Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
December 17
October 9, 1935
A Midsummers Night's Dream premieres in NYC

In 1935, famed Austrian stage director Max Reinhardt (who fled to Los Angeles from Nazi Germany) staged his elaborate version of Shakespeare’s fantasy comedy A Midsummers Night’s Dream at the Hollywood Bowl. The production proved so popular that Warner Brothers hired him to bring his vision to screen. Warner Brothers, known for their hard-hitting (and profitable) gangster films, wanted to branch out into more prestigious fare, and nothing could be more prestigious than the first major sound production of a Shakespeare play. At the time, Variety described it as “ perhaps the biggest gamble ever taken by a picture company or producer.” The studio budget $1.3 million for a 70-day shoot. While Reinhardt would bring to the production his decades of theatrical experience, he also wanted to harness the power of cinema to capture the magical fairy realm. As such he hired a hundreds of extras to suggest the fairy realm. To boost the film’s marketability, Warner Brothers and Reinhardt opted to cast Hollywood names, rather than depend on stage actor. As such James Cagney took the part of Bottom, Dick Powell, Lysander, and most famously Mickey Rooney was Puck. Kenneth Anger, who would go on to be a major experimental filmmaker, was cast as one of the fairies.  The cinematographer Hal Mohr, who devised a new lighting system to handle the dense forests that Reinhardt had designed for the production, won the only write-in Oscar of the Academy Awards history. Yet despite Warner Brothers best effort, the film tanked at the box office, losing more than half a million dollars. And then to add insult to injury, Germany banned the film because the director and film’s composer, Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, were Jewish.


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Dec. 17, 1946
Eugene Levy born

Whether it's as Jim's dad in the American Pie movies, Max Yasgur in Ang Lee's Taking Woodstock or the dastardly Walter Kornbluth, one of the scientists out to nab Daryl Hannah in Splash, Eugene Levy has become instantly recognizable to movie audiences.

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December 17, 1982
Tootsie Not a Drag for Hoffman

26 years ago today, when Tootsie was released in the U.S., Dustin Hoffman went from being one of the most respected dramatic actors working in film to, well, something very different. Hoffman, who had his breakthrough role in Mike Nichols' wry charmer The Graduate in 1967, had never truly shown his comic side on screen, despite the fact that he played Lenny Bruce in Bob Fosse's biopic of the controversial comedian, Lenny. Instead he had carefully picked roles, in films like Little Big Man, Midnight Cowboy and All the President's Men, which played to his incredible skill as a committed method actor. As a result, he was incredibly nervous about his idea to make a movie about a struggling actor who drags up as he pretends to be an actress in order to get a role in a soap opera. The film had a troubled and prolonged history, taking four years to reach the screen, during which time directors Dick Richards and Hal Ashby dropped out of the project, to be replaced by Sydney Pollack. The film, however, was a huge success: Hoffman's female foils, Jessica Lange and Teri Garr, excelled in their roles while Charles Durning (ala Joe E. Brown in Some Like It Hot) gave a killer supporting turn as the man who falls for Hoffman's “Dorothy.” And Hoffman himself was a revelation, displaying impeccable comic instincts and brilliant timing in a role that could easily have been his undoing and the source of infinite mockery from his peers. Tootsie was nominated for 10 Oscars, including Best Picture, Director, Actor and Screenplay, while Lange beat out Garr for the Best Supporting Actress award. Most importantly for Hoffman and Columbia, the studio that bankrolled the movie, Tootsie was a box office titan, rapidly passing the $100 million mark and ultimately racking up nearly $180 million.

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