A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 350 – Romeo and Juliet (1968)

Romeo and Juliet (1968) – February 13th, 2011

Back in my college days I worked for a video store. I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating here because of how we shelved our movies. We didn’t keep them out on the floor like Blockbuster did. We kept the boxes out there and the actual cassettes behind the counter, so customers had to come up and ask us for the movies they wanted. Sometimes, when it was a movie with a unique title and only one version/volume, it was simple. But anything Shakespearean was a pain in the ass. And since we were near several colleges, we got a lot of requests for various productions of pretty much every Shakespearean play ever filmed. We all got to know which versions were most often assigned and needed and this version of Romeo and Juliet was very popular indeed. And yet, even though I took classes on Shakespeare and enjoyed watching the plays, I never saw this one. Maybe because it was always out.

Like much of our Shakespeare, this is a long-ish movie. Which, in my opinion, is a good thing. While I do love the Reduced Shakespeare Company version of the play, when done for dramatic purposes instead of comedic it’s certainly nice to let the characters have time to build the romance and tragedy. While this story has been done and redone and overdone to the point of being a cliche, when done well it can have some true tragic weight to it. Sure, it’s easy to poke fun at how emo Romeo and Juliet are, with the weeping and the whirlwind romance and all, but when you pay attention to the motivations as written, it’s a lot better than the cliche.

We all know the story, but let’s go over it anyhow. I’ve got things to say. The play is set in Verona, where two feuding families, the Capulets and the Montagues, have been bickering for some time. The Prince of Verona is pretty fed up with it all and issued bans on fighting in the city, but the Capulets and Montagues don’t seem to care and get into it all the time. In the middle of this we meet a Montague, Romeo, and find out that he’s kind of a hopeless romantic. He sees Juliet while at a Capulet party he shouldn’t have been at, falls totally in love with her at first sight, and earns the enmity of her cousin, Tybalt. Romeo and Juliet meet secretly, get married secretly, and spend their wedding night together secretly before the whole feud comes to a head and Romeo, Tybalt and a Montague named Mercutio end up dueling in the public square. Tybalt kills Mercutio, Romeo kills Tybalt and it all ends with Romeo banished and still the only ones who know Romeo and Juliet are married are themselves and Friar Laurence, who performed the marriage. When Juliet’s father declares that she will be wed to Paris, Juliet is understandably distraught and begs for the friar’s help. He gives her something to help her feign death, planning to let Romeo know so the two can then run off together. And then, as we all know, there’s some serious communication fail (oh if only they had twitter) and Romeo thinks Juliet’s actually dead and kills himself. When she wakes up she realizes what’s happened and kills herself too and the tragedy of it all brings the families together.

So we’re all clear on the details here, let’s look at the real plot points. Pointless and nasty feud that results in violence, young love defying said feud, feud resulting in deaths, and then Juliet’s father tries to marry her off against her will. Leaving aside this particular production’s rendition of it, that’s some dramatic stuff. And not leaving aside this production, I think it’s done well here. For one, it’s an absolutely gorgeous production. The costumes, locations, everything. It’s just lovely to look at and thoroughly sets the stage for the whole play. And then there’s the acting. Aside from the repeated and incredibly overwrought weeping, I really like the two leads. And I’m willing to allow for the weeping in some cases given the situations. I mean, if I’d gotten married in secret and my father then told me I was going to be getting married to someone else in like, two days? I’m sure I’d be a mess too. And Olivia Hussey, as Juliet, has a sort of wide-eyed wonder at the love she and Romeo have that suits the character well. Leonard Whiting (who looks so much like Zac Efron it’s creepy) plays Romeo as a romantic who finally feels truly passionate instead of just enamored. They both do an excellent job of making their parts believable, and in a play where the entire plot hinges on an love-at-first-sight romance that’s important. I also greatly enjoyed Michael York as Tybalt and Pat Heywood as the nurse.

Overall, it’s just a well put together and well acted production of a play that’s so easy to overdo or dismiss due to the cliches that have been born from it. Granted, the movie was made in 1968, but the play had been around for hundreds of years by then. So finding a way to present it and have it make an impact is impressive. There’s enough different between the play and the movie to make for good discussion and good performances to critique and make the plot and motivations clear. I greatly enjoyed it, and I can see why it would be assigned viewing for classes reading the play.


February 13, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. I’ve never seen this particular adaptation, and it sounds like a good one. I love the fact that you said Leonard Whiting played Romeo as if he was really passionate and not just enamoured. 🙂


    Comment by laughingstars66 | February 14, 2011 | Reply

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