the earliest shakespearean talkies

The Taming of the Shrew (Sam Taylor 1929): Hollywood golden couple Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks play Kate and Petruchio in this first talkie Shakespeare. It was released as a silent film as well and as such has many silent film characteristics. Pickford has claimed that this film did in their marriage and her desire to act. Personal issues for the cast aside, it is worth watching for a more egalitarian taming than one usually sees. In this version, Kate and Petruchio tame one another. It is by no means a radically non-sexist film, but it ventures less into blatant sexism than most versions of Shrew do.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Max Reinhardt/William Dieterle 1935): This movie is a gem of early movie magic. It plays up fantasy and includes Mendelssohn’s music and extended dance sequences. The Americans in the cast are unabashedly so and make no move to try on British accents or mannerisms. Mickey Rooney, though strident and screechy, may be the only film Puck to be played by and as a mischievous boy instead of a middle-aged man. James Cagney is worth noting for his part as Bottom. This is the only traditional Shakespearean comedy to have garnered an Oscar nomination for best picture.

As You Like It (Paul Czinner 1936): This is the weakest of the three early film comedies, but it has its own charm. It was filmed on a sound stage rather than on location which limits the pastoral setting somewhat. It is worth watching for a Robin Hood-esque style and Sir Laurence Olivier in his first Shakespearean film role.

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