It's Tuesday and you know what that means: Overlooked (or Forgotten) Films Day. This weekly meme is hosted by Todd Mason over at his blog, SWEET FREEDOM. Don't forget to check in and see what other films or audio/visual treats other bloggers are talking about today.
KISS ME KATE directed by George Sidney, is the perfect musical (a Broadway perennial) for those of us who are recuperating from making rather too much merry this past weekend. All we need do is sit back (maybe with a martini or Campari and soda?) and watch the actors, singers and dancers romping about on stage and off. We can also sigh with contentment that we can just watch and need not cavort. There's nothing more restful than watching others physically exert themselves. Don't you think?
So sit back and relax, we're talking about one of the more active films in the MGM repertoire of musicals - actually, I believe this was the last of the golden age extravaganzas. It was an especially sad day when MGM closed the doors on its musical-making shop. But at least we have the films to remind us of what musical greatness once was.
Ron Randell at the piano playing Cole Porter playing Cole Porter.
KISS ME KATE is a story within a story, music and lyrics by Cole Porter - who appears briefly in the film played by Ron Randell.. We get the backstage shenanigans of a cast of characters putting on a show - a musical version of Shakespeare's THE TAMING OF THE SHREW - which has major repercussions on and off the stage.
Howard Keel, occasionally an acquired taste, is perfection in the dual role of modern day ego-driven Broadway hambone, Fred Graham AND Shakespeare's dominating Alpha-male, Petruchio - a sly, over-preening 16th century (I'm guessing the date) Italian stallion who has come to Padua to find himself a rich wife.
Wonderful Katherine Grayson (a blond this time out) plays Fred's ex-wife Lilly Vanessi, another Broadway hambone...uh, star, as well as Shakespeare's indefatigable Katherine, a 16th century not-so-gentle-woman of loud and forceful opinions whose father (played in the play by Kurt Kaszner) has despaired of ever marrying her off. Personally, I think this is Grayson's greatest performance on film. She could sometimes be tinkly-sweety-pie, but in this film she is a 'real' woman.
The reason ex-husband and wife are working together yet one more time is that Cole Porter's musical version of the Shakespeare tale is just too good to pass up. Besides, Lilly doesn't want the part to go to Fred's latest girlfriend, Lois Lane (?!) aka Bianca, played by the effervescent and always watchable Ann Miller.
Ah, the incredible Ann Miller. In this film she plays another of her good hearted hussies, looking for The Main Chance with Fred, an established Broadway star, while trying to stay away from her real love, fellow dancer Bill Calhoun (Tommy Rall) aka Lucentio.
The truth is that Fred and Lilly have history and great chemistry and besides, they're really still in love with each other though each doesn't want the other to know it. Despite Lily's rich oil-man fiance, Tex Calloway (Willard Parker - a part that earlier would have been played by Ralph Bellamy) hanging around backstage, he is merely a prop.
Okay, so we get Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew story of man attempting to dominate woman for the betterment of mankind as well as the backstage story of same.
With a few modern day kinks thrown in, in the guise of two criminal types played by James Whitmore (Slug) and Keenan Wynn (Lippy) who wander in backstage to enforce a gambling chit signed, supposedly, by Fred but in reality, forged by Bill Calhoun, Lois's gambler boyfriend ( a 'wow' of a dancer) who plays Lucentio in the show. Slug and Lippy refuse to leave backstage until Fred pays the gambling iou. They don't believe that Fred knows nothing about the gambling debt and keep threatening to break his legs or whatnot.
Fred merely fluffs them off as he goes about the business of trying to win back his wife AND play Petruchio while Lilly simmers, especially when flowers meant for Lois, get delivered to Lilly instead.
In the meantime, there is Shakespeare and really, these actors are quite wonderful spouting the Bard's words (well, maybe except for Ann Miller - hard to do Shakespeare with a NY accent).
But she's there for the dancing. And oh, what dancing! There are rousing dance numbers and songs in the onstage production of the taming of the shrew story AND rousing dance numbers and songs in the backstage story.
Ann Miller as the more amenable Bianca, sister to Kate, and her three swains.
Keenan Wynn and James Whitmore as Slug and Lippy.
Eventually, even Slug and Lippy get a show-stopping number, Brush Up Your Shakespeare, complete with clumsy (hilarious) dance moves. Brush up your Shakespeare, start quoting him now. Brush up your Shakespeare and the women you will wow...
Bill and Lois get a fabulous rooftop dance number (Always True to You In My Fashion) with incredible dance moves. Then later, in the show within a show, they get an equally fabulous dance number (From This Moment On) complete with mind-boggling leaps.
They're joined in that number by Bobby Van and the soon to be Broadway famous Bob Fosse who choreographed the moves.
There's also the wonderful love song, So In Love, sung by Fred and Lilly. A gorgeous rendering by two actor/singers in top form.
I also love Howard Keel's rendition of I've Come To Wive It Wealthily in Padua. Now there's a snazzy song title. But he makes it work beautifully.
The only quibbles I have with the movie is Kathryn Grayson's I Hate Men number which goes on far too long and brings the film to a jarring halt.
I'm also not overly fond of the more famous Fred and Lilly duet, Wunderbar. I mean, it's fun, but it's always seemed out of place to me in the film - like something inserted because they needed a musical interlude in that moment. It really has little to do with the rest of the story.
Other than that, I am So In Love with KISS ME KATE.
Though not so crazy about the spanking.
Which just goes to show that Shakespeare wasn't right all the time.
Link to KISS ME KATE Trailer.
...and another thing. I've just learned of a version of THE TAMING OF THE SHREW starring the scrumptious Rufus Sewell. I'm off to try and find a copy to watch.
Unless it's a play. In which case, I'm out of luck.