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Film / Romeo and Juliet (1936)

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Romeo and Juliet is a 1936 film directed by George Cukor.

It stars The Marx Brothers in a story where—no, just kidding, it's an adaptation of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. The Montagues and Capulets, "two households both alike in dignity" of Verona, hate each other for reasons unknown. One Romeo Montague is depressed because he has just been dumped by his girlfriend, Rosaline, a distant relative of the Capulet family. He crashes a Capulet party in hopes of seeing Rosaline, but once he meets Lord Capulet's beautiful daughter Juliet, he instantly falls in love and all thoughts of Rosaline are forgotten.

Juliet falls in love with Romeo as well, despite the fact that her parents are pushing her to marry another nobleman, Paris. With the help of Juliet's faithful Nurse, the two are married in secret. However, the next day Juliet's cousin Tybalt kills Romeo's cousin Mercutio in a duel, followed by Romeo killing Tybalt. Romeo is then banished from Verona. Can these Star-Crossed Lovers find happiness? Of course not!

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Leslie Howard and Norma Shearer star as the title characters (they were 43 and 34 years old respectively). Other members of the All-Star Cast include Basil Rathbone as Tybalt and John Barrymore as Mercutio.

Compare the acclaimed 1968 film Romeo and Juliet, or the 1996 modernized version with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes, William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet.


Tropes:

  • Balcony Wooing Scene: It's pretty famous! There's also what may be a satirical echo on this, as Mercutio is repeatedly seen flirting with what looks like a bunch of hookers, enjoying the air from a second-floor balcony.
  • Bambification: In the 1936 film, Juliet has a pet fawn just to emphasize her innocence.
  • Book-Ends: The film opens with a sort of stylized storybook stage, in which Prince Escalus, the ruler of Athens (not a Chorus as in the play), appears to deliver the "Two households" prologue. Then there's a shot of a painting of Verona, which zooms in to the Verona set and the story. The film ends by doing this in reverse; there's a zoom out from Verona, then the shot of the painting as the camera continues zooming out, then the stylized storybook stage, The End.
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  • Character Filibuster: Mercutio's "Queen Mab" speech, in which he babbles on about basically nothing for over thirty lines. John Barrymore, who by this stage in his career was routinely showing up drunk to work, nailed the whole speech anyway.
  • Chiaroscuro: The climactic scene in the Capulet family crypt has a lot of contrast between light and shadow, being lit by candles underground.
  • Composite Character:
    • Prince Escalus of Verona is merged with the Chorus, which allows him to deliver both the opening and closing lines.
    • Peter the servant gets the lines of another minor character, Sampson, in the "do you bite your thumb at us?" opening scene.
  • Death Glare: Tybalt is basically required by law to do this, and indeed Basil Rathbone does whenever he spots Montagues in the town square.
  • Diabolus ex Machina: The final tragedy only plays out because, out of nowhere, the Friar gets detained in a quarantined town after an outbreak of plague, so he can't get a message to Romeo.
  • The Dying Walk: This movie is one of several adaptations that has Mercutio walking unsteadily away as he delivers his "you shall find me a grave man" dying speech.
  • Establishing Character Moment: How sweet and innocent is Juliet? The first time she comes on screen she is feeding a doe.
  • Face Framed in Shadow: Only one half of Romeo's face is lit, by a single candle, as he's in the creepy apothecary's shop buying his poison.
  • Faux Death: Juliet takes poison to fake her death. It doesn't work out.
  • Finger-Twitching Revival: Juliet is first seen to revive in the end when her hands, which were clasped together under her chin, unclasp and move down.
  • Fly Away Shot: The film ends with a fly away zoom out from the main square in Verona (thus book-ending the first shot of the film).
  • For Doom the Bell Tolls: Heavy tolling bells set the appropriate depressing mood for Juliet's funeral.
  • Gallows Humor: Mercutio's whole "you shall find me a grave man" dying speech.
  • Garden of Love: Straight from the play, the Balcony Wooing Scene has Romeo in the garden, wooing Juliet.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: Shakespeare filled his plays with dirty jokes but The Hays Code forbade suggestive humor or dirty words. It's rather amazing that the movie was able to get the line "for the bawdy hand of the dial [a sundial] is even now upon the prick of noon" past the censors, especially given the obvious joy with which John Barrymore hits the word "prick"; the Nurse even registers a wickedly delighted reaction, acknowledging it to be an obvious sex joke.
  • Gratuitous Laboratory Flasks: The Friar has the standard movie scientist's arrangement of exotic glass flasks and beakers bubbling with smoke.
  • Little People Are Surreal: The Capulets keep a couple of little people in their household, apparently just for amusement. They are seen wrestling in the party scene where Romeo meets Juliet.
  • Parlor Games: Rosaline is seen playing blind man's bluff.
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: Romeo climbs over Juliet's balcony, and we get a cut away to shots of the trees and the stars in the sky and such.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: In the play Lady Montague dies offstage. In this film she is seen at the end, wearing mourning clothes.
  • Spiteful Spit: Peter, the Nurse's manservant, spits at the Capulets in the opening scene.
  • Victoria's Secret Compartment: One of the hookers that Mercutio likes to flirt with pulls a string out of her Compartment and lowers it down from a balcony. Mercutio ties a flask of liquor to the string and the hooker hauls it back up.
  • Video Credits: Video of all the main players at the start of the film for the opening credits.
  • The Voiceless: Rosaline is The Ghost in the play but here she actually appears onscreen. She is playing blind man's bluff at the Capulet party, and she sneers at Romeo and turns away after he finds her.
  • Widow's Weeds: Both Lady Montague and Lady Capulet are wearing mourning clothes with veils in the final scene.
  • Young Love Versus Old Hate: A central theme, as the children of two blood-enemy clans fall in love.
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