Review: ‘Romeo and Juliet’

Romeo and Juliet is a faithful and not too imaginative translation to the screen of the William Shakespeare play.

Romeo and Juliet is a faithful and not too imaginative translation to the screen of the William Shakespeare play.

Romeo and Juliet is a love-story tragedy, requiring precise pace in order that the beauty of its poetry shall be thoroughly grasped. The fine lyric qualities have been retained, and from that point of view there is every reason to laud the production as successful. In accomplishing this worthy purpose, however, the tempo is a beat or two slower than the familiar methods of modern story telling.

Surprisingly few liberties have been taken with the original text. Preparation for the screen was confined chiefly to condensation.

Norma Shearer adds an important portrait to her gallery of roles. She never conveys the impression that she is getting a great kick out of the part, and her restraint aids her conception of the characterization of the daughter of the Capulets, a child of 14.

The famous balcony love scene with Leslie Howard is played sincerely and beautifully. She makes the final tragic moments of the play convincing and moving.

Against her child-like figure, Howard and Ralph Forbes, rival suitors, appear years her senior. Howard’s Romeo is a forthright young man of considerable determination, rather than a headstrong, impassioned young lover. But what illusion is lost in looks, Howard adequately makes up in speech. His lines are clearly spoken.

After a rather hesitant beginning John Barrymore makes a real, live person out of Mercutio. His opening scenes are hurried, noisy and indistinct. But the passages preceding and following the fatal duel with Basil Rathbone (Tybalt) are exciting and thrilling. Barrymore plays in the grand manner, which the part allows.

1936: Nominations: Best Picture, Actress (Norma Shearer), Supp. Actor (Basil Rathbone), Art Direction

Romeo and Juliet


M-G-M. Director George Cukor; Producer Irving Thalberg; Screenplay Talbot Jennings; Camera William Daniels; Editor Margaret Booth; Music Herbert Stothart; Art Director Cedric Gibbons, Oliver Messel


(B&W) Available on VHS. Extract of a review from 1936. Running time: 130 MIN.


Norma Shearer Leslie Howard John Barrymore Edna May Oliver Basil Rathbone C. Aubrey Smith
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