Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Midsummer Night's Dream, A

US movie (1935). Warner Bros. Pr Max Reinhardt. Dir William Dieterle, Reinhardt. Spfx Byron Haskin, Fred Jackman, Hans Koenekamp. Screenplay William Shakespeare (ed and cut). Music adapted from A Midsummer Night's Dream (1826/1842) by Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847). Starring Ross Alexander (Demetrius), Joe E Brown (Flute), James Cagney (Bottom), Hobart Cavanaugh (Philostrate), Otis Harlan (Starveling), Olivia de Havilland (Hermia), Hugh Herbert (Snout), Ian Hunter (Theseus), Victor Jory (Oberon), Anita Louise (Titania), Frank McHugh (Quince), Grant Mitchell (Egeus), Jean Muir (Helena), Dick Powell (Lysander), Dewey Robinson (Snug), Mickey Rooney (Puck), Verree Teasdale (Hippolyta), Arthur Treacher (Epilogue). 133 mins, often cut. B/w.

This all-singing, all-dancing musical old-style Hollywood spectacle version of Shakespeare's play – with a casting that must on paper have seemed insane – is, remarkably, charming; there is quite a lot of singing, but even the spoken dialogue is matched with Mendelssohn's music in such a way that one has the sense of watching an Opera. The plot is more or less as in the original, so need not be synopsized. What the movie does very well is to convey a sense of genuine Magic; in this Louise – as Titania – and Rooney – as the Trickster Puck – are exceptional, portraying successfully creatures that are quite otherworldly. Cagney is a surprisingly effective Bottom, while Muir and de Haviland play well against rather weak leading men. Titania is identified with the Goddess rather than merely with the Fairy Queen, while Oberon is the Horned God (> Devils). This Love comedy gave some visual impetus to the Ave Maria section of Fantasia (1940) and possibly influenced the concluding visuals of Steven Spielberg's E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial (1982). The moment when Fairies are born out of the ground-hugging mist is one of the high points of fantastic cinema.

There have been at least two other movies based on the play. The Czech Animated Movie A Midsummer Night's Dream (1961; Animania) dir Jiri Trnka – mixing mainly stop-motion techniques with painted ones, concentrates largely on the Pyramus and Thisbe play put on by the artisans. In an interesting shift of Perception, for a while the play becomes real rather than merely a performance. The English-language version was narrated by Richard Burton, and the cast of voice actors was distinguished. The UK/Spanish A Midsummer Night's Dream (1984) dir Celestino Coronado is a live-action version based on a stage production dir Lindsay Kemp. Here the lovers not only swap allegiances but also sexual orientation. The Woody Allen movie A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy (1982) is unrelated, being based instead on the Ingmar Bergman movie Smiles of a Summer Night (1955; ot Sommarnattens Leende), also the basis for Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music (produced 1973). [JG]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.