I knew I had seen this one before! Many high school freshmen read Romeo and Juliet (though few appreciate it) and my teacher decided to show us this film in class. I was lucky enough to be in the far corner of the room where I slept through most of the film and joined in with the kids around me to make lewd jokes. The costumes, especially the ornamental thing dangling over half the male character’s crotches, were our main fuel as well as questioning Mercutio’s sexuality. Ah, comedic inspirations of a teenager.
I decided to take this film seriously this time (after a few giggles for old time’s sake). This film stays true to Shakespeare in both dialogue as well as time period. The costumes (no matter how oddly ridiculous) are extravagant and elegant. Even in the black and white, they just seem to pop and make a statement.
Now, every actor desires to one day act in a Shakespeare play and we’ve all seen certain scenes done the same way over and over again. Most of the acting is excellent, I thoroughly enjoyed John Barrymore’s Mercutio, but Leslie Howard’s Romeo was almost over the top. Maybe that’s how you’re supposed to play a Romeo, but it reminded me of a scene from Singin’ in the Rain. The scene where the silent film actors suddenly have to talk and all Gene Kelly can say is “I love you I love you I love you” while over romantically acting. Just replace the ‘I love you’s with Shakespeare lines.
If you’re looking for straight Shakespeare, perhaps as an educational tool, I highly recommend this. Be aware that youngsters will laugh and make plenty of jokes.