Wonderful adaptation, filled with Cocteau-like movie-magic. Introduced at Emory by Rushdie, who calls it “The Dream” for short, and isn’t a huge fan of James Cagney’s performance.
Katy and I already watched the McNutty version from 60-some years later, so I’m familiar with the story. Dark-haired Olivia de Havilland (her film debut, later in Gone With The Wind) is coveted by both Dick Powell (star of Christmas in July and The Tall Target) and Ross Alexander (short career: suicide), while blonde Jean Muir (star of The White Cockatoo) covets Ross. The lovers (particularly Olivia) give it their all, making their segments more welcome than Cagney’s. I noted that Kevin Kline brought “a touch of sadness to his mostly ridiculous comic-relief role,” but Cagney instead brings an entire can of ham. When he’s not wearing a donkey mask, Cagney works with slate-faced Joe Brown (the guy in love with Jack Lemmon at the end of Some Like It Hot) on their play to be performed for The Duke (Ian Hunter of Hitchcock’s The Ring) and his Amazon conquest/bride (Verree Teasdale of The Milky Way).
Interference comes from fairy queen Anita Louise (of Judge Priest, bringing less personality than Michelle Pfeiffer did) and sparkly-costumed elf king Victor Jory (Power of the Press) with his loyal minion, a cackling pre-Andy Hardy Mickey Rooney. The Queen has mini-minions Moth and Pease-Blossom (both sadly unaccounted-for), Cobweb (appeared in a pile of 1950’s westerns, costarring with Gregory Peck in The Gunfighter) and Mustard Seed (Billy Barty, had already been in fifty movies as Mickey Rooney’s brother, would live to appear in such acclaimed 1980’s dwarf-filled fantasy films as Legend, Willow, Masters of the Universe and UHF).
Lost best picture to Mutiny on the Bounty, but cinematographer Hal Mohr was history’s only write-in oscar winner. He later shot Underworld USA, Rancho Notorious and a Tashlin feature. Banned in Germany for being based on the Jew-music of Mendelssohn. Reinhardt had staged the play ten or more times, left nazi germany and staged Midsummer in Hollywood, then hired to make the film alongside cinema vet Dieterle (The Devil & Daniel Webster).
It’s not hard to find a Shakespeare play I haven’t read/seen/acted, but that never stopped Katy from exclaiming “really???” whenever I claimed total unfamiliarity with Midsummer, so we finally rented her favorite version. I liked it… of course, it’s no Much Ado About Nothing with Emma Thompson, but what is? Less zany and complicated than I’d expected. Shakespeare could’ve learned something about comedy from Howard Hawks – or maybe it’s Hoffman, director of dullsville drama Game 6 who could learn something. Fortunately he keeps things much more animated here, seems to do a good job with the so-wide-it’s-squintingly-small-on-my-TV cinematography, though there’s mysteriously no participation by Kenneth Branagh or Michael Keaton (at the time they were busy filming Wild Wild West and doing nothing whatsoever, respectively).
Ally, Bale, McNutty, Friel:
Okay, Dominic West (The Wire‘s McNulty) loves Pushing Daisies star Anna Friel (who doesn’t?) but her fun-hating parents insist she marry boring Christian Bale (toning things down after Velvet Goldmine) who is being stalked by Calista Ally McBeal Flockhart. Unconnected to any of that, Kevin Kline’s cheesy theater group (including Sam Rockwell) is preparing a play to be performed at the royal court. And all of this would probably end badly if not for the meddling of elf king Rupert Everett (Dunston Checks In) who sends puckish Stanley Tucci to prank fairy queen Michelle Pfeiffer, and along the way he turns Kline into a half-donkey and screws with the four lovers. Mud fights and bicycle rides ensue.
Rockwell is a woman, Kline is a ham, the guy behind them is a wall:
Convincingly elvish elf Tucci with mopey Rupert:
In the end everything is sorta normal except that Kline’s play is a hit, McNutty is allowed to be with his girl, and Bale magically loves Ally. I was surprised that McNutty and Ally gave the best performances of the four, even edging out all the magical beings (well maybe not Stanley Tucci), and Kline is excellent, bringing a touch of sadness to his mostly ridiculous comic-relief role. So where’s he been hiding this decade? Prepping for a comeback, hopefully.
Donkey-Kline and Queen Pfeiffer:
When the ghost tells Hamlet to avenge his death, he calls Hamlet stupid and H replies “Get on with it, it’s cold and I don’t want to be late for dinner.” This ain’t your gramma’s Hamlet!! It’s a black-and-white Finnish satire of the business world. In corporate Finland, there are no good guys, no sympathetic souls, just murderous fiends who all want to get ahead. Thus, it turns out Hamlet poisoned his own father, and in the end he is dispatched by the family chauffeur, a spy for the workers’ union.
Movie does have its funny parts (which include Polonius’s mustache), but I regret I can’t say it was a total delight to watch. Not a chore, either, and not mediocre or a waste of time, just a mild success, a Jarmusch-reminiscent dark comedy. All that Shakespeare probably held it back (although he cut all soliloquies and cut the story to a sleek 85 minutes). I’m still optimistic, wanna check out more KaurismÃ¤ki soon.
Polonius and his mustache:
I liked the music… this band got to play a whole song in the middle of the movie. Note found online: “the film features a live performance of the song Rich Little Bitch by Melrose, a Finnish rock trio very popular at the time when the film was made.”
Choice Kaurismaki quote: “When I was young, I would sit in the bath and ideas would come to me. But I’m not young any more, so now I just sit in the bath.”