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Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet(1936)

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According to a Daily Variety pre-release news item, the August 1936 world premiere of this picture in New York was to be followed by a prestigious opening in Stratford-on-Avon, England. A November 1935 Daily Variety news item notes that production on the picture was held up due to casting difficulties for the part of "Romeo." The article notes that "practically all available players in Hollywood have been tested" for the part, though none were acceptable to producer Irving Thalberg. Contemporary news items and modern sources indicate that actors Robert Montgomery, Brian Aherne, Clark Gable, Robert Donat, Laurence Olivier, Franchot Tone and Robert Taylor were among those considered for the part of "Romeo." A Hollywood Reporter pre-release news item notes that at one point, Robert Taylor had been named as the studio's second choice for the lead in the event that its deal with Warner Bros., in which Montgomery and other unnamed M-G-M actors were "traded" for Warner Bros. stars Paul Muni and Leslie Howard, fell through. News items also note that Maurice Murphy replaced William Henry as "Balthasar," and Henry Daniell, who was originally set for the part of "Paris," was given the part of "Benvolio" and was then replaced by Reginald Denny.
       According to Hollywood Reporter, M-G-M planned to shoot the entire picture twice to "ensure that they got the most out of the production." The two-part filming, which was said to be the first time that a studio employed such a technique, involved the shooting of the players' rehearsals against a black backdrop in addition to the conventional filming.
       Hollywood Reporter and New York Times news items noted that John Mansfield and Cyril Hume took writing assignments on the film, and that conductor Wilhelm von Wymetal was assigned to "handle the operatic sequence," but their contribution to the final film has not been confirmed. Hollywood Reporter production charts and pre-release news items list actors John Bryan, Jeanne Hart, Rodney Bell, Adrian Rosley, Vernon Downing, Gertrude Astor, Dorothy Granger, Anthony Marsh, Madeline Talcott, Howard Wilson, Charles Albin and Francis X. Bushman, Jr. in the cast, but their appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. Francis X. Bushman, Jr. (also known as Ralph Bushman) was the son of actor Francis X. Bushman, who played "Romeo" in Metro Pictures Corp.'s 1916 version of Romeo and Juliet. John Bryan, a professional Shakespearean actor, was originally announced for the part of "Friar John," and Anthony Marsh, an "amateur" player, was announced for the bit role of "Mecutio's page." Hollywood Reporter also notes that Dr. W. W. Dearborn, a chiropractor who received his first bit role in The Great Ziegfeld, was set for a speaking part in the film. According to a Motion Picture Herald news item, M-G-M's research department spent two years gathering background material for the film, which included the dispatching of a technical crew to photograph parts of Verona, Italy. A New York Times article indicates that M-G-M reconstructed Verona's Church of San Zeno on eight acres of the studio's backlot, and that three replicas of "Juliet's" famous balcony were built so that the cameramen could get all the camera angles they wanted without having to use a crane. A Hollywood Reporter pre-release news item notes that Leslie Howard was advised by a doctor to take a convalescent cruise following the completetion of his work on the film. Howard was absent from the set twice during production, once when he fell ill, and again after he was injured while filming a duel scene. A New York Times article notes that "casting wizard" William Grady was responsible for the casting of 2,000 extras, 900 of whom had appeared in previous Shakespeare productions. The New York Times article also indicates that James Vincent, stage actress Katherine Cornell's stage manager, was "engaged in an advisory capacity." According to an unidentified source in the AMPAS production file for the 1932 M-G-M film Blondie of the Follies, newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst banned Norma Shearer's name from his newspapers because he thought that Marion Davies, his longtime friend and protege, should have beat out Shearer (Thalberg's wife) for the part of Juliet. A biography of director George Cukor notes that art director Cedric Gibbons often feuded with his collaborator, Oliver Messel. Messel and Gibbons, according to Hollywood Reporter, were embroiled in a "great credit battle" over the designs for the film until Thalberg designated Gibbons as the official "designer of sets" and put Messel in charge of the costumes with Adrian.
       The file for the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library contains a letter sent from PCA official Joseph I. Breen to Irving Thalberg, dated December 20, 1935, in which Breen, after viewing some of the early footage of the film, told Thalberg that "the present manner of playing this bedroom scene is highly inadvisable. In the first place, it seems to us that any attempt to inject anything approaching a 'hot' bedroom scene into a Shakespeare classic would be a serious mistake." Breen suggested that Thalberg "omit all the action of them [Romeo and Juliet] lying on the bed, fondling one another in a horizontal position, and pulling one another down." The PCA files also note that censors in Spain deleted the following dialogue from the film: Juliet: "Wilt thou be gone? It is not yet near day. It was a nightingale, and not a lark that pierced the fearful hollow of thine ear. Nightly she sings on yon pomegrante tree. Believe me, love, it was the nightingale." Romeo: "It was the lark, the herald of the morn, no nightingale. Look." In addition, censors in Japan deleted a number of kissing scenes; censors in Alberta ordered the shortening of the stabbing in "Juliet's" death scene; and censors in Java deleted all of "Juliet's" suicide scene. Romeo and Juliet was rejected in its entirety by the German censors.
       Many films and televised programs have been based on or inspired by Shakespeare's play, including: the 1916 Fox film Romeo and Juliet, directed by J. Gordon Edwards and starring Theda Bara and Harry Hilliard; Metro Pictures Corp.'s 1916 film Romeo and Juliet, directed by John W. Noble and starring Francis X. Bushman and Beverly Bayne (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20; F1.3772 and F1.3773); West Side Story, a 1961 United Artists film directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins and starring Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer; the 1964 Italian-Spanish co-production, Guiletta e Romeo, directed by Riccardo Freda and starring Gerald Meynier and Rosemarie Dexter; the 1968 Italian-British co-production, Romeo and Juliet, directed by Franco Zeffirelli and starring Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70; F6. 5499, F6.4150 and F6.4150a); the Bolshoi Ballet's production of Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet, which starred Mikhail Lavrovsk and Natalia Bessmertnova and aired on the CBS television network on June 27, 1976; and the BBC-produced Romeo and Juliet teleplay, directed by Alvin Rakoff and starring Patrick Ryecart and Rebecca Saire, which aired on the PBS network on March 14, 1979. The 1929 M-G-M musical revue entitled The Hollywood Revue of 1929 featured Norma Shearer and John Gilbert performing a Technicolor skit in which they acted out the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30; F2.2553). Romeo and Juliet was named as one of the ten best pictures of 1937 by the Film Daily nationwide film critics poll, and received Academy Award nominations in the following categories: Best Picture; Best Actress (Norma Shearer); Best Supporting Actor (Basil Rathbone); and Best Interior Decoration.