Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.
USA, 1936. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Adaptation by Talbot Jennings, based on the play by William Shakespeare. Cinematography by William H. Daniels. Produced by Irving Thalberg. Music by Herbert Stothart. Production Design by Cedric Gibbons. Costume Design by Adrian, Oliver Messel. Film Editing by Margaret Booth. Academy Awards 1936.
While it has many things to recommend itself above other versions of the famous love story, particularly the rich black-and-white photography, this adaptation of Shakespeare’s most popular play certainly loses a lot of its credibility when you notice the all-too ripe ages of its leads. They, however, give it their all and bring the beautiful dialogue to life even when the script requires them to be emotionally juvenile and it is too obvious that they are not. Norma Shearer is excellent as Juliet, the young daughter of the Capulets of Verona whose family has been engaged in a bloody vendetta with the Montagues for ever so long. When she falls in love with Romeo (Leslie Howard), son of Montague, the two of them discover that innocent love cannot survive in a world of malice and ignorance. While the dialogue is faithfully recreated on the screen, the plot itself is left with too little cinematic interference, making for a filmed play whose pace can sometimes be infuriating in this medium. Shearer has a terrific time being a classic ingenue, but after seeing her in so many roles as the ultimate modern woman (The Divorcee, even The Barretts of Wimpole Street, where she played a headstrong modern woman in a classical setting), it’s disappointing to have to watch her be nothing more than a teenaged idiot. Highest points go to spirited performances by John Barrymore and Basil Rathbone as rival fighters Mercutio and Tybalt. This was the last film Shearer’s husband Irving Thalberg produced before his untimely death later the same year, prompting her early retirement from Hollywood not long afterwards.