Movie Of The Month by JB Kaufman

A Dream Comes True (1935)

September, 2015

Warner Bros., 1935. Dialogue: George R. Bilson. Narration: Addison Richards. Film editor: Norman A. Cerf.
            I may as well admit it: I’m a sucker for trailers. Ever since childhood, those tantalizing glimpses of “Coming Attractions” have held a special fascination for me. It’s not surprising, really; a trailer combines our natural love of movies (always a given when you’re looking at this website) with a basic fact of human nature: much of the pleasure of any enjoyable experience is in the anticipation. Two primal joys combined in a single bite-size package—who could not love trailers? And as we learn more about film history, we discover even more fascinating aspects of these little wonders. During Hollywood’s Golden Age, trailers frequently depicted scenes, not as they appeared in the films, but by means of alternate takes (a practice which, of course, can be fully appreciated only by viewing the trailer side-by-side with the finished feature). Sometimes they went further in this direction, teasing us with bits of scenes that had been eliminated from the final cut altogether.
            And then there were the special occasions when a studio issued a complete one-reel short subject that was, in effect, a trailer—presented ostensibly for the audience’s entertainment, but unabashedly plugging a coming feature-length attraction. Such a film was A Dream Comes True, a short issued by Warner Bros. in 1935 to announce their forthcoming superproduction of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
            Special promotional activities were in order, for A Midsummer Night’s Dream was a considerable gamble for Warners in 1935—not only because of its tremendous scope and expense, but because of its subject matter. Warner Bros. was, after all, the blue-collar studio, the studio that had cultivated an audience for fast, tough-talking crime films and sensational stories ripped from the headlines.  Now, in the mid-1930s, the studio was attempting to refine its image without losing that core audience. Accordingly, a barrage of publicity strove to convince regular Warners viewers, accustomed to gangster films, that they could enjoy Shakespeare too. And at the center of the campaign was A Dream Comes True.
            Seen today, this short is interesting in more ways than one. It seems to be cobbled together from two kinds of footage: newsreel shots of the Hollywood premiere in October 1935, and random backstage shots of the kind Warners had used in Hollywood Newsreel and other all-purpose promotional shorts. Here, as we watch, Joe E. Brown, Ross Alexander, newcomer Olivia de Havilland, and other players clown around between takes or prepare for an upcoming scene. Frank McHugh, in costume as Quince, gingerly approaches a none-too-gentle trained bear on a chain. Max Reinhardt, the much-touted director whose legendary stage production of Midsummer at the Hollywood Bowl was the basis for the Warners film, is seen with William Dieterle (a former Reinhardt protégé, by now a veteran film director), blocking scenes in miniature sets with what appear to be chess pieces. Erich Wolfgang Korngold, just beginning his stellar Hollywood tenure, is captured in a rare snippet of film performing at the piano.
            The scenes of the premiere, which open and close the reel, are likewise worth a second look. Such unlikely studio players as Barton MacLane, Wini Shaw, Errol Flynn, and Warren William turn out to show their support for Warners’ venture into Shakespeare. As the narrator gushes over Olivia de Havilland, my fellow Disney enthusiasts will be intrigued to see Otis Harlan hovering in the background behind her—on hand because of his role in the film as Starveling, and a few months before he was signed to provide the voice of Happy in Snow White.
            There’s a major slice of Hollywood history here, some of it hidden between the lines. The short reflects Warners’ pride in having contracted the celebrated Max Reinhardt; what we don’t hear is that Reinhardt was in Hollywood partly out of necessity, having fled the rise of Nazi rule in Europe. The narration is long on hyperbole: Reinhardt selects for the cast “no less than twenty of Hollywood’s most popular stars,” almost all of whom happen to be Warner Bros. contract players.
            Anyone reading this website who doesn’t already own the 2007 DVD of Midsummer is urged to order a copy—primarily, of course, for the film itself. The feature is presented in its magnificent (cinematically as well as verbally) roadshow edition, not the lackluster truncated version that used to turn up on TV, and is further enhanced by an outstanding commentary track from Scott MacQueen. But there’s also an unusually rich selection of bonus materials, including enough 1935 promotional footage to satisfy even a trailer junkie like myself. Along with A Dream Comes True, there are a half-dozen “teaser” trailers in which individual cast members address the audience directly. There’s also an oddball short purporting to show a spontaneous conversation between Pat O’Brien and Joe E. Brown in the studio commissary, clearly designed to reinforce the idea that even regular guys can enjoy Shakespeare. Last but not least, there’s an actual standard two-minute trailer! If the feature itself were not reason enough to buy the disc—and it is—these added delicacies would make it irresistible.

J.B. Kaufman