Thursday, February 16, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #136: Shakespeare Adaptations

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of the Thursday Movie Picks Blogathon, run by Wandering Through the Shelves. The theme for this week is adaptations of Shakespeare, and there are a lot of good movies both directly based on Shakespeare's dialog, and those that adapt loosely. Once again, I've picked three older movies.

A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935). For my money, this might be the most beautiful Shakespeare ever put on screen. Based on the Shakespeare play about a bunch of people going into the forest and winding up touched by the magic of love in various ways, Warner Bros. rounded up every star in their stable, and then some. James Cagney plays Bottom the weaver, leading a troupe of actors to a royal wedding; he winds up with an ass' head at one point. Olivia De Havilland is the then some; sure she became a big star but this is the first movie she made. And then they borrowed Mickey Rooney on MGM -- about the only time Mayer and Thalberg loaned him out -- to play Puck. The dialog may be tough at times, but the movie is so beautiful. And to top it all off they used Felix Mendelssohn's wonderful incidental music.

Forbidden Planet (1956). Loosely based on Shakespeare's The Tempest, this one stars Walter Pidgeon in the Prospero role, here Dr. Morbius. His daughter (Anne Francis) has grown up with him alone on a distant planet where there had been a party of columnists, of whom these two are the last remaining. Leslie Nielsen plays the leader of a spaceship sent to discover what happened to the colony. Morbius is none too happy about it. This was one of the first big-budget science fiction movies, with an electronica score and Robby the Robot. MGM's classy production values show, helped along by a good story.

To Be or Not to Be (1942). OK, technically I'm cheating since this isn't quite a Shakespeare adaptation. Jack Benny plays Josef Tura, a prominent Polish actor reduced to doing Hamlet in August 1939 thanks to the political situation -- don't dare offend the Nazis. Robert Stack plays Sobinski, a dashing officer in the Polish Air Force who gets up at the start of Hamlet's soliloquy every night to go see the actress playing Queen Gertrude, he being in love with that actress. The problem is that Gertrude is played by Maria Tura (Carole Lombard), the wife of Josef. Then the Nazis invade and Sobinski goes off to London to fight with the Free Polish. When he hears of a Nazi plot, he offers to go back to Poland, which gives him another chance to meet Maria. The Turas and their acting troupe get the chance to do their part for Poland as well. This is a wonderful farce, and sadly, the final movie Carole Lombard made before her untimely death.


Daniel said...

LOL I LOVE your inclusion of To Be Or Not To Be! The remake by Mel Brooks (with himself and wife Anne Bancroft) is also a hoot, proof of truly amazing source material.

I picked the '35 Midsummer, too. It really is quite beautiful, and very well-cast. I love the music so much. A perfect example of Classic Hollywood working at its best.

Birgit said...

Amazing that Olivia De Havilland is still alive. I want to see this film so much. We match with Forbidden Planet! I love that movie. I picked a slightly off beat film to so I think To Be or Not To Be is perfect here. Carole Lombard was never better and so sad to know she died shortly after this movie was done.

joel65913 said...

Nice choices. Midsummer is a glossy dream with the lovely Olivia. Cagney was always so fun when he had the chance to play his comic side onscreen. Rooney's a bit much but that was his shtick so it's too be expected.

Forbidden Planet is surprisingly popular today. It's not a favorite of mine since I'm not much for sci-fi but it's a good adaptation, a decent film and visually cool with those stylized sets and costumes.

Love the inclusion of To Be or Not To Be! Such a wonderful film, I'm a big fan of the Brooks/Bancroft remake too, with a never better Benny. Carole Lombard's death was a tragedy but what a great and memorable swan song to be able to exit with.

I went with a straight, though transplanted, version of one play and two rethinkings of a pair of others.

Hamlet (1996)-Kenneth Branagh adapted, directed and stars as the tortured Dane supported by a cast that is drawn from the cream of the British acting world with a few choice American stars pulled in for good measure. What makes this version stand out from the myriad others is Branagh’s decision to pull the play out of the dingy and poorly lit 14th century to the lush baroque 19th, resulting in deserved nominations for Art & Costume design, making it a far more vivid experience. That’s a great help since he has also chosen to present the entirety of the play’s nearly four hour run time. In a cast that includes Derek Jacobi, Julie Christie, Robin Williams, Gerard Depardieu and Judi Dench among so many others it’s difficult to choose any MVP’s aside from Branagh but Kate Winslet as Ophelia and Rufus Sewell as Fortinbras, the crown prince of Norway are memorable. It’s a challenging view but worthwhile.

Joe MacBeth (1955)-Updating the Scottish play to the criminal underworld of 1930’s America this violent take on the tale (it begins with the title character blowing away a crime boss then going directly to his own wedding) is an inventive twist on the material. Excellent work by Paul Douglas and Ruth Roman as the murderous mobster and his rapacious Lady M hold you rapt as the homicidal pair climb the ladder of success over an ever increasing pile of bodies.

Kiss Me Kate (1953)-The Taming of the Shrew moved into the world of the modern theatre and musicalized by Cole Porter. Famous stage star Fred Graham (Howard Keel) tries to dissuade his equally famous ex-wife Lilli Vanessi (Kathryn Grayson) to postpone her upcoming marriage so she can co-star with him in a musical updating of The Taming of the Shrew. She agrees reluctantly since their relationship post-divorce is as combative as their married life so it’s not smooth going. Add in several flies in the ointment including second lead Lois Lane(!) (Ann Miller) and some mobsters who are mistakenly putting the squeeze on Frank for a debt Lois’s boyfriend owes and it’s a wacky time backstage. Onstage though there are some amazing dance numbers performed by four of the best dancers of the 50’s (Miller, Carol Haney, Bob Fosse and Bobby Van) and great music sung by all including “It’s Too Darn Hot!” and “From This Moment On”. One of the great musicals, originally shown in 3-D.

Sonia Cerca said...

Haven't seen any of these but I've seen Allen's "version" of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Wendell Ottley said...

I haven't seen any of these. Forbidden Planet is one I need to see soon.

Katie Hogan said...

Cheating or not I like the sound of To Be or Not To Be. And another for Forbidden Planet - chose it too :)