Kiss Me Kate (1953)


(director: George Sidney; screenwriters: Dorothy Kingsley/based on the play by Cole Porter/Sam Spewack/Bella Spewack/from the play The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare; cinematographer: Charles Rosher; editor: Ralph E. Winters; music: Andre Previn/Saul Chaplin; cast: Kathryn Grayson (Lilli Vanessi/Katherine), Howard Keel (Fred Graham/Petruchio), Ann Miller (Lois Lane/Bianca), Tommy Rall (Bill Calhoun/Lucentio), Bobby Van (Gremio), Keenan Wynn (Lippy), James Whitmore (Slug), Kurt Kasznar (Baptista), Bob Fosse (Hortensio), Ron Randell (Cole Porter), Willard Parker (Tex Callaway), Jeanne Coyne (Specialty Dancer), Carol Haney (Specialty Dancer); Runtime: 109; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Jack Cummings; MGM; 1953)

“A mostly zippy showbiz paean.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

George Sidney (“Show Boat”/”Anchors Aweigh”/”Thousands Cheer”) shot it in both 3-D (for its release) and in the regular “flat” format. It’s brilliantly choreographed by Hermes Pan, with Ann Miller taking to the dance floor with zeal while also gloriously showing off her wunderbar gams. Other dancers of note were Bob Fosse, Tommy Rall, Bobby Van, Carol Haney, and Jeanne Coyne. It features the snappy tunes of Cole Porter’s musical play, which is a remake of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew—an adaptation of a hit Broadway show by Lemuel Ayers and Arnold St. Subber which ran for more than 1,000 performances. Some of the great 14 songs include: “Kiss Me Kate,” “So In Love,” “Too Darn Hot,” “Wunderbar,” “Always True to You in My Fashion,” “Where Is the Life that Late I Led?” “Brush Up Your Shakespeare,” “I’m Always True to You, Darlin’,” “I Hate Men,” “Why Can’t You Behave?” and “From This Moment On.” The latter song emerged as the hit tune in the pic, which was recycled from a Porter musical flop “Out of This World.” Sidney lushly keeps it ticking as a mostly zippy showbiz paean and, to boot, there are colorful Elizabethan costumes to feast your eyes on. The few dull spots have bumbling comic-relief gangsters Keenan Wynn and James Whitmore busy collecting a gambling IOU from the wrong person and winding up in the stage production, in what were some embarrassing acting moments (though they somewhat redeem themselves with a witty duet of “Brush Up Your Shakespeare”).

It’s acted out as a play within a play. Showbiz couple, the vain egotist Fred Graham (Howard Keel) and the hot-tempered Lilli Vanessi (Kathryn Grayson), have split and now meet in Fred’s NYC apartment, the same place they lived in while married, where composer Cole Porter (Ron Randell) conspires with Fred to recruit Lilli to co-star as Kate and with him as Petruchio in their new Broadway show, Kiss Me Kate, a musical version of William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. Also showing up is coarse chorine Lois Lane (Ann Miller), a flashy tap dancer who uses her feminine charms on Fred to get the part of Bianca—Kate’s younger sister.

At the final rehearsal, Lois learns that her irresponsible boyfriend chorus dancer, Bill Calhoun (Tommy Rall), has signed Fred’s name to an IOU to cover his gambling debts for a couple of thousand dollars. This brings to Fred’s dressing room gangsters Lippy (Keenan Wynn) and Slug (James Whitmore), leftovers from Guys and Dolls, to collect the debt for their boss Mugsy Hogan.

The former marrieds start bickering onstage as the play opens on Broadway, with Fred giving Lilli a spanking with a hair brush and the audience howling with laughter. This gets her so mad that at the intermission she calls her fiancé, Texas cattle baron Tex Callaway (Willard Parker), and asks him to come and get her away from the show in an ambulance. When Fred finds out from Bill’s confession, urged by Lois, that he forged his name on the IOU, Fred takes advantage of this mistake as he tells the hoods they won’t get paid-off unless Lilli’s in the show. The hoods, unwilling to lose their IOU payment, force her at gunpoint to perform. To make sure that she doesn’t double-cross them, Act II begins with Lippy and Slug on stage and in costume as Lilli’s attendants.

Keel is at his best as the dynamic male lead, while the tempestuous Grayson hold her own with him. Both handle the acting and song parts with great aplomb.