Romeo and Juliet
1936: George Cukor
The most immediately striking fact about the 1936 George Cukor version is that Leslie Howard and Norma Shearer are both considerably too old for their parts. Leslie Howard was 43 in 1936, and Norma Shearer was 34: while this might have played convincingly on stage, the camera is too exacting to allow this kind of age-shifting. A middle-aged pair of teen lovers doesn't quite work, and rather misses the point of the play. The formidable John Barrymore (age 54) plays Mercutio, and Basil Rathbone (age 44) plays Tybalt: they are also too old for their roles. While hardly a geriatric production of the play, part of its youthful zest is lost.
That (considerable) point aside, however, the performances are still remarkably good, and very subtly nuanced. The direction is clean; the plot outline never becomes murky. Leslie Howard's diction is clear and his emotional tone never descends into the sniveling angst one so often sees in Romeos of later ages; Shearer delivers a lot of emotional punch without descending into the howling maudlin that sometimes affects productions of this play. There's a seriousness about the delivery that seems neither as affected as the Zeffirelli nor as ironic and self-aware as the Campbell production. There are moments of humor, though they are not emphasized greatly.
The art direction is lavish, and occasionally reminiscent of the musical theater of the 1930s, complete with Busby Berkeley numbers for its dances (though with more decorous music), but never really excessive. The score is a patchwork of Italian Renaissance tunes (transformed much as in Respighi's “Ancient Airs and Dances”) and Tschaikovsky's venerable Romeo and Juliet ballet score. The fusion is a little difficult if you are used to these pieces on thier own terms, but the synthesis is not bad overall. All in all, a worthwhile and watchable treatment of the play, but constantly overlaid with the mannered delivery of the 1930s.
Abraham Montague : Howard Wilson
Apothecary : Ian Wolfe
Balthasar : Maurice Murphy
Benvolio: Reginald Denny
Capulet Guard-Escort : Fred Graham
Escalus: Conway Tearle
Friar John : John Bryan
Friar Laurence: Henry Kolker
Gregory Capulet : Anthony Kemble-Cooper
Juliet: Norma Shearer
Lady Capulet t: Violet Kemble Cooper
Lady Montague: Virginia Hammond
Lord Capulet: C. Aubrey Smith
Lord Montague: Robert Warwick
Mercutio’s Page : Anthony Marsh
Mercutio: John Barrymore
Nobleman : Charles Bancroft
Nobleman : Harold Entwistle
Nobleman : José Rubio
Nurse to Juliet: Edna May Oliver
Paris: Ralph Forbes
Peter: Andy Devine
Romeo: Leslie Howard
Rosaline: Katherine DeMille
Samson Capulet : Vernon Downing
Town Watch : Wallis Clark
Tybalt’s Page : Carlyle Blackwell Jr.
Tybalt: Basil Rathbone