Friday, April 04, 2008

Romeo, Romeo... thou art not Romeo!

Why is it so much easier to believe that Norma Shearer is a teenager...

... than it is to believe the same thing of Leslie Howard?

I mean, don't get me wrong, I don't think I believed for a minute that Norma Shearer was actually thirteen, or even twenty, but the whole idea of casting a 43 year-old (Howard) and a 34 year-old (Shearer) as two characters who are supposed to be at least twenty years younger than they actually are is deliriously absurd, and I'm not sure if you were ever expected to believe it. But I think my problem with Howard lies elsewhere: he's just not a convincing romantic lead. I've yet to see Pygmalion, but basing expectations on the Rex Harrison of My Fair Lady, that seems like a role Howard would fit: literate, upper class, refined, slightly reedy. He worked in Of Human Bondage because the entire point is that Bette Davis is just using him. But as a straight, supposedly handsome young man, he just can't work. At least parts of Norma Shearer's almost painful attempts to look naive and innocent work; her face is smooth and fresh enough that she occasionally charms you into submission, even if she can't really work the Shakespearean dialogue. But she's probably the best thing this film has to offer, unless watching Edna May Oliver chew ferociously on every single thing she says is your cup of tea; personally, it got old fast. I think I'll stick to the Baz Luhrmann version.


Catherine said...

I haven't seen this version, but I'd agree with you about Howard. Personally, I like him as an actor but I couldn't really see him as an impulsive, romantic guy like Romeo. He was perfect in Of Human Bondage and the like. Have you seen The Petrified Forest? Another Bette Davis one, but he plays a suicidal artist quite well in it.

Anonymous said...

I've not seen Romeo and Juliet but I have seen My Fair Lady (both versions - the film adaptation of Shaw's
play and the later musical version) and you are absolutely right about Howard in it. Rex Harrison in the musical is probably part of my problem with it - he seems old enough to be Eliza's daddy, and hence the whole supposed "attraction" comes off as rather creepy and forced to me.

Howard, on the other hand, plays the character exactly as you describe him (literate, reedy, and so forth) plus arrogant and self-absorbed, but he is also young and handsome and successful and so it's not a stretch to imagine Eliza attracted to him, or at least that he would be suitable marriage material to a young impoverished girl. What makes it work is that Howard is not trying to play a "romantic lead" (with all the possible pitfalls that implies, as in Romeo and Juliet); his combination of good looks, intelligence and arrogance make him more real and thus, ironically sexier than Howard is often allowed to be.

Janice said...

Yikes, I'd meant to sign that last post, sorry!

At any rate, terrific blog - I'm impressed by the films you've seen (many of which I need to add to my queue asap.)

You say you like Baz' Romeo and Juliet, where are you on Moulin Rouge?