Probably the least known of the four best known attempts to bring Mr. Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to the screen, Renato Castellani’s 1954 version has both its plusses and minuses. At the very least, Laurence Harvey ( age 25) and Susan Shentall (20) come closer to being the hot-headed teenagers of the play than the 43-year-old Leslie Howard and 34-year-old Norma Shearer did in MGM’s glossy 1936 version. That they’re both rather colorless—especially Shentall—is another matter. (I much prefer Harvey’s assault on Hamlet in The Magic Christian from 1969.) What the film loses in glossiness—compared to the MGM one—it mostly makes up for in some gorgeous color imagery shot on, in many cases, real locations. The biggest problem—apart from the perpetual one of whether or not you want to see another film of this play—is that Castellani seems to have more feel for composition than drama. It cannot have been intentional that the double suicide of the title characters feels altogether perfunctory and much less emotionally resonant than the grief and fence-mending of their respective fathers, but that’s how it plays out. But overall it is a solid, reasonable film of the play—with some downsides, including a few ill-advised text cuts.
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