Shakespeare in Hollywood, 1929-1956

Shakespeare in Hollywood, 1929-1956

Shakespeare in Hollywood, 1929-1956

Shakespeare in Hollywood, 1929-1956

Synopsis

"This book is a historical study of five major productions and several offshoots of Shakespeare's plays. Willson's thesis is that studios like MGM and Warner Bros. made these films in order to polish their images as creators of artistic rather than populist products. The films also reflect the practices - the use of contract players, overproduction, adaptations based on popular genres - that have come to characterize Hollywood as an industry. In discussing these productions, Willson pays special attention to cuts in the texts, casting decisions, and the actors' screen identities, directors' reputations and their previous films, and studio marketing strategies. Readers of Shakespeare in Hollywood will gain a better understanding of how studios attempted to make Shakespeare accessible to and respected by audiences with little or no knowledge of the plays. This goal foreshadowed efforts by such directors as Olivier and Branagh to bring the Bard to movie audiences." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

Louis B. Mayer, for many years the legendary head of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, is reported to have described Shakespeare films as “box-office poison.” Mayer's remark could be said to aptly describe Hollywood's general attitude toward high-culture novels and plays throughout its history. Profitability qualifies as the watchword of the major studios, especially during the industry's so-called Golden Age (19351955). It is therefore surprising that Shakespeare films were made at all in this period, let alone productions deserving of critical praise. Yet the dysfunctional marriage between the greatest writer in the English language and what has been called America's dream factory yielded progeny that have contributed to this country's and the world's understanding and appreciation of Shakespeare. That body of cinematic work, rarely recognized for its professionalism or artistic merit, is the subject of this study.

I will discuss four major, one minor, and selected offshoot film versions of Shakespearean plays produced by representative Hollywood studios from 1929 to 1956. Even though several fascinating silent renditions of the plays were produced by independent companies in Hollywood's early days (see Robert Hamilton Ball's Shakespeare on Silent Film (1968) for an excellent review of these movies), I have chosen to examine only “talking” films. the sound versions faithfully reflect the house styles of studios acknowledged as making up Hollywood, as that designation is widely understood. For example, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, silent-film stars who made the transition to “talkies” with The Taming of the Shrew (1929), reflect the conventions of the star system, by means of which studios ensured attendance and loyalty in their audiences. Though they may have known little about Shakespeare's Kate and Petruchio, 1929 moviegoers believed . . .

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