Vitagraph 7 continued from page 6

"Well, this is the forest of ... Brooklyn." A still from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with William Ranous as Bottom and (probably) Florence Turner as Titania, in the chestnut woods of Greenfield. (Courtesy of Milestone Film & Video

     The next film, Romeo and Juliet, also enjoyed high praise; even quieting the censor, who declared that "the love element, not the fight element, predominates . . . So love is the feature of the Romeo and Juliet films, and love is fit for children to see, if kept within reason." Ranous next took on the role for which Salvini was famed, Othello, but an odd silence shrouds this picture. That it equalled the preceding productions is suggested by a review of the next film, Richard III, which was hailed as "equal to the other three Shakespeare films which have been put out by this company." Antony and Cleopatra enjoyed some of the greatest acclaim yet; not so Julius Caesar, notable for its almost exact reproduction in three dimensions of Jean Leon Gerome's painting, The Death of Caesar, and for a dog who strayed onto the set during Marc Antony's funeral oration, perhaps having taken too literally Antony's line, "Cry 'Havoc!' and let slip the dogs of war." He ruined 200 feet of film.
     The Merchant of Venice, shot mostly in front of painted backdrops, fared more poorly still in critical acclaim; King Lear, set similarly and reviewed similarly, was the last of the films produced in Vitagraph's Shakespearean fever. It would be nine months before a new Shakespeare film came from the studio. It was worth the wait.
     Though filmed in midsummer, Vitagraph held up release of A Midsummer Night's Dream until Christmas Day, which may have been the best of the Shakespeare films made by this—or any—studio of the silent era. No small measure of its success may be that, unlike the earlier films, and especially the last three which did so poorly, "it was [in the words of Robert Ball in Shakespeare on Silent Film] more of a movie than a photograph of a play." Filmed almost entirely outdoors, the actors "move through scenery which seems more varied than it is, and . . . blend in with the sylvan mystery of light and shade. The result is that the film does achieve a kind of pictorial poetry appropriate both to the fairy atmosphere and the lunacy of the lovers."
     The stock company shined. The first matinee idol, former stage actor and vaudevillian Maurice (Dimples) Costello, was Lysander, Ranous played Bottom, the Titania was probably Florence Turner (credits were yet to be given in films), but the scene stealer was 13-year-old Gladys Hulette as Puck. All told, compacted though it was, shorn of the text, critics on both sides of the Atlantic felt that Shakespeare hadn't suffered a bit. Indeed, a New York reviewer said the film produced "a continuous and intelligible story which does not destroy the narrative—which makes the narrative clear, even to a moving picture audience." From London: "Students of the great dramatist's works will thoroughly enjoy the careful pictorial representation of the many scenes, while the whole play is so cleverly portrayed that it will not fail to delight the spectator who is not familiar with the works of Shakespeare."

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