Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked (or Forgotten) Films: KISS ME, KATE (1953) starring Howard Keel, Kathryn Grayson and Ann Miller

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.

Got it?

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.


...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.


  1. Another wonderful movie review by Yvette.

    I like that it's got a pro-woman slant, even on the spanking, with which I agree.

    In spite of all of this, it looks like a lot of fun. And Ann Miller, what's not to like?

    I'll have to put aside my woman of the 21st century-colored glasses and enjoy this one.

  2. Oops, and I agree on the adorable Rufus Sewell, who was so good on the PBS Aurelio Zen series. I must find this one.

  3. Oh you must, Kathy. It's a romp of a movie. Perfect for this time of year.

    I think the Rufus Sewel poster is for a London stage play, unfortunately.

  4. A delightful review, Yvette! I haven't seen KISS ME, KATE since I became a Howard Keel later in life. Hopefully, TCM will run it again soon. Your photos are amazing (if the film looks that good, that alone would be reason enough to watch it!).

  5. Thanks, Rick! I'm happy to report that KISS ME KATE is currently available on Netflix, if you're so inclined. :)

    I'm playing catch-up on lots of vintage movies I haven't seen in ages.

    But I'm sure TCM will show it sometime next year. It's where I've often seen it in the past.

  6. Good review. I have not seen this film but we had to do taming of the shrew in the 6th grade, so the story is in my literary DNA.

    I am a bit of an Anglophile so the BBC Shakespeare Re-told is quite familiar to me. But (of course) I have not seen this episode. I have seen Macbeth and Taming of the Shrew.

  7. I have seen this film more than once on TCM and enjoyed it. I know what you mean when you say Howard Keel is an "acquired taste" though I quite liked his role and acting in SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS and SHOW BOAT, the latter opposite Kathryn Grayson. TCM has been showing Grayson's films, including ANCHORS AWEIGH, in recent weeks. James Whitmore has been an old favourite.

  8. iluvcinema:

    This is really a terrific movie. Try and watch it sometime if you get a chance. I think you might enjoy it. If you like musicals, that is. :)

    Oh, so Shakespeare Retold is a regular TV show? Hmmmm. I'll have to see if I can find it online somewhere.

  9. Prashant: If you come to Howard Keel with no warning, he might seem a bit much, that's all I meant. :)

    Personally, I love him.

  10. LOVE love love Kiss Me Kate. I even have the soundtrack on CD. I like that this film gives Howard Keel an opportunity to poke fun at his own image and I like that Kathryn Grayson isn't such a saccharine goodie-two-shoes, either. Love Cole Porter, too. What could be better?!

  11. Indeed, Lauren, not much. :)

    Everytime I watch this I think how good it really is. It's almost as if I forget in between viewings.

  12. Yvette, the MGM movie version of KISS ME, KATE is yet another one of those films that I keep coming across great scenes, but for one reason of another, I inevitably get called away and I'm not able to see the rest of it. With that great cast and the delightful scenes I've seen, I really do want to give KISS ME, KATE my undivided attention!

    I actually got the impression that the Shirley Henderson/Rufus Sewell version was a BBC TV version, though of course, I could be mistaken. Maybe this link might be helpful: http://www.bbc.co.uk/drama/shakespeare/tamingoftheshrew/rufus_sewell.shtml

    Thanks for always having something interesting and fun to say on your wonderful blog, my friend, and big hugs and a truly Happy New Year to you and your family from all of us here at Team Bartilucci H.Q.!

  13. One of my favorite shows, Yvette, though I have to admit I prefer the Broadway musical to the movie. Some of Porter's most amazing lyrics - almost a Yip Harburg touch at places -

    "If your blonde won't respond when you flatter her,
    Tell her what Tony told Cleopatterer..."

    "If she says your behavior is heinous,
    Kick her right in the Coriolanus..."

    They don't write 'em like that any more...sigh...

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  15. Well, Dorian, m'dear, you'll just have to make time in the coming year to watch KISS ME KATE properly. I have spoken! Ha!

    Honestly though, you'll love it, I think. :)

    Thanks for the link. I'm going to give it a try.

    And A VERY Happy New Year to you and your family!

  16. Les: You're comment came up twice, so I deleted one. Sad to say I've nver had the opportunity to see the Broadway show, but it's something I've always wanted to do.

    I love those lyrics too! Cole Porter was oh so clever. ;)

  17. Oh you should so watch the BBC Shakespeare ReTold version of The Taming of the Shrew! Both Rufus Sewell and Shirley Henderson are quite funny. Although I don't agree with the moral of the story,the chemistry between Sewell and Henderson makes up for it.

  18. I'm going to try and find it, Willow. I'm mad about Rufus. :)


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