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USA 1953-1964
Directed by
George Sidney
109 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

Kiss Me Kate

It is instructive that many of the classic movie musicals performers like Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly could not sing particularly well but brought to the show an effortless charm and impressive dance skills.  In contrast in Kiss Me Kate, Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson can sing marvellously but they lack screen zest.  In fact thier co-star Ann Miller is a case in point. Her vocal abilities are much more limited but her brassy renditions of ‘Too Darn Hot’, ‘Why Can’t You Behave’ and ‘Always True To You In My Fashion’ are the high-lights of the show.

Keel and Grayson play a divorced Broadway couple who agree to star in a musical adaptation of William Shakespeare's  ‘Taming of the Shrew’.  Both claim to have gone their separate ways but of course they still love each other and the tensions of putting on a show are guaranteed to  bring them back together.

Whilst the show was a big hit on Broadway and restored Porter’s waning reputation it works less well on screen, its two main strands  - the onstage performance and the back-stage carryings-on remaining largely separate from each other with the dramatic parallels between the two strands that should have been the driving force of the saory never really amounting to much.  

The film starts inauspiciously with an actor (Ron Randell) who looks more like a n advertising exec than a fêted songwriter playing Cole Porter who, more grievously, has normal uses of his legs (Porter was wheelchair-bound as the result of a horse-riding accident in 1937, sixteen years before this film is set).  That the first handful of songs, including ‘So In Love,  a duet between Grayson and Keel and a swinging version of “Too Darn Hot” with Miller in show-girl attire, are all from the off-stage aspect of the story is symptomatic of where the film’s strengths lie.  The songs from the Shakespearean side of the show, whilst clever, lyrically and melodically are too much so for the simple pleasures of a musical and the incongruity, is  exaggerated by Keel and Grayson’s high-toned delivery (their style was much more fitting in Jerome Kerns's Show Boat which Sidney had adapted for the screen two years earlier).

Although the art direction by Cedric Gibbons and Urie McCleary makes excellent use of early Renaissance art, bar an number ‘From This Moment On’, towards the film’s end  which features and was choreographed by  Bob Fosse this aspect is surprisingly under-developed in terms of its staging potential whilst a running gag involving a couple of Mob stooges (Keenan Wynn and James Whitmore) who together perform a novelty number, ‘Brush Up Your Shakespeare”,  is over-exposed.

If you are wondering why there are things regularly being thrown directly at the camera and there is an odd sequence in which Keel performs on an stage extension that means that half the audience can’t see what is going on, it is because the film was photographed using the then pioneering technique of 3D.

Had the film integrated the on and off-stage aspects with more flair Kiss Me Kate might have been impressive.  As it is, its low and high-brow twinning comes across as superficial, an outcome probably much more apparent onscreen than it would have been onstage.




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