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Russell Jackson's Shakespeare Films in the Making (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007) traces five films from their earliest planning to their critical reception: the Warner Brothers 1935 Midsummer Night's Dream directed by Max Reinhardt; Laurence Olivier's 1944 Henry V; and three versions of Romeo and Juliet--MGM's 1936 prestige production, starring Norma Shearer and Leslie Howard; Renato Castellani's 1954 film (a surprising choice); and France Zeffirelli's generation gap success of 1968. The book is equally admirable for the depth and scope of its research and for the quality of its interpretations and evaluations that the research supports.
The researching includes biographies, autobiographies, memoirs, histories (some in German for Reinhardt; some in Italian for Castellani and Zeffirelli), reminiscences, news releases (with accompanying caveats), internal memoranda, and most notably, unpublished script materials. Jackson has investigated the holdings of at least nine different archives; this is by a large margin the most extensive use of such materials in the criticism of Shakespeare on film. The investigation of these unpublished scripts frequently allows Jackson to speak with very considerable authority. He is able, for example, to present the reality behind reports that Reinhardt's Dream once had a sequence in which Theseus defeated the Amazon Queen Hippolyta and another in which Bottom was bedeviled by a shrewish wife. Both sequences were in fact scripted, but neither seems to have been filmed. Indeed, starting with Reinhardt's 296 page "pre-shooting" script, a very great deal of Athenian military adventure abroad and romantic/domestic complication at home seems to have been given some show of consideration, although most of this material, one expects, would have given little return for its cost in time and money.
Jackson not only reads the surviving scripts well--(He notes, by the way, that the Indian prince was not played by Kenneth Anger, as Anger claimed, but by a little girl named Sheila Brown.)--he also reads the film itself well. In this …