In Shakespeare's classic play, the Montagues and Capulets, two families of Renaissance Italy, have hated each other for years, but the son of one family and the daughter of the other fall desperately in love and secretly marry.
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The Montagues and the Capulets, two powerful families of Verona, hate each other. Romeo, son of Montague, crashes a Capulet party, and there meets Juliet, daughter of Capulet. They fall passionately in love. Since their families would disapprove, they marry in secret. Romeo gets in a fight with Tybalt, nephew of Lady Capulet, and kills him. He is banished from Verona. Capulet, not knowing that his daughter is already married, proceeds with his plans to marry Juliet to Paris, a prince. This puts Juliet in quite a spot, so she goes to the sympathetic Friar Laurence, who married her to Romeo. He suggests a daring plan to extricate her from her fix. Tragedy ensues. Written by
John Oswalt <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Scenes of combat that will stir your pulse...tender haunting romance that will stay ever fresh in your memory...spectacular beauty that will set a feast for your eyes...in the greatest melodramatic romance of all time...presented as it has never been before...the final glorious flower of motion picture achievement.
This is quite simply the best version of Shakespeare's beloved tragic drama that has ever hit the screen. A quintessential problem with the play is that its characters are not at all well-suited to film. The stage allows middle-aged experienced actors to play the parts, for the distance between an audience and actor on the stage can supply all necessary illusion. The intimacy of the camera makes a demand, however: either sacrifice this understanding for youth or sacrifice the youth for understanding. The title characters are supposedly meant to be only in their mid-teens, but to successfully portray them, an experienced mentality is needed, and so it is imperative that the latter sacrifice be made. On film, rarely does the depth the two characters require come forth, instead substituted with this youthful energy. This has allowed plenty of young, age-appropriate actors to deliver perfectly horrible performances as the young lovers. When Franco Zeferelli produced his overrated version of this tale in the 60s, he cast Olivia Hussey and Juliet and Leonard Whitting as Romeo...and the two made Romeo and Juliet teenagers with no sense of real love and instead horny teenage lust. By casting Norma Shearer (around 36) and Leslie Howard (over 40) as the two, M-G-M lost the supreme youth, but gained a near-perfect asset of understanding of the characters. Shearer's delivery is perfect, particularly in the spine-tingling rendition of Juliet's death-contemplation monologue just before she takes the poison. Leslie Howard nearly matches her with his Romeo, throwing some lines at the audience in a totally new, fresh, and unexpected way. Edna May Oliver perfectly captures Shakespeare's Nurse, filling her with both bawdy humor and genuine care for Juliet's well-being. As Tybalt, a role cut down from the original length but nonetheless impressive, Basil Rathbone is astonishing; he earned a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his work here. Also of note is John Barrymore, whom I have read was at times totally ossified while filming his scenes. His age really shows, and he is no longer the leading Baron from Grand Hotel, but his controversial performance is, if not to all minds good, at least totally engrossing. He was at a time the most celebrated of all Shakespearean stage actors, and this film marks his only completely recorded performance in a sound film of the Bard's work; this makes the film further noteworthy. To add to this pedigree cast, M-G-M put their top technical men on the job. Adrian and Cedric Gibbons perfectly capture the look and flavor of the play with their elegant costumes and sets. The art deco, sleek look ingeniously blends modern architecture with what is expected from Shakespeare's day. The camerawork is brilliant also, and Herbert Stothart's blend of Tchaikalvski's haunting Love Theme and original music creates just the perfect musical score. All of these elements combine to create the first truly great Shakespearean film adaptation, and also one of the best films of the era, period. Far superior to Zeferelli's version, and any other one I've seen, George Cukor's Romeo and Juliet is another masterpiece from one of the all-time great directors, who helmed such classic, well-regarded productions as Dinner at Eight, David Copperfield, The Philadelphia Story, and Adam's Rib.
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