12 August 2022
· Hamlet and friends in a bizarre 1934 Hollywood short feature ·
Alas for poor Yoricknow the ball in Hamlet’s game of tenpins, principle and prudence prevent me from posting all twenty minutes of Shake, Mr. Shakespeare. A brief chronicle substitutes.
1930s Hollywood. Production assistant Irving McClure, working late to summarise the plays for his Bardless boss, falls asleep amid piled books. He dreams: the characters gather on his desk, recite bad couplets badly, then perform song-and-dance numbers filled with movie-biz jokes. Juliet sings the blues, Hamlet bowls and gyrates, Henry VIII crashes Caesar’s funeral, Cleopatra cavorts with acrobats. There’s a party on the desk. Willy appears from his biography (so you know it’s him), carping that he didn’t write everyone as shaking jellyfish. (True.) They tell him he’s out of step with the times– the screenplay’s the thing, you gotta shake, Shakespeare. More shaking. Macbeth gets the hots for Romeo’s girl, grabs her. Swordfight. McClure jumps in and joins the fray with a letter opener, then awakens to find himself atop the desk in the embrace of an amorous janitress who calls him Mr Smith. The End.
It loses something in the telling.
Don’t despair: Shake, Mr. Shakespeare can be found on the Warner DVD of Max Reinhardt’s 1935 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The short’s fuzzy 480p video and muddy audio are as poor as the Hamlet clip demonstrates, but it’s that or nothing. The play itself has been restored though the resolution’s no better. Watch it for the Mechanicals, who steal the show as I intended when I wrote them for my daughter. See my 2017 post A Late Summer Afternoon’s Daydream for a closer look, the trailer, and the ‛vintage featurette’ best described as cringe-inducing.
I’m not the first blogger to put Jellyfish Hamlet into a post. The Bardfilm fellow wrote about the short in 2010; his Hamlet clip starts at the beginning of the scene. It’s also posted at Vimeo. I could have chosen something else, but for obvious reasons I gravitate to the prince, and in any case his dance is far and away the strangest thing in this strange film. Even the gravedigger looks poleaxed.
Warner Brothers, or whichever merged corporate entity they’ve morphed into this month, recently chose to take a 90 million dollar74 million pound 88 million euro 608 million yuan tax writeoff rather than release their latest variant in the costumed-superhero
pandemic genre. Batgirl was nearly in the can when it was canned.
I have a suggestion for the Bros: spend a tiny fraction of $90 million to restore Shake, Mr. Shakespeare, and put it out on 1080p Blu-ray with an improved MND. While you’re at it, fix the author credit.
For bonus karma, post the restored short to YouTube. Let everyone enjoy it free gratis in all its Depression-era escapist silliness. I’m confident that your next uncancelled comicbooker will make enough profit to cover it.