A Midsummer Night's Dream ★★★½

Often sumptuous visualization (Warner Bros. is "honored to present" it) of Shakespeare, as staged originally by Max Reinhardt at the Hollywood Bowl in 1934; at its best -- during the forest ballet scenes -- it's a truly dreamlike, enchanting experience, nearly separate from the wit and sensuality of the play itself, and it attains an intoxicating romantic quality even if it isn't wholly successful at telling the actual story. Unfortunately the portions that do rely on dialogue are cut at the knees by casting; James Cagney acquits himself well enough as Bottom, and Olivia de Havilland (Hermia) is her usual delightful self, but the only thing more embarrassing than Dick Powell stumbling through Lysander is the completely inexplicable performance of Mickey Rooney in the role of Puck, one of the most intolerably annoying bouts of "acting" I've ever seen in a film. He doesn't know how to read the lines, and the noises he makes to enhance the performance are screeching torture; Rooney can be great in the right film and the right role, but here he nearly single-handedly derails a respectable, well-directed adaptation of a nearly flawless source. Good studio-level Shakespeare films are extremely thin on the ground, and it's largely because of the bizarre impulse to cast the likes of Rooney and Keanu Reeves and Leonardo DiCaprio and Mel Gibson in them, favoring the commercial importance of star power over the fact that they have no clue what it is they're saying or performing.