KISS ME KATE
Review by Ed Nguyen
Howard Keel, Kathryn Grayson, Ann Miller, Tommy Rall, Keenan Wynn, James
Director: George Sidney
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Video: color, full-screen
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: Featurette, music-only track, documentary short subject, cast & crew, behind-the-scenes notes
Length: 110 minutes
Release Date: April 22, 2003
a maid who would marry and will take with no qualm, any Tom Dick or Harry, any
Harry Dick or Tom."
Porter, during the Depression era of the 1930's, was the toast of the town.
A talented composer and
lyricist, he was responsible for hit after hit on New York City's Broadway
stage. His melodies were greatly
admired for their wit and catchy, syncopated rhythms.
Furthermore, Porter acknowledged that his compositions were
adult-oriented, with lyrics that introduced sexy innuendos and upper-class
sophistication into songs of this period. Some
of his greatest stage successes of the1930's included Anything
Goes, Leave it to Me, and Red Hot and Blue. Even
relative disappointments, like Jubilee,
produced classic hits, such as "Begin the Beguine."
Hollywood would also bring him fame and fortune through such films as The
Gay Divorcée (with the classic "Night and Day"), Born to Dance (with "I've Got You Under My Skin"), and Rosalie
(featuring "Why Should I Care?").
in late 1937, a tragedy drastically altered Porter's high society lifestyle.
A horse-riding accident smashed his legs and left him crippled and
confined to a wheelchair for several years.
Although he eventually regained the ability to walk, he endured over
thirty operations to save his legs and experienced near-constant pain for the
remainder of his life. Porter tried
not to allow his own physical discomfort to interfere with his work, but there
is no doubt that it did affect him emotionally and psychologically.
Accordingly, the quantity and quality of his output suffered during the
Porter was simply too gifted to remain down in the dumps forever.
Ten years after his accident, Cole Porter re-claimed the spotlight once
more with the smash Broadway hit Kiss Me
Kate. It was a saucy and utterly delectable backstage musical in
which a dramatic play's on-stage plot is mirrored by the backstage theatrics of
a quarreling couple. In a twist of
backstage life imitating art, the play in question was Shakespeare's comedy The
Taming of the Shrew. Kiss
Me Kate eventually had an incredible run of over 1000 performances.
With this new triumph, Porter was once again the toast of the town.
the 1950's, MGM opted to produce a film version of Kiss Me Kate. In
assembling its cast, MGM turned mostly to its own contract players.
The role of Fred Graham, the quarreling ex-husband, was won by Howard
Keel. Many young fans may be
surprised to learn that Howard Keel not only sings but sings very well!
Believe it or not, long before his days as Clayton Farlow on TV's Dallas, he was a bona fide musical comedy star.
Among his many films are such notable musicals as Annie
Get Your Gun, Show Boat, and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.
Kiss Me Kate re-unites him with
his Show Boat co-star, Kathryn
Grayson, lured back to MGM for the role of Lilli Vanessi, the quarreling
Miller rounds out the lead players in Kiss
Me Kate. A very energetic
dancer, she was one of a top trio of female dancers gradually developed by MGM
to fill the void created after their mega-star dancer, Eleanor Powell, retired
from show business in the early 1940's. The
other two dancers were the glamorous and sexy Cyd Charisse and the talented
Vera-Ellen, one of Fred Astaire's better, multi-film dance partners.
Ann Miller, however, has maintained the longest film career of this trio
and even a few years back was occasionally accepting acting roles.
In Kiss Me Kate, while Keel and
Grayson handle the bulk of the singing duties, Miller also proves she can belt
out a tune, too! However, it is in
her dance numbers that Ann Miller is truly electrifying.
To be sure, she's come a long
way since her groan-inducing ballet skits as a teenager in Frank Capra's
ridiculous screwball comedy You Can't Take
It with You!
Kiss Me Kate begins, Fred Graham and
Cole Porter are discussing their upcoming production, a musical version of The
Taming of the Shrew. Cole
Porter is portrayed by an actor in these early scenes.
Perhaps the real Cole Porter did not feel he was a strong enough actor to
convincingly portray himself on film?
Lilli soon arrives, and Fred and Cole embark on a sales pitch to entice
her into agreeing to participate in the musical as the female lead.
Fred and Lilli even practice one of the lovelier tunes from the show -
"So in Love." There is a
slight problem - in truth, Lilli intensely dislikes Fred, her former husband.
To complicate matters, Fred will not only be playing the male lead but
will be directing the musical, too! How
can they possibly convince Lilli to join the production?
Enter, Lois Lane!
she's not a reporter. Lois (Ann
Miller) is a peppy, aspiring chorus girl. She
is also Fred's sweetie for the moment, or so he believes.
