Monday, April 7, 2014

Romeo And Juliet (1954) DVD Review

Romeo And Juliet  (1954) stars Laurence Harvey, Susan Shentall, Flora Robson, Norman Wooland, Mervyn Johns, and John Gielgud. It was directed by Renato Castellani. This film version has some good performances (particularly by Susan Shentall as Juliet and Mervyn Johns as Friar Lawrence), and nice production design, but suffers from bizarre cuts. Most of the stuff with Benvolio and Mercutio is cut, which is a shame. More baffling is the fact that the apothecary scene is cut. It’s odd, because other scenes are allowed to play out very nicely, and Castellani even adds scenes. What’s present is mostly quite good, but the film suffers from what is missing.

Act I

John Gielgud plays the Chorus, and as the film opens, he closes and puts down a book of the works of Shakespeare and begins his speech.

Then we see people carrying things to the outdoor market. Sampson drinks water from a fountain before speaking his first line, “I strike quickly, being moved.” (The first few lines of Act I Scene i are cut.) Sampson is wonderful, with a nervous nature, wanting to prove himself, but not really wanting to fight. But fight they quickly do, and Abram is killed, the Capulets then fleeing. Thus, when Benvolio enters, the fight is already over. He and the other Montague then chase the two Capulets all the way to the Capulet palace. Tybalt then comes out from the house to deliver his first line. Meanwhile back at the marketplace, there are lines spoken about Abram having been killed by a Capulet. The fight then continues just outside the Capulet home, and Benvolio does not try to stop it. The film cuts then to the Prince later giving his speech to both Montague and Capulet.

Romeo (Laurence Harvey), in red, is seated out in nature when Benvolio greets him. This film uses the Q2 reading of Romeo’s line: “Tut, I have lost myself.” The last line is Romeo’s “Ah, word ill urg’d to one that is so ill.”

We then go to Scene iii at the Capulet house, with Juliet (Susan Shentall) being helped by a servant. The first few lines are cut, and the scene begins with Juliet’s “How now, who calls?” While Nurse (Flora Robson) rambles on, she helps Juliet dress, while Lady Capulet sits, slightly annoyed. Lady Capulet’s delivery of “Marry, that ‘marry’ is the very theme I came to talk of” is wonderful and funny. After Lady Capulet mentions Paris, the film goes back to Act I Scene ii between Capulet and Paris. Meanwhile Juliet is urged to look at Paris from the balcony as he leaves. And then Lady Capulet says, “What say you, can you love the gentleman?

The film then cuts to the night of the party, and Romeo secretly follows Rosaline (so cut is the scene where Romeo reads the list of invited guests). Benvolio and Mercutio suddenly come upon him, and Benvolio says a line from Act I Scene i: “I aim’d so near when I suppos’d you lov’d.” Interestingly, Mercutio then says Benvolio’s line, “A right fair mark, fair coz, is soonest hit.” And Romeo continues with his speech from that scene about Rosaline having Dian’s wit. The entire Queen Mab speech is cut, which is a shame. Romeo follows guests into the Capulet courtyard (without a mask), but Benvolio and Mercutio do not go with him. He then enters the home through an unlocked gate. Most everyone is in red inside the party. Capulet at first comes off as a jolly man, which is nice. Tybalt is told that Romeo is there (instead of recognizing him by his voice), and Tybalt goes to tell Capulet. The line where Capulet compliments Romeo is cut. Masks are handed out to all guests, but Capulet is upset at Romeo’s presence and tosses his mask to the floor. Interestingly, the reactions of the guests lead to his line about when he wore a visor. Juliet is in white, and Romeo sees her dancing. Interestingly, Rosaline actually has a line. She goes up to Romeo, hands him a mask and tells him: “Put on the mask and leave this place at once. Go.” Right after that, Romeo says, “O she doth teach the torches to burn bright.” But because that immediately follows his interaction with Rosaline, it could be misconstrued as being about her. He delivers those lines to himself, not to the audience. Juliet then sees Romeo. It is then that Romeo asks the servant her name. Juliet keeps looking back at him, as she is pulled away, which is wonderful, especially as we see it from Romeo’s point of view, so she is being pulled away from us as well. The next dance is done in masks, and Romeo manages to partner himself with Juliet. He grabs her hand during the dance, leading to his “gentle sin” speech. He pulls her out of the dance when they realize they’ve missed some steps. Nurse enters after Romeo’s “lest faith turn to despair,” interrupting before they have a chance to kiss. So all the lines about the kiss are cut.

