They didn't know it then, but Hollywood in 1935 was on the cusp of a golden era.
The studio system was in full gear, the star system at its peak, and competition was keen. Studios were run by giants like David O. Selznick and the Warner brothers. They knew what people wanted and how to give it to them with high standards. The finest coaches were hired to teach acting and voice for the likes of the Barrymores, Clark Gable, Shirley Temple - all were trained to become bigger than life: STARS. Titans in directing - Cecil B. DeMille, John Ford, et al - demanded perfection from them. The Dream Factory was well in full force and the Great Depression audiences loved it as a thrifty form of entertainment.
Competition was so keen in the '30s that the studios turned to Europe for its finest: stars (like Greta Garbo) and directors (like Alfred Hitchcock) as examples.
The Warner Brothers studio, for example, captured Germany's finest stage director, Max Reinhardt, who had just produced at the Hollywood Bowl an exceptional staging of Shakespeare's most popular fantasy, "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Jack Warner immediately signed him to assist William Dieterle in bringing the same showpiece, at no expense, to the screen.
The result was a lavish production, filmed on the largest soundstages ever built for a forest, palace and fairy kingdom, with the finest production team ever collected to design and build a fantasy land of massive size, peopled by a cast of thousands, headed by Warner's most prominent stars, from Mickey Rooney as the impish Puck to comics like Joe E. Brown and James Cagney, and thousands of pixies and gnomes to fill the sets. As a coup de grace, Erich Korngold shaped Mendelssohn's famous music to complete the fantasy.
The public loved it, turned the film into a box office hit despite hard times and a top admission price. Raves for a popularization of the Bard's blank verse, the emphasis on comedy and pageantry, the hilarity of the "rustics" and their play-within-a-play, and, of course, the beauty of hundreds of ballerinas prancing around the forest in see-through cellophane costumes.
The play has appeared on film more than once since this original version, but none has ever approached the original in imagery and brilliance. Shakespeare certainly would have approved.
The play also encouraged popular variations, from Woody Allen's "A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy" to Ingmar Bergman's "Smiles of a Summer Night" - and critical references to the "Lord of the Rings" suggest that Peter Jackson borrowed heavily from the 1935 movie for his Rings cycle.
The original wears well and still pleases audiences whenever resuscitated as a relief from commercial Hollywood's emphasis on sophomoric cheap tricks, vulgarities and poor writing.
And now, the good news: On Friday the 9th, to revive interest in Shakespeare's most accessible play, Club Indigo will present this sugar plum as pre-holiday fare in all its original splendor on the Calumet Theatre's big screen, as it did there, more than half a century ago, when as relief from the depression it took the Copper Country by storm. It made people forget their troubles, made them laugh, sigh and awe at such a delight, as they discovered that Shakespeare at his best can be remarkably entertaining.
"A Midsummer Night's Dream" will be shown once only in a special presentation at 7:15 p.m., preceded at 6 p.m. by a suitably royal banquet from the Miscowaubic Club, Calumet. The cost for buffet and film is $18. The film alone is $5. Kids' tickets are at reduced rates. For the buffet, a call to the Calumet Theatre at least a day in advance can provide seating at 337-2610.
Sponsors for this special event are the Ed Gray Art Gallery, Calumet and the Isle Royale Queen IV in Copper Harbor.
Rotten Tomatoes averages: "The Muppets," A-; "Arthur Christmas," B+
Note: Check the Einerlei for information on Chassell's Saturday the 10th's "Home for the Holidays" House Tour and Gourmet Tasting.