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.
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.
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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This version of Shakespeare's ROMEO AND JULIET was very famous in its day, and a number of critics that I greatly admire continue to praise it even now. But I must sound a dissenting note: although it has its charms, I personally found the film somewhat difficult to sit through due to the age of the cast. On the stage, Shakespeare's star-crossed lovers are usually played by mature actors in full command of both Shakespearean language and their own art, and the physical distance between the stage and the audience allows the cast to create the illusion of youth. But the camera is merciless, particularly in close up, and this film production presents us with the middle-aged Leslie Howard, Norma Shearer, John Barrymore, and Basil Rathbone in roles that would be better served on the screen by much younger players.
To give the cast its due, several of the stars fought tooth and nail against making the film--most notably Leslie Howard, who even went so far as give press interviews stating that he was much too old to play Romeo in a screen production. When forced into the production by contractual obligation, Howard and his counterparts gave it their all, but sad to say the camera did not lie: they were indeed too old. Although some viewers are able to suspend disbelief to accept the stars in such youthful roles, I myself could not. I found it occasionally absurd, but more often embarrassing, with the famous balcony a case in point. All of this might be forgiven if the stars actually generated any sense of passion, but they do not--and it is really here that their ages tell, for instead of the white-hot passions of youth that lead to disaster we have instead a gentle love story with an unhappy ending.
Still, the film really is pretty to look at--it has an engraved quality in its glossy black and white--and if you close your eyes, you can enjoy the 'grand manner' readings, which is a great deal more than one can say for most cinematic Shakespearean interpretations. There is also Edna May Oliver's performance, and she is excellent in the role of Juliet's babbling nurse.
Fans of this film's stars will no doubt wish to add it to their library, and those interested in seeing how Hollywood approached Shakespeare in the 1930s will enjoy seeing it at least once--but I would hesitate to recommend this film to any one outside that circle. Most viewers will be happier with the later Franco Zefferilli version.
Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
14 of 23 people found this review helpful.
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