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The Bard of Burbank, Part 2 — 6 Comments

  1. As you know, I love this film – even its quirky excesses. I may be in the minority, but I even love Mickey Rooney, even at his most annoying. If I were to close my eyes and picture the perfect Puck, Mickey's image would be right there. Oh, sure, I love a sexy Stanley Tucci, but having a Puck who is hotter than Oberon sort of throws things out of balance for me!

    The list of original casting choices has left my mind reeling! Of course, Barrymore would have made a wonderful Oberon, but there is a frightening intensity to Victor Jory's performance that cannot be resisted. There is one name that jumps out…Myrna Loy. Hmmmmm, I wonder. But it made me think that who I'd really love to have seen play Helena is Jean Arthur.

    And I have to disagree with you on one point. I don't think that James Cagney is miscast. In fact, it seems to me that Reinhardt, purposefully or not, got it just right. Why should Bottom be a big, slow witted lout? The other mechanicals think he is the world's greatest actor, even if he is a thorn in the side of his director. And he thinks so himself. He is pure ham – cocky, hyper and totally full of himself. One of the reasons that Nick Bottom is an ass is that when faced with the most exquisite woman in the world who is giving herself to him in no uncertain terms, all he can think about is getting his head scratched and thinking up clever comebacks to Peaseblossom et. al. He's a self-deluded fool who stinks with authority. I loved Cagney's take on the role which also allowed for the wonderful contrast between him and Joe E. Brown.

    I think you should write the book!!

  2. Welcome, Jean! You know, immersing myself in Midsummer for these posts has quite changed my mind about Rooney; I now think he's brilliant as Puck. I didn't include this info because it didn't fit in, but what got him the part was that wild feral laugh, the crow of a rooster mixed with the bay of a wolf cub. "That laugh!" cried Reinhardt (in German). Rooney completely faked it at the audition, as the lines made no sense to him, but by the time of the movie they'd become second nature. Rooney makes Puck a not-human spirit, an avatar of pure mischief, and I think he's exactly right.

    As for Cagney — well, as I said, he makes it work through sheer will and talent (which is more than some of his critics were willing to give him). Even so, the thought of Guy Kibbee — and even, God help me, Wallace Beery — interests me.

  3. Don't know if you are familiar with Ludwig's SHAKESPEARE IN HOLLYWOOD. When I heard about the concept – the "real" Oberon and Puck somehow get transported to Hollywood and end up in the film – I thought it would be brilliant! No so much. Very, very disappointing – pretty much a boatload of missed opportunities. Too bad.

  4. Jean, I'm not familiar with Shakespeare in Hollywood, but I remember you mentioning it once in an e-mail, saying pretty much what you just commented. I'd like to check the play out, just for fun. I did find some on-line notes on Ludwig's play that were very useful to me in researching this post. You can read them here.

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