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Cinema: The New Pictures: Nov. 9, 1936

6 minute read

As You Like It (Paul Czinner) exhibits Elisabeth Bergner as Rosalind in the third play by William Shakespeare offered to cinema audiences within the last year. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Max Reinhardt’s cinema debut, and Romeo and Juliet, the late Irving Thalberg’s masterpiece, had at least one thing in common: neither one has broken records for receipts. The critical acclaim which As You Like It received in London last summer and will receive in the U. S. this winter is not likely to save it from the same fate. Box-office appeal is one of the few virtues the film lacks. A skillful, energetic and scrupulously authentic production, into which Actress Bergner’s director-husband, Paul Czinner, put all his brains and $1,000,000 of his money, it is aimed at Shakespeare’s public rather than the cinema’s and should find its mark.

In As You Like It, Shakespeare exhibited perhaps more spectacularly than any where else that nonchalant contempt for probability which cinemaddicts, trained in an easier school, find so difficult to accept. However this may militate against the picture’s monetary value, it is of frequent assistance to its star. As an interpreter of the most solidly English of all English playwrights, Elisabeth Bergner’s most pronounced drawback is an outlandish accent which she makes no effort to control. In As You Like It, the heterogeneous aspect of a forest already overrun by an astonishing gamut of classes, nationalities and wild animals is not greatly increased by a heroine who voices her passion in Germanic gutturals. Audiences may be pardoned for anticipating a czardas instead of a square dance in the closing pageant, but otherwise Actress Bergner’s linguistic eccentricities actually serve a useful purpose. They make Elizabethan usages seem amusingly exotic rather than obsolete. Her temperamental inability to stop wriggling is of less assistance, but even this, in a role which does not stress feminine allure, is less objectionable than it might be elsewhere. Shrewd, vivacious and versatile as ever, Actress Bergner probably brings the part to life as thoroughly as possible.

Like Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s Romeo and Juliet, the Czinner As You Like It is textually exact. Sir James Barrie made the treatment from which Screenwriter R. J. Cullen wrote the scenario. Said Cinemactress Bergner: “I would like you to believe that we have made the film with love and with reverence. ” . . We have had slightly to cut one or two of the longer speeches, but every word that we have left out has only been left out after argument, quarreling, and occasional tears.” To highlight his wife’s performance, Director Czinner saw to it that other roles, like Laurence Olivier’s Orlando, Leon Quartermaine’s Jaques, were played in a more subdued key. To give the screen version a scope that no stage production can hope to match, he allowed Set Designer Lazare Meersom, whose work U. S. audiences have heretofore seen only in French pictures like Carnival in Flanders, a free hand. Brilliantly matched with the glittering poetry of the play are its rich backgrounds—huge dark trees in Arden forest, the barnyard where Orlando and his brother wrestle, the sweep of marble stairs above Duke Frederick’s garden.

Rose Bowl (Paramount) provided the University of Southern California football squad with a nice stretch of work this summer at standard Hollywood pay for costume extras. Cinemaddicts who are also football fans will recognize Tod Goodwin, famed star of the New York Giants (professional) at end. The burly, dark-haired young man who stops a locker-room tiff between Paddy O’Riley (Tom Brown) and Dutch Schultz (Benny Baker) is Nick Lukats, 1933 Notre Dame halfback, now a Paramount contract player. Director Charles Barton needed this kind of cast. Rose Bowl’s games are not composed of matched stock-shots in the accepted current technique, but were played partly on U. S. C.’s fields, partly in the Rose Bowl, partly on a gridiron built on the Paramount tank stage. The resulting action shots are the clearest of the current football picture cycle, a verisimilitude unfortunately not shared by the plot.

O’Riley and Merrill (Larry Crabbe) are rivals for Cheers Reynolds, small town sweet-shop operator (Eleanore Whitney). O’Riley goes to little Green Ridge College where he warms the bench. Merrill becomes a star at big Sierra. Agile ballyhooing of the players’ amatory conflicts, complicated by Merrill’s infatuation for a cinemactress (Priscilla Lawson), builds Green Ridge into a Rose Bowl attraction. Here Coach Moore (William Frawley) wins the game by putting O’Riley in, disguised in a nose cast, after he has dismissed him from the team for improper behavior. Best part: Larry (“Buster”) Crabbe, 1932 Olympic swimmer, more recently famed as Flash Gordon, as a linebucker and smalltown girl jilter.

A Woman Rebels (RKO). Ever since Katharine Hepburn set the cinema industry by the ears with Little Women, her employers have been trying doggedly to discover just what elusive factor, added to the stock formula of Lavender & Old Lace, made that picture so sensationally successful. A Woman Rebels represents an effort to discover if the element was the revolt of a young girl against convention. That the experiment is conducted with painstaking care only makes it the more apparent that the hypothesis is faulty.

Pamela Thistlewaite (Katharine Hepburn) and her sister Flora (Elizabeth Allan) are daughters of a mid-Victorian prig (Donald Crisp) who, to punish them for disobeying their governess, can think of nothing more suitable than to marry them off. Flora soon weds a young officer in the Navy. Pam’s young man turns out to be a cad; he leaves her on the verge of becoming a husbandless mother. When an accident kills off Flora’s ensign, Flora, also pregnant, dies of the shock. Painful but convenient, the circumstances of her death — in Italy where both sisters are holidaying — make things much easier for Pam. She comes back to London with her baby, explains that it is Flora’s.

The second half of A Woman Rebels concerns Pam’s daring contradiction of the Victorian dictum that ladies should not work. She runs a magazine that campaigns for women’s rights. Meantime, she nurses a long-frustrated love for a sympathetic diplomat (Herbert Marshall). When Pam’s daughter (Doris Dudley), matured into a skinny young woman with 1936 posture, falls in love with the son of the man who wronged her mother, it is a blessing in disguise. To save her from incest, Pam reveals the truth about her origin, clears the air by marrying her diplomat.

Marked by none of the vitality of its predecessors in Katharine Hepburn’s Victorian series, A Woman Rebels is saved from complete mediocrity by her well-modulated performance and by the admirable feeling for background and atmosphere implicit in Mark Sandrich’s direction. Good shot : the inevitable altercation, on her first visit to Mme Tussaud’s, between Pamela and a wax policeman.

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