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Romeo and Juliet (1968)

While the paring of Shakespeare and motion pictures is about as original as peanut butter and jam, Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 Romeo and Juliet broke a lot of new ground, less concerned with translating stage adaptations to a film set, and instead taking up the challenge of cinematic realism. Cast as Romeo was 17-year-old Leonard Whiting, while 15-year-old Olivia Hussey was given the role of Juliet. The casting broke with tradition, as the roles normally had been played by adults on the stage and screen and not genuine adolescents (the exception to this, of course, was in Shakespeare's day, when Juliet was played by a teenager — but that was always a teenage boy). The attractive leading duo, along with the location shooting in Italy, lavish costuming, and a brief bit of art-house nudity, made Romeo and Juliet an unqualified success in its day. Furthermore, for the sake of realism, the climactic duel between Tybalt (Michael York) and Mercutio (John McEnery), which forms the centerpiece of the play and film, is not done in a flamboyant, swashbuckling style, but instead is a great deal of loose fencing amidst a crowd of hooting young men, and Zeffirelli delicately transforms the scene over the course of several minutes from light banter to its inevitably disastrous results. More than 30 years later, the production still holds up, and it wouldn't be out of bounds to say that this one work formed the bridge between earlier Shakespearean films, such as Olivier's Richard III, to hyper-realistic fare like Kenneth Branagh's Henry V, along with his epic Hamlet. Good anamorphic transfer from a clean, colorful source-print (1.85:1), DD 2.0 (mono). Trailer, keep-case.
—JJB



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