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  Kiss Me Kate Naming And Taming
Year: 1953
Director: George Sidney
Stars: Kathryn Grayson, Howard Keel, Ann Miller, Keenan Wynn, Bobby Van, Tommy Rall, James Whitmore, Kurt Kasznar, Bob Fosse, Ron Randell, Willard Parker, Dave O'Brien, Claud Allister, Ann Codee, Carol Haney, Jeanne Coyne
Genre: Musical, Comedy, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 3 votes)
Review: Musical singing star Fred Graham (Howard Keel) is fretting that his next production may not secure the services of the leading lady he most wants, especially as she is his ex-wife Lilli Vanessi (Kathryn Grayson). The new production is to be a musical version of William Shakespeare's play The Taming of the Shrew, written by Cole Porter (Ron Randell) who happens to be at Fred's apartment awaiting the arrival of Lilli so he can play her some of the tunes he has in mind. She does indeed arrive but cannot hide her frostiness towards her ex, although when she hears the main love song from the musical, she starts to thaw...

Kiss Me Kate is probably the best loved of Cole Porter's musicals, frequently revived on the stage thanks to the sheer brilliance of its songs of which many have entered the public consciousness - you're guaranteed to hear at least one you recognise watching this, and even if you don't they're sure to lodge themselves in your brain. Porter not only enjoyed the success of this in the theatres of the world, but he got a big movie out of it too, which was shot in three dimensions, hence every so often an object will get chucked at the camera in the direction of the audience, and occasionally a cast member will fling themselves in the same general area.

Not to worry if you did not bring your 3D glasses with you, as Kiss Me Kate was perfectly watchable in 2D, and for some reason musicals with this gimmick did not take off in the same way that science fiction and horror did: there were possibly more westerns in the third dimension than musicals. Anyway, this film's main asset is not so much its visuals, although its Technicolor is suitably bright and vivid, as its soundtrack and the way the cast approach it. Let's not dismiss the imagery too offhandedly, however, as there is still the sight of Ann Miller performing her magnificently aggressive tap dance routines to appreciate.

She is even joined by Bob Fosse, here before he branched off into direction and proving himself to be every bit the legendary dancer he was, even if he is strictly a second banana in the play within a film. Of course the play the characters are performing mirrors their real lives, most notably Fred and Lilli's, whose relationship hit the rocks long ago in spite of Fred wishing it could have worked out far better than it did. By essaying the roles of Petruchio and Katherine in the Shakespeare, we are not too surprised that their love is rekindled through the magic of the medium, although it's still a thorny prospect for much of the running time what with farce-style misunderstandings abounding.

That's not to mention the two hoods hanging around in the background, played with great comic flair by Keenan Wynn and James Whitmore, whose classic number Brush Up Your Shakespeare is one of the catchiest tunes Porter ever wrote - marvel at how they managed to get away with the "kick in the Coriolanus" gag, never mind Miller proclaiming her love for "A Dick! A Dick! A Dick!" If the tone never finds the truly emotional core of the piece it seems to be aspiring to, it is worth noticing the way it always comes across as good natured in spite of the bile some of the characters, most obviously Lilli, fire off at times; her I Hate Men song is a humorous commentary on that very aspect. Best not to pay too close attention to the plot, either, as you'll begin to ponder what on earth the theatre audience are supposed to be watching when the cast are all backstage singing and dancing for their own amusement. Kiss Me Kate may not quite rank among the all-time classics in its film version, but there's plenty to enjoy nevertheless.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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