are based not only on cinematic virtues, but on Hollywood backstories as well.
Chimes at Midnight, 1966. As noted in Wikipedia, “Several years after its initial release, film critic Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote that Chimes at Midnight ‘may be the greatest Shakespeare film ever made, bar none.” This also pays homage to Orson Welles, who devised, directed, and starred in the film.
Wikipedia notes, “At the 1966 Cannes Film Festival, Chimes at Midnight was screened in competition for the Palme d’Or and won the 20th Anniversary Prize and the Technical Grand Prize. Welles was nominated for a BAFTA award for Best Foreign Actor in 1968. In Spain, the film won the Citizens Writers Circle Award for Best Film in 1966.”
The Chimes/Treasure Island Scam. In 1964, Welles befriended Spanish film producer Emiliano Pedra, who had proposed their making a version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island jointly with Welles simultaneously filming his much-coveted Chimes.
For example, Admiral Ben Bow Inn scenery would double as the Chimes’ Boars Head Tavern. Welles would portray Long John Silver as well as Falstaff; John Gielgud, as both Squire Trelawney and Henry IV.
Indeed, no Treasure Island scenes were ever shot or even scripted. Similar Welles wheeling and dealing took place in other aspects of the film’s production. To a great extent because of this, only recently have resolutions allowed general viewing.
Tudor Atmosphere. Like other great Shakespearean films, though, Chimes is a fascinating set piece, this one of Tudor England. For example, Wikipedia notes, the score ”is notable for its prominent use of actual medieval monophonic dance tunes (and some later ‘early music,’ such as several of Antony Holborne’s Elizabethan consort pieces) at a time when this was anything but common.”
In one interpretation, Welles saw the relationship of Prince Hal and Falstaff as one of betrayal tragically exemplified at Hal’s coronation: Falstaff says, “My king! My Jove! I speak to thee, my heart.” Hal responds, “I know thee not, old man: fall to thy prayers;/ How ill white hairs become a fool and jester!” Yet Falstaff’s response to this suggests that maybe he understands Hal’s new personage.
Midsummer Night’s Dream, 1935. This Hollywood adaptation of the Bard’s popular comedy fantasy certainly had its dream aspects: Stars included James Cagney, Joe E. Brown, Mickey Rooney, Dick Powell, Victor Jory, Anita Louise, and Olivia de Havilland. Wikipedia notes, “Many of the actors in this version never had performed Shakespeare and would not do so again, especially Cagney and Brown, who were nevertheless highly acclaimed for their performances. Many critics agreed that Dick Powell was miscast as Lysander, and Powell concurred with the critics’ verdict.”
Other Production Details. Wikipedia writes, “Austrian-born director Max Reinhardt did not speak English at the time of the film’s production. He gave orders to the actors and crew in German with William Dieterle acting as his interpreter.”
What’s more, “The film was banned in Nazi Germany because of the Jewish backgrounds of Reinhardt and composer Felix Mendelssohn and music arranger and conductor Erich Wolfgang Korngold.”
By the way, the Turner Classic Movies restoration I recently enjoyed had a pre-credits Overture as well as Exit Music. Mendelssohn’s 1834 incidental music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the primary source for the film, though there are also excerpts from his Symphony No. 3 Scottish, Symphony No. 4 Italian, and Songs without Words.
Wikipedia recounts, “The shooting schedule had to be rearranged after Mickey Rooney broke his leg while tobogganing at Big Pines, California…. According to Rooney’s memoirs, Jack L. Warner was furious and threatened to kill him and then break his other leg.”
I like the Warner threat’s ordering. And, actually, I find Rooney’s hamming it up more annoying than Cagney’s (which fits the latter’s role as Bottom, the mechanical destined to be given an ass’s head).
Cancellations Galore. Wikipedia notes, “At the time, cinemas entered into a contract to show the film, but had the right to pull out within a specified period of time. Cancellations usually ran between 20 and 50. The film established a new record with 2,971 cancellations. Booking agents had failed to correctly identify the film.”
Geez. Cagney’s a hoofer and Brown’s a comic, right? But who’s this Shakespeare guy?
Shakespeare in Hollywood, the Play. Wikipedia writes, “Originally commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company, American playwright Ken Ludwig’s play, Shakespeare in Hollywood, had its world premiere in September 2004 at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. It won the Helen Hayes Award for Best New Play. Oberon and Puck are magically transported to 1934 Hollywood and become embroiled—and cast—in the troubled production of this film. ‘Real’ characters in the cast include Jack Warner, Max Reinhardt, Will Hays, Joe E. Brown and Jimmy Cagney. ‘When the enchantment of the silver screen meets the magic of Fairyland, all merry hell breaks loose, and we are treated to transformations, chase scenes, and the kind of havoc that only that certain love-juice can wreak. Shakespeare in Hollywood is a supernatural screwball romp, full of entertainment, and even a little bit of education.’ ”
Sure sounds like my kinda Shakespeare. I have it on order. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2022