Act II

We then have a shot of Juliet praying in her chamber. (Oddly, the chorus is cut from the end of Act I, even though they hired John Gielgud.) We then go to Romeo on the street when he says “Can I go forward when my heart is here?” Benvolio and Mercutio, along with a few others, then enter. Romeo is revealed atop the wall. Then when they leave, he says his “jests at scars” line, then jumps down onto the other side of the wall, into the Capulet courtyard. Right after Romeo’s “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?” it goes right to Juliet’s “O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” Thus a lot of the humor of the scene is gone, as well as some of its most famous lines. This film has Q1’s “rose by any other name” instead of the better Q2’s “any other word.” Romeo remains hidden behind a column until “Neither, fair maid,” when he reveals himself. Juliet says the “Parting is such sweet sorrow” line. And that is the last line of the scene.

We then see the Friar picking flowers. He, not Romeo, speaks the “grey-ey’d Morn” line, following Q1, and then leading directly to his “Now ere the sun advance” speech. Romeo is waiting for him when he returns. The Friar is quite good in this scene. The last two lines of the scene are cut.

The film then jumps to Juliet’s “The clock struck nine when I did send the nurse.” So gone is the scene with Benvolio and Mercutio talking about Tybalt, and the Nurse meeting Romeo. Juliet has a delightful and youthful excitement about her when she sees the Nurse coming. The Nurse laughs at Juliet’s “out of breath” line. The scene is wonderful, but is cut after Juliet’s “I have.”

We then go to the Friar and Romeo, and interestingly Friar speaks some lines from his earlier scene: “For naught so vile that on the earth doth live.” He then says his “Too swift arrives as tardy as too slow” line, shockingly cutting the “violent delights have violent ends” line. That’s a pretty important line. The Nurse accompanies Juliet to see the Friar. Interestingly, they’re married through a metal gate separating them, apparently because women aren’t allowed further in. Juliet then kisses the Nurse on the forehead.


Romeo, joyous, enters the marketplace. Tybalt follows him and confronts him. So all of the stuff with Benvolio and Mercutio is cut. The first line of the scene is Tybalt’s “Romeo, the love I bear thee can afford/No better term than this, thou art a villain.” Mercutio then enters for his “O calm, dishon’rable, vile submission.” And Benvolio enters in time for Romeo’s “Draw, Benvolio, beat down their weapons.” Oddly, the very moment Mercutio is stabbed, he says: “Why the devil came you between us? I was hurt under your arm.” Romeo’s response, “I thought all for the best,” is cut. And Benvolio says Romeo’s line, “Courage, man, the hurt cannot be much.” So Mercutio says all his lines to Benvolio, not Romeo, which really weakens their impact. Mercutio says “A plague a both your houses” just once and then dies right there before Romeo steps up to where he lies. But because of all the cuts, Mercutio’s death has very little meaning or impact. Romeo then chases after Tybalt, rather than Tybalt returning. Romeo quickly stabs him. They don’t really fight. Romeo leaves after “Fortune’s fool,” so Benvolio’s next line is cut. Tybalt’s body is carried to the Capulet home, so Lady Capulet’s lines are delivered there. That also means that Juliet hears them, and right away knows that Romeo killed Tybalt. So cut is all of that great confusion where Juliet thinks briefly that Romeo is slain. Also cut is Juliet’s “Gallop a pace” speech. After Juliet and Nurse’s dialogue (except all to do with banishment, as that sentence is not yet given), we then get Benvolio’s description of what happened, given in front of the seated prince.

We then go to Friar Lawrence who learns of Romeo’s banishment and tells Romeo. The bit with Romeo and the dagger is cut, as is most of the Friar’s big speech.

We have a brief farewell scene with Romeo and his parents. Then we see the rope ladder drop and Romeo climbing it. Juliet then says to Romeo lines she speaks to the Nurse in the play: “Back, foolish tears…” After “Wherefore weep I then,” we go to the morning and the sound of the lark.

From there, the film goes to the previous scene with Capulet and Paris, where the marriage is decided. Then Lady Capulet enters Juliet’s chamber to tell her of the marriage plans. I’m glad the film takes its time with the scene when Juliet realizes she has no allies in her home, not even the Nurse. It’s excellent, and Juliet does a really good job with it.

