In Shakespeare’s comedy of romantic errors, the woodland is the star, a stage for both humans and sprites. Young lovers Lysander and Hermia have escaped Athens, pursued by Hermia’s would-be husband, Demetrius. In the forest, they meet up with Oberon and Titania, king and queen of the fairies. Oberon instructs the fairy Puck to use a magical herb causing love at first sight. Meanwhile a troupe of actors also roams the underbrush. The result is a riot of love and confusion … The ‘great magician’ Max Reinhardt brought Midsummer to the screen with the help of Wilhelm Dieterle, who, as an actor, had been his protégé in Germany. Reinhardt first mounted Shakespeare’s classic onstage in 1905, incorporating the music of Mendelssohn. He staged it 14 more times, including the famed Hollywood Bowl version in 1934, an extravaganza that “enchanted” audiences of 20,000. His film version borrowed from that – a brilliant performance by a teenaged Mickey Rooney as Puck, and many effects, such as a forest of real leaves built on a soundstage, which Reinhardt made even more believable by filling it with live deer. The supernatural here seems inspired by the ghost of Faust (1926), directed by F. W. Murnau, another Reinhardt disciple
by Max Reinhardt, William Dieterle
with James Cagney, Dick Powell, Olivia de Havilland, Mickey Rooney
USA 1935 117’