Cinema: The New Pictures: Aug. 24, 1936

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Romeo and Juliet (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) is the most elaborate production in the history of Theatre or Cinema* of Shakespeare's most popular play. It cost $2,000,000. It took six months to make. It was directed by George Cukor. Its cast includes Leslie Howard, Norma Shearer, John Barrymore, Edna May Oliver, Basil Rathbone, Violet Kemble Cooper.

Cinema producers have been jeered so frequently for their ignorance that when they approach something like Shakespeare they are likely to suffer from a sense of panic. To avoid any possible gaffes in this production, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's star Producer Irving Thalberg did everything except recall Shakespeare from the grave.

Two years before a camera blinked, he sent not one researcher but a whole "technical crew" to Verona—which Shakespeare probably never saw—to make photographs of 15th Century relics to help Art Director Cedric Gibbons design sets. Cinema treatment of all abstruse ubjects requires "technical advisers." Only available advisers on Shakespeare appeared to be college professors, so Producer Thalberg imported not one but a crack team: William Strunk Jr. of Cornell and John Tucker Murray of Harvard. Their function during production was to pass on costumes, props, etc. Their function later will be to act as whipping-boys in case pedants find any blunders. In the avowed effort to make the production what Shakespeare would have wanted had he possessed the facilities of cinema, it apparently occurred to no one that, could he really have gone to Hollywood to work on the script, Shakespeare would simply have thrown away Romeo and Juliet and written a new play, as was his inflexible habit with the classics of his own day. Instead, Professor Strunk and Adapter Talbot Jennings (Mutiny on the Bounty) scrupulously arranged a script without a line of dialog not written by the Bard. When Mrs. Frances Robinson-Duff, New York's most famed dramatic coach, had been flown to Hollywood to spend a week teaching Mrs. Irving Thalberg—who was also coached by Actress Constance Collier, Actor Rollo Peters and Dancer Agnes de Mille—how to say her lines, the production was ready to begin.

There are two classes of people who have no faith in the cinema. One is that small group of incompetent critics who still prefer to think that the screen is concerned exclusively with train wrecks, bathtubs and cattle rustlers on the range. The other is Hollywood. That Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's Romeo and Juliet is certainly the best since the Jane Cowl-Rollo Peters version and quite probably the best ever shown amazed the second group quite as much as it will amaze those members of the first who expose themselves to a change of mind. Cinema trade journals ever since the first preview a month ago have been buzzing with congratulations, based, as were the less justifiable panegyrics that greeted Warner Brothers' A Midsummer Night's Dream last year, on the theory that Romeo and Juliet proved that the cinema had at last grown up.

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