Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Kiss Me Kate may not match the hi-falutin' Art of An American in Paris, but it's got
the MGM musical unit's second-string talent showing themselves at their very best. Kathryn
Grayson is irksome to the purists, but she's a fine comedienne here, and often-clunky Howard Keel
is magnificent as theatrical blowhard Fred Graham, the Ham of Hams. Add to that fourteen zingy Cole
Porter songs, and some terrific dancing (old fashioned tap and some new Bob Fosse moves) and it's a
show to remember.
A Broadway production of The Taming of the Shrew is fractured by the re-teaming
of the now divorced showbiz couple Lilli Vanessi (Kathryn Grayson) and Fred Graham (Howard Keel). Not
only are they distracted by new alliances, including nervy tap dancer Lois Lane (Ann Miller), but Fred's being
dogged by a pair of gangsters wanting a debt repaid (James Whitmore & Keenan Wynn).
Made the same year as the classic The Band Wagon, Kiss Me Kate has the same fake-but-fun
showbiz gusto. Even when the story stops for operetta-style songs, Grayson and Keel put them over
so well that a schmaltzy ballad like Wunderbar sounds like solid gold. What holds everything together
is the non-stop humor, from the careful snubs Ann Miller aims at
Grayson, to Keel's inexhaustible vanity. Keel is no Rex Harrison, but Harrison couldn't play the
bombastic, cowardly Fred Graham this well. He'd be too controlled.
The story is basic but the script is better than the Astaire picture, with much more clever dialogue,
and playful Cole Porter lyrics that sneak in sly puns: "kick 'em right in the Coriolanus."
The show has a number of standards, but the real kickers are the dancing numbers, specifically Ann
Miller's Too Darn Hot and Why Can't you Behave, and the film's progressive highlight,
From This Moment On. Bob Fosse had previously been in some okay MGM musical numbers, but this is the
one that put him on the map. When he slides under his partner Carol Haney, and they do a slack-posed
set of moves, a bit of history was made. It's breathtaking dancing of a new kind, separate from the
established Kelly & Astaire schools. 1
By second-string MGM talent, I mean Grayson and Keel in the sense that each made a number of routine
musicals that can be tough to get through, the lesser Esther Williams epics and suchsame. But in this
show you'd think
they were the industry's top stars. This is mostly an opportunity for folk like Fosse, Ann Miller,
Tommy Rall and Bobby Van, youthful talents who were usually tossed off in novelty numbers or lost in
the crush of bigger Hollywood names.
The beginning of the more modern musical can be seen in the casting of Keenan Wynn and James Whitmore,
two very non-musical stars, in comedy roles. They're there mainly because Dore Schary needed to keep the
contract players working. As it is, they're pretty amusing in their ersatz song and dance number, perhaps
because they're a break from the real musical talent around them; audiences think they're great.
Kiss Me Kate is, along with Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder, the best of the 1950s
3D films. The camera prowls and Ann
Miller does seem to leap off the screen. Savant saw it in real polaroid 3D in 1979, and it was great,
even in the slightly off-hue Ansco Color. Those spinning diamonds in the titles were amazing, by
the way, and director George Sidney only let people do the obvious Three-Stooges camera assaults when
appropriate. (viewer hint: when watching a movie, close one eye .... then the flat
screen is as dimensional as everything else - and everything looks slightly 3-D! ... or I'm nuts.)
MGM's DVD of Kiss Me Kate is a bright new transfer with a wonderful remixed track (and a separate
music-only track, for those who want to hear Saul Chaplin's interstitial music), but Savant was confused
by the framing. It looks way over-cropped on the left side.
1953 was a changeover year for aspect ratios, with Cinerama and CinemaScope confusing matters. The
fake 'widescreen' accomplished by matting to anywhere between 1:66 and 1:85 hadn't really happened
yet, but many films were being composed for 1:66, and I thought Kiss Me Kate was one of them.
When the left-hand side was consistently looking cropped during Too Darn Hot, I compared the
DVD to my old Laserdisc, and sure enough, the flat Laser showed much, much more on the left - while
cropping off the right just as severely! In the low angle of Miller dancing with a bongo player in the
right foreground, the DVD shows the bongo player, but he's cropped out on the Laser. I didn't check
all the way through, so I don't know if the Laser is consistently panned to the right, and the DVD to the
left. If I didn't know better, I'd think that one was transferred from the 3D left eye negative, and the
other from the right (but they wouldn't be that different).
I have it on good authority from Warner/Turner, and from their Ned Price, that the film was shot 1:37 and
the flat release prints were re-framed just as seen on the DVD. The sometimes lop-sided framing on the DVD, was
reportedly referenced from an archived original release print. This complicates the 'evidence' above, to the point that I have
doubts about making any final judgments. Apparently, this is exactly how the film
was cropped in flat 1953 prints. The word from Warners: "What you should see on the DVD is the way the master
studio Technicolor print was when projected. Ned has explained that Technicolor's matrices eliminated
10% of the open aperture picture information. Earlier telecine operators wouldn't have known to compensate
The DVD extras are pleasant. There's a short but informative new featurette that gives a general overview of the
show, hosted by Ann Miller. It points out a number of things I certainly missed, like Hermes Pan's
quick cameo as a sailor. Another short subject is a travelogue on New York City, which is welcome for
nostalgia's sake post-9/11, even though its only Kate connection is a single shot where Ann Miller
descends a hotel staircase.
The saucy original poster art on the snapper package cover looks like something that should be on a calendar in a
car repair shop ... Grayson's vivacious, but not that sexy!
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Kiss Me Kate rates:
Video: Good, or Excellent with serious aspect ratio grumbles
Supplements: docu: Cole Porter in Hollywood: Too Darn Hot, Music-only track,
travelog Mighty Manhattan, New York's Wonder City
Packaging: Snapper case
Reviewed: April 22, 2003
1. Carol Haney, one of the
best, least-filmed talents of the time, also plays the hilarious comedy 2nd lead in
The Pajama Game - you know, the office girl with the hidden key who takes John Raitt to
Hernando's Hideaway. When Fosse made the leap from dancer to choreographer-director in New York,
From This Moment On served as his resumé ... Gwen Verdon encouraged prospective directors and
producers to see it.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2003 Glenn Erickson
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