Tuesday, March 30, 2010

So Many Dancing Hamlets!

“Shake, Mr. Shakespeare.” Dir. Roy Mack. Perf. Carolyn Marsh, Allan Mann, William Hall, and John Bohn. 1934. A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Dir. William Dieterle and Max Reinhardt. Perf. Mickey Rooney, James Cagney, Verree Teasdale, Olivia de Havilland, and Hugh Herbert. 1935. DVD. Warner Video, 2007.
The short film “Shake, Mr. Shakespeare” was made in 1934 and appears as a special feature on the DVD of the 1935 A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It is, to draw a quote out of the air completely at random, "the silliest stuff that ever I heard" (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, V.i.210).

Yet it has its charm. The plot centers on an overworked Assistant Production Manager who, according to the memo in the image above, is asked by a production manager to "read all Shakespeare's plays tonight and let me know tomorrow morning what they are all about."

After an attempt, the Assistant Production Manager falls asleep and has a dream (does this sound a bit too much like Piers Plowman?)—Shakespeare's characters walk out of the books he has scattered over his desk and declare their happiness at being bound for Hollywood.

The following is the Hamlet segment. When Hamlet realizes that the silver screen desires multitudes of Hamlets, he snaps his fingers and a dozen or so female Hamlets (is this a place to study the long history of women appearing in the role of Hamlet?) appear behind him (all in recognizable Hamlet garb) for a big dance number:


It really is some of the silliest stuff produced.

And it was produced in a period noted for its silliness.

There's some interest, I suppose, in the way Yorick's skull has become part and parcel of the costume of Hamlet—if you want to suggest Hamlet, you need a black outfit, a dagger (optional, but helpful), and a skull.

Perhaps it's a bit reductive, but it does make for some amusing stage business.

In any case, this short film, however ridiculous it might be, is not quite as silly as the biographical shorts made in the period—about which, more anon!
Links: The Film at IMDB.

Click below to purchase the film from amazon.com
(and to support Bardfilm as you do so).

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Bardfilm is normally written as one word, though it can also be found under a search for "Bard Film Blog." Bardfilm is a Shakespeare blog (admittedly, one of many Shakespeare blogs), and it is dedicated to commentary on films (Shakespeare movies, The Shakespeare Movie, Shakespeare on television, Shakespeare at the cinema), plays, and other matter related to Shakespeare (allusions to Shakespeare in pop culture, quotes from Shakespeare in popular culture, quotations that come from Shakespeare, et cetera).

Unless otherwise indicated, quotations from Shakespeare's works are from the following edition:
Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
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