All playwrights are confined to the physical restrictions of the stage to bring their works to life. But, surely, in dreaming up their stories, their imaginations are not so constricted. If William Shakespeare had lived to see this movie in 1935, I think he would have said that Max Reinhardt had captured "A Midsummer Night's Dream" on film – just as he had imagined it when penning the play in the 16th century.
Indeed, the technical and production achievements in this film -- from the early years of talking movies, are so great that no one has ever made another movie of the story to rival it. And, there have been more than 40 silver screen and TV productions of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" as of the early 21st century. Shakespeare's comedy fable of romance, love, mythology and early stage life comes alive in this film with lavish sets, marvelous costumes, outstanding special effects and superb cinematography, direction, and editing. Of course, this is to take nothing away from a stellar cast that included some of the best actors and up-and-coming performers of the day.
The film won two Oscars, for cinematography and best film editing. It was nominated for best picture and best assistant director. Mickey Rooney is fantastic as Puck, the fairy servant to Oberon. Rooney was just 15 when the movie came out, and had been a child actor since age six – appearing in nearly 100 film shorts and pictures before this time. This was the third film of Olivia de Havilland's debut year in Hollywood, and her portrayal of Hermia put her on the road to star status. Bigger name stars of the time gave superb performances. Dick Powell plays Lysander, James Cagney is Bottom, Joe E. Brown is Flute, Victor Jory is Oberon, Ian Hunter is Theseus, Jean Muir is Helena, Grant Mitchell is Egeus, Anita Louise is Titania, and Frank McHugh is Quince.
The quality and technical achievements in this film were so great that it was many years before anyone even tried it again, beyond the stage. The first TV movie rendition came 24 years later -- in 1959, and the next silver screen rendition came out in 1968 – 33 years after this films. This 1935 film is the benchmark for Shakespeare's great comedy on the silver screen. It's one that's not likely ever to be equaled or bettered. The bard's comedy is there in any good stage production, but this film adds the wonderment of fantasy. The audience sees the spectacle in the sky with fairies that fly. And nowhere is there a wire to be seen or a support revealed. It's as much fun watching this film for the technical and "magical" aspects as for the story itself.
The 2007 Warner Brothers DVD of this film has a "Vintage Featurette" short that IMDb doesn't have in its vast array of all things film and video. "A Dream Comes True – The Making of a Classical Motion Picture" is a Vitaphone short of 1935 that runs seven minutes. It has scenes of celebs attending the Hollywood premiere of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," and background on the making of the movie. To build the giant forest on a huge sound stage, studio technicians roamed the countryside for trees of unusual shapes. They added waterfalls and rivulets for reality, and brought in birds and animals.
The short runs through the casting selection of 20 prominent actors cast in lead roles. Rex Reinhardt, the renowned stage producer and director had put the play on in the Hollywood Bowl the year before. It was a huge success, and Warner Brothers signed him to produce and direct the movie. Reinhardt brought Wolfgang Korngold from Vienna to arrange the music by Felix Mendelssohn for the film.
The electricity for the lighting needed to illuminate the huge forest and set was enough to run a small city. It created a great deal of heat on the set, and the cast "melted" under their heavy costumes. The short shows performers cooling off in front of a giant fan, while Dick Powell treats the children fairies to double-scoop ice cream cones.