Romeo + Juliet [1996]

The lovers of Shakespeare's tragi-romance are brought to suitably quivering life by Norma Shearer and Leslie Howard in this glossy 1936 MGM take on the play. And yes, they're a tad older than the headstrong youths of Shakespeare's story (Howard was 43!), but they make up for that with sheer fervor. Shearer's performance looks like Great Lady acting at times, but she commits completely to Juliet's passion, and Howard is a delight. Basil Rathbone and Edna May Oliver are slam-dunk casting as Tybalt and the Nurse, respectively, and if John Barrymore is too weathered for Mercutio, he nevertheless works up an antic, sarcastic energy in the role. The production was supervised by MGM boy wonder Irving Thalberg (Shearer's husband), and it's an utterly lavish affair; the courtyard for the balcony scene looks exactly as expansive and studio-moon-drenched as your romantic imagination tells you it should. The film went the way of many such prestige productions: director George Cukor later said it lost a million dollars. (This was the same year he made Sylvia Scarlett, another box-office flop that has aged well.) It may be Shakespeare Lite, but the film zips along on the back of a love story that has been, to say the least, quite durable over the years. --Robert Horton

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