She has just in fact raced over from another performance to audition for
the role of Bianca, the younger sister, in Porter's new musical.
Upon her arrival to Fred's apartment, she flashes a charming smile and
innocently inquires of the observant men, "I hope you don't mind my
legs," all the while nonchalantly displaying them.
If that isn't enough, she promptly brings in a jazz ensemble and launches
into a red-hot rendition of "Too Darn Hot!"
is delighted, of course. Lilli,
however, is obviously annoyed, and a near-catfight soon erupts when both women
accuse the other of stealing music numbers and roles from one another.
As Lilli storms out, the two men brainstorm quickly and show Lois the
script, suggesting that she is ideal for the female lead....very LOUDLY.
Naturally, Lilli over-hears and storms back in to re-claim her role.
the delicious sexual tension and magnificent comic possibilities of Kiss
Me Kate are established in these early scenes.
Audiences are assured that the show to follow will not only be very funny
and witty, but will feature superlative dance numbers and some of Cole Porter's
movie now jumps to opening night. Alert
viewers may have noticed by this point that the popular opening number,
"Another Op'nin', Another Show," is missing!
I guess it was cut for purposes of pacing, but on the bright side, its
melody can still be heard on the film's underscore.
We are soon introduced to Lois' secret boyfriend, Bill Calhoun (Tommy
Rall), who also plays one of her suitors in the stage play.
Bill does not care much for Fred's attentions toward Lois. Furthermore, he is a bit of a gambler and consequently signs
an IOU for two thousand dollars in Fred Graham's name, mostly out of jealousy.
The plot thickens when two hilariously hopeless gangsters, played by
Keenan Wynn and James Whitmore, come to collect from the unsuspecting Fred.
Instead, the two mugs are tricked by Fred's quick thinking and are
eventually dragged on-stage, paraded around in costumes, and generally played
for fools throughout the film.
the curtains rise, the musical within the musical begins!
Though I've never actually read Shakespeare's The
Taming of the Shrew, but if it's as entertaining as its loose adaptation
here, I will have to find a copy to read quickly!
A wealthy merchant of Padua has two daughters of marrying age. The younger is Bianca (Lois), a fair maiden being stalwartly
wooed by three suitors. The older
is Katherine (Lilli), a shrewish and shrill wildcat that the merchant has
despaired of ever marrying off. Enter,
Petruchio (Fred), a dashing, adventurous man
who seeks the hand of a rich, available maiden to be his wife.
His attentions are swiftly focused upon Katherine, of whom he determines
to woo, tame, and marry. The
merchant, in turn, promises a handsome dowry if he succeeds!
Katherine, however, has other plans, and clearly states her views with
the song "I Hate Men." Lilli
assumes her role as the shrewish daughter Katherine with perhaps a little too
much gusto and enthusiasm, gleefully taking every opportunity to rain punches
and kicks onto poor Fred. At one
point, the exasperated Fred declares, "May I remind you, Miss Vanessi, that
the name of this piece is The Taming of
the Shrew, not He Who Gets Slapped!"
it irreverent? You betcha!
And it's hilarious and sexy and glorious fun!
Plus, the Cole Porter tunes for the show are absolutely phenomenal.
While he has created many superb songs throughout his long career, Kiss
Me Kate has the greatest ensemble of Cole Porter classics of any of his
shows. Many of Kathryn Grayson's
duets with Howard Keel, such as "So in Love" and "Wunderbar,"
are quite excellent. Grayson has an
incredible voice, easily the match of 20th-Century Fox's Shirley Jones or MGM's
own Jane Powell. Another absolute
show-stopper is "From this Moment On."
This song actually originates from another Porter musical but appears
near the finale for the film version of Kiss
Me Kate. The enthusiastic
singing and ensemble dancing in it makes this number the highlight of the film.
"Brush Up Your Shakespeare" also gives our two hopeless
mobsters an opportunity to explore their own non-existent musical talents.
Just check out James Whitmore's facial expressions during this goofy
number, which almost steals the show!
who have seen Kiss Me Kate on stage
may notice that some songs have been altered or shortened in the film.
These changes will seem fairly trivial and pointless now to modern
sensibilities, but times were different back in the 1950's.
Mostly, audiences can thank the Hays Office for these alterations, as
this censor board tried to wallop Kiss Me
Kate but good. For instance, in
"I Hate Men," the word maiden
substitutes for virgin.
Also, most of the lyrics to "Too Darn Hot" have been
drastically cooled down from the stage version. Curiously, while this song is usually sung by a black jazz
singer for the stage, here instead Ann Miller belts it out before undulating
into a rapid-fire dance. Let the
stage purists complain, but Ann Miller still absolutely sizzles in this hot
number! A second Ann Miller number,
"Always True to You in My Fashion," has likewise been toned down.