Act IV

Paris is cut from the first scene of Act IV. Interestingly, some lines are added to the Friar’s speech regarding the plan. After Juliet leaves, the Friar pets a rabbit and begins to write his letter to Romeo. (Why include that while cutting other, important stuff?) After a brief moment between Juliet and Capulet, we see Friar Lawrence finishing the letter and handing it to Friar John. And we see Friar John set out on a donkey. (Again, this isn’t necessary to see, especially when so much else is cut.)

And then while Juliet’s dress is being made, Juliet and Paris speak some of the dialogue that should have been at the Friar’s cell at the beginning of Act IV.

There is an added scene of Friar John entering Mantua, and a woman rushing to him asking him to go see a dying man. Friar John visits the sick man and sees it’s the plague, causing a panic. And we see him get locked into the man’s home. This basically stops the film, and gives us information before Shakespeare would have us have it.

We then go to Act IV Scene iii, when Juliet is ready for bed. There’s a great use of the dummy with Juliet’s wedding gown, for she looks at it when saying she thinks she sees Tybalt’s ghost. After she drinks the potion she then goes to the dress.

When the Nurse finds her, she is in the dress. Most of the Nurse’s speech is cut. She quickly sees that Juliet is dead after “What, not a word?” And after she cries out “She’s dead,” the scene ends, thus cutting Lady Capulet’s reaction, Capulet’s reaction, Paris’ reaction, the Friar’s entrance, and all of the stuff with the musicians (though a few of these lines will be included later).

Act V

Romeo wakes and immediately goes into the first speech of Act V. Romeo takes Balthasar’s horse and shouts his line about lying with Juliet tonight. The rest of his speech is cut, and so is – shockingly – the Apothecary.

We then get a funeral procession scene, and shots of Romeo riding furiously back to Verona and sneaking into town. Romeo goes straight to the Friar’s cell, but is told Lawrence is not there. We then go back to the funeral (so Romeo really did ride quickly). It is then we get Capulet’s reaction to Juliet’s death: “Death lies on her like an untimely frost.” Lady Capulet’s lamentations are included here also, as well as the Friar’s lines trying to calm them.

Romeo arrives too late at the church, but finds a way in. He then goes to the tomb, but hasn’t the strength to force aside the stone lid. It is this lid that replaces the usual gate to enter the tomb. So Romeo goes to get a giant candlestick to use to pry open the lid. (This actually makes sense with Lawrence’s line about the need for the iron crow.) Meanwhile Friar John arrives and tells Lawrence he couldn’t find Romeo. While Romeo is trying to open the lid, Paris comes upon him. Romeo kills him with the large candlestick. They do not fight with swords in this version. Balthasar is cut from this scene (he was left in Mantua), so also cut is the letter Romeo gives him. Also, Paris’ Page is cut. So there is no one to call the watch and hurry things along. Romeo is finally able to move aside the lid and descend into the tomb. Because the Apothecary is cut, Romeo has no poison, and pulls out his dagger on “Come bitter conduct.” After “weary bark,” he stabs himself, just as Friar Lawrence arrives at the church. Not only is the line about “true apothecary” cut, but also Romeo’s last line and kiss.Why cut the kiss?

The Friar finds Paris’ body and calls down to Romeo. It is then that Juliet wakes. Juliet sees Romeo, rather than the Friar pointing him out to her. Because the Apothecary is cut, most of Juliet’s lines are cut too. She says, “Thy lips are warm,” and then “This is thy sheath.” Juliet’s death is so rushed. She pushes the dagger into herself (though not all the way), saying her last line, and then dies. The Friar, oddly, is still there, though he has said “I dare no longer stay.” Because Balthasar and Page were not in the scene, no watch was called, so people don’t rush to the tomb. Instead, the film cuts to the next day. The Capulets and Montagues are there, as Romeo and Juliet’s bodies lie next to each other on the church floor. Lady Capulet says, “O me! this sight of death is as a bell/That warns my old age as to a sepulcher.” The Prince then says, “Capulet! Montague! See what a scourge is laid upon your hate.” So all of the Friar’s lines are cut, explaining what happened. Capulet then goes to Montague and says, “O brother Montague, give me your hand.” But cut are the lines about the statues. The Prince walks away saying his final speech.

Time: 138 minutes

(The DVD includes the film's trailer.)

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