Criterion Prediction #257: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, by Alexander Miller
Title: A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Director(s): William Dieterle, Max Reinhardt
Cast: Olivia de Havilland, James Cagney, Hobart Cavanaugh, Dick Powell, Mickey Rooney, Kenneth Anger
Synopsis: Four travelers escape Greece only to land in a mystical forest where fairy kings and queens are battling one another. Meanwhile, a band of amateur actors are rehearsing their latest play, and a precocious fairy named Puck is bopping around with a magic flower that can make people fall in love.
Critique: Reinhardt and Dieterle’s 1935 film is the true embodiment of the term “movie magic.”
Shakespeare’s prose and humor is unexpectedly subordinate to a dazzling show of visual expression, a diverse cast of talent pumped up on some variety of manic energy (a young Rooney is a delightful maniac as Puck) and the sturdy direction of Dieterle and Reinhardt. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a transcendent spectacle. It’s easy to evoke the term “movie magic” with A Midsummer Night’s Dream because the film squeezes out every increment of cinematic grandeur from the material. On a visual level, it’s drunk with whimsical beauty. Dieterle, cinematographer Hal Mohr (who’s Oscar is the first and only write-in nomination), and Anton Grot’s art direction are painting with monochrome camerawork’s silvery shades is on par with the movies much-touted special effects. The interplay of visual trickery is perfectly calibrated with the aura of the film and the period in which it was made.
The artifice and splendor are timeless and dazzling. Things as simple as sparkling glitter, synchronized dancing or wire work evoke the film;s dreamy fantasy, reinforcing how A Midsummer Night’s Dream is so inspired. Shakespeare rarely gets such a cinematic makeover.
The aesthetic bravura is so involving that the flowery prose and convoluted story fall off the radar. The bard’s name might be a writing credit but this defies the stagey conventions that accompany his screen adaptations.
Why It Belongs in the Collection: Surprisingly, A Midsummer Night’s Dream isn’t available on Blu-ray. The obvious avenue would be that the film would be released through Warner Archives (seeing as this very much a Warner film) and given the appeal that follows Shakespeare adaptations (among literary circles, scholars/academics) and the movies classic reputation and its all-star cast that it would be a no-brainer to get it in circulation. Maybe Warner will get around to it, maybe not?
But in light of Criterion and Warner’s recent deal, it’s hard not to wonder if A Midsummer Night’s Dream is in line for a spine number. If so, maybe we can also hope for a Blu-ray upgrade of Dieterle’s The Devil and Daniel Webster?