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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 <email@example.com>
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.
In The Hollywood Revue of 1929 (1929), Norma Shearer plays Juliet in a comedy skit, with then-screen idol John Gilbert as Romeo. In the skit, they are being "directed" by Lionel Barrymore. After performing the famous "balcony scene" together, they get a "phone call" from "The Boss" (i.e. producer Irving Thalberg, Norma's husband), who tells them to jazz up the language in the scene, and try to make it more appealing to modern audiences. Shearer and Gilbert try a version of the balcony scene using 1920's slang (i.e. "Julie, baby, I'm ga-ga over you!"), but quickly agree that you can't improve the original language of Shakespeare. See more »
Two households, both alike in dignity, In fair Verona, where we lay our scene, From ancient grudge break to new mutiny, Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean. From forth the fatal loins of these two foes A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life.
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Despite the fact we have a 47 year old Romeo, a 36 year old Juliet, and a 54 year old Mercutio; George Cukor's production for MGM of Romeo and Juliet manages to entertain and well.
Of course these protagonists are all teenagers, but these players have all played romantic parts in an age when romance was not something to be cynical about and they do fit their roles well. No Romeo was ever more dashing than Leslie Howard or a Juliet as passionate as Norma Shearer.
John Barrymore as Mercutio is a bit of an exception. I look at him and I think of another Shakespearean character who simply doesn't want to grow up and spends his time with the young blades of his day at the tavern. That would be Falstaff in Henry IV in both parts and if you think of Barrymore's Mercutio in that way, his interpretation makes a lot of sense.
My favorite in this film has always been Tybalt and Basil Rathbone plays him with fire and passion. Rathbone got an Academy Award nomination, the first of two, for Best Supporting Actor in the first year Supporting Actor Awards were given out. He lost however to Walter Brennan in Come and Get It. He's just spoiling for a fight with some Montagues and in the end he unfortunately gets one.
Romeo and Juliet is insightful into the Italy of the times. Italy was a geographical expression not a nation. In fact it was ruled mostly by the German entity, the Holy Roman Empire. But inside the empire and out it was a succession of petty states, constantly at war with each other. Sometimes the causes of the wars were long forgotten, but the hostilities took on a life of their own.
Right down to a couple of wealthy families in the small town of Verona where the prince there has his hands full trying to keep the Montague and Capulet feud from spilling over into violence every time some of them meet in his town.
With this background a young prince of Montague just getting over another bad romance and a princess of Capulet whose father has her slated to marry another meet and fall in love. Even when they find out their respective pedigrees, it makes no difference.
In fact the idea that love can bridge all barriers is what I believe makes Romeo and Juliet as popular as it is. It's a lesson people and nations could learn.
Norma Shearer got an Oscar nomination for playing Juliet, but lost to Luise Rainer in The Great Ziegfeld as Best Actress. George Cukor and the film itself also were up, but lost for best director and best picture.
Andy Devine plays the small part of Peter, a Capulet servant and I'm sure you're wondering what Andy Devine was doing in Shakespeare. So did he when he was cast in the part. The story goes that he went to George Cukor and told him he hadn't foggiest idea what he was doing in a classic Shakespeare play, he'd never done anything like this. Cukor supposedly told him, that was to his credit and that he would be the only member of the cast who would not be telling him how to direct the film. Turned out Cukor was right, but the film got made.
And that's definitely for the better.
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