(1936)4Michael BetzoldWilliam Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, the classic story of two doomed lovers from rival clans, was a favorite subject of filmmakers throughout the 20th century, with more than a dozen different feature versions. One of the best was MGM's big-budget, glossy production of 1936, overseen by George Cukor, one of Hollywood's most respected directors. It was a pet project of producer Irving Thalberg, who cast his wife, Norma Shearer, as Juliet. Shearer, then 32, was too old for the part, as was 43-year-old Leslie Howard as Romeo (just two years later, he would play a crusty middle-aged professor in Pygmalion). Fredric March, Robert Donat, and Robert Montgomery reportedly all turned down the starring role before it was offered to Howard. But Howard and Shearer used mesmerizing acting to try to overcome the age problem, and Shearer was nominated for an Oscar, as was Basil Rathbone as Tybalt. John Barrymore also steals scenes with a riveting performance as Mercutio. Romeo and Juliet was also nominated for an Oscar as Best Picture, losing to The Great Ziegfeld.