Perhaps the censors felt that Ann Miller was already enough to handle
without Porter's suggestive lyrics? There
are many other small changes elsewhere, but suffice it to say that Cole Porter
tunes must have given the Hays Office constant headaches every time a new movie
version of one of his musicals popped up!
the censors do not catch everything. The
song "Tom, Dick, or Harry" is not only extremely witty but is also
wickedly naughty (in a very sly way!) from a lyrical standpoint.
Ann Miller once again does the honors here, accompanied by Tommy Rall,
Bobby Van, and Bob Fosse.
right! Keen-eyed viewers may notice
that one of Ann Miller's dance partners is indeed a very young Bob Fosse.
When Hermes Pan, Fred Astaire's long-time choreographer, was recruited to
handle those very duties for Kiss Me Kate,
he allowed Fosse to choreograph his own dance steps.
The incredible results may be witnessed in the sensational ensemble dance
"From This Moment On." If
you cannot recognize Fosse at first, no worry, all you need to do is pay
attention to the choreography, and you will know immediately which of these
young lads is Fosse! As a bonus,
Hermes Pan himself also makes a cameo in the film as a sailor!
He's easy to spot because he even bears a passing resemblance to Fred
the end, all's well that ends well. The
Taming of the Shrew concludes happily when Petruchio finally wins
Katherine's heart. I'm surprised
the censors allowed Petruchio's line "Why, there's a wench!
Come on, and kiss me Kate!" to stand, but I suppose if it's
Shakespeare, then it's okay! The
backstage drama, of course, will mirror the on-stage comedy.
In that regard, we know that things will work out fine in the end for
Fred and Lilli. And for Lois and
for Cole Porter? He continued to
write memorable songs and enjoyed further Broadway successes in Can-Can and Silk Stockings,
both of which were also adapted for the screen as well.
Porter would eventually retire for good from show business in the late
1950's, and while this latter phase in his career saw a triumphant comeback with
numerous hit shows and movies, it is Kiss
Me Kate that will remain forevermore the highlight of his remarkable career.
that wacky MGM publicity department! The
original release of Kiss Me Kate was
in 3-D, believe it or not! That
would explain many of the unusual shots in the film, during which title
sequences pop right out and objects and actors seem to come flying at the
audiences. It is a pity that Warner
Brothers did not elect to include a 3-D version of the film, or at least
excerpts, on the DVD as well. The
technology certainly exists to do this; I know because I have seen a decent 3-D
DVD before. However, I still had to
wear those goofy glasses!
the video quality of this regular print is quite pleasing.
It is presented in brilliant Technicolor in a full-screen format.
And no, this film was not photographed for a widescreen release.
That gimmick would not see common usage until a few years after this
film's release. The transfer is
very solid, without blockiness or obvious artificial defects.
Plus, the source print is quite sharp and clean, too.
All in all, a fine-looking DVD!
original release of Kiss Me Kate had
MGM's stereophonic sound. The DVD
re-masters this soundtrack into a 5.1 Dolby Digital mix.
During dialogue scenes, the sound comes mainly from the front, but
whenever the musical numbers begin, all five speakers really blossom!
It is another solid job by Warner Brothers.
start with, the cast & crew section is pretty slim.
A behind-the-scenes section is also slim but does mention some
interesting points about the production. As
a bonus, for fans of the Cole Porter score, there is a music-only track which
can be assessed from the special features menu or from directly in the movie!
This is a swell idea which I think musical DVDs should employ more often.
Miller appears in a 9-minute featurette about Kiss Me Kate. She
provides some comparisons between the movie version and the stage version.
Many of the surviving cast members also make appearances and recount some
great anecdotes about the film's production.
Kathryn Grayson offers her opinion that Tommy Rall was the best dancer in
the cast. Most hilarious is the
fact that James Whitmore and Keenan Wynn were driving choreographer Hermes Pan
nuts because they goofed off entirely during their practice sessions.
Yet somehow, they managed to ad-lib something for the studio execs, who
made a visit one day to check on the progress.
Hermes Pan had been certain he was going to be fired on the spot but
instead ended up receiving hearty congratulations!
largest feature is the 20-minute Mighty
Manhattan, New York's Wonder City. It
is basically nothing more than a travelogue.
You'll see the sights and more sights of New York City, including
familiar landmarks such as Central Park, the Empire State Building, and the
Statue of Liberty. I feel so
excited, I'm getting goosebumps. Honestly,
I have absolutely no clue what this documentary has to do with Kiss
Me Kate, except maybe for the fact that you can glimpse Ann Miller very
briefly in the Waldorf-Astoria's famous Starlight Room.
That's a pretty flimsy reason for including this documentary as an extra,
but you might as well enjoy it because it is still interesting to see what the
city looked like over fifty years ago.