Kiss Me Kate
Directed by George Sidney
Fred and Lilly are a divorced pair of actors who are brought together by Cole Porter who has written a musical version of The Taming of the Shrew. Of course, the couple seem to act a great deal like the characters they play. A fight on the opening night threatens the production, as well as two thugs who have the mistaken idea that Fred owes their boss money and insist on staying next to him all night.
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★★★½ review by Jonathan White on Letterboxd
Whoa, the Bard ain’t no feminist crusader here. I could practically see the steam rising from the top of my better half’s head, especially when we reached the spanking scene. I was able to tolerate the blatant misogyny a bit more, but it was certainly uncomfortable.
Aside from the aforementioned out of time concepts of domestic inequality, there were three things that stood out for me. First how much Howard Keel, in the dual role of Fred Graham and 'Petruchio' , looked like Errol Flynn as Robin Hood , second, how I could be surprised once again that two songs I grew up with, Too Darn Hot and Always True To You In My Fashion, originated from this work without me realizing it, and finally how refined the 3D cinematography was.
Some months ago I was reading some piece that mentioned the 3D restoration of the 1953 MGM spectacular that was based on the phenomenally successful Broadway musical. Wait, what? There is a 3D Blu? Wasn’t 3D back in those days the red and cyan glasses technology, the stuff of Creature from the Black Lagoon and the Monster Chiller Horror Theatre Dr. Tongue features? I was intrigued by the thought that the audiences of the day would have watched this using that far inferior technology that could barely reproduce colour and this would be a chance at seeing it restored to pristine from its original left and right view technicolour elements in modern Blu-ray 3D.
Something was off, though. This film is so techi-colourful that I can’t imagine that those in the day that saw the 3D version compared to a 2D flat version would have anything good to say about the former aside from a bit of added depth. After a bit of digging, it turned out that anaglyph ( red/cyan ) played a curious role in 3D, in that it was used in the earliest features in the 1920's , and later in the ‘3D House of Wax / The Stewardesses 3D pulp / sexploitation features of the 70’s that represented the third resurgence of the third dimension.
There was a brief period between 1952 and 1953 when 3D experienced its Golden Age, and Kiss Me Kate was at the zenith of that brief period. The culmination of a 3D process developed by Polaroid and the studio’s desire to win back audiences that had been bleeding to the newfangled Television lead to an all out push for something new, and 3D was it. The close to 50 films produced in that brief two year period weren’t schlock ( well, except maybe Robot Monster, that competes with Plan 9 from Outer Space as the worst film ever ). The starred the biggest names of the day including John Wayne, Randolph Scott, Rita Heyworth, Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray. It may surprise that even Hitchcock filmed Dial M for Murder in the process.
The Polaroid ‘Natural Vision’ 3D process used in the Golden Age is essentially the same technology that’s used in today’s modern 3D films. In some ways it was superior, as it used two projectors so it could double the light output to compensate for the light loss through the polarizing glasses. The cinematographers of the day working on these high budget pictures researched until they understood how to compose a 3D frame, and the necessity to keep everything as ‘depth’ rather than have it burst out of the screen, as this would be a much more comfortable experience for the audience. Sure, a few things are ‘thrown’ at the audience here and there, but it’s kept to a minimum. Kiss Me Kate’s 3D composition can stand toe to toe with Avatar and Gravity.
So what went wrong? The technology wasn’t quite ready. Although the fidelity of the 3D image in both depth and colour was on par with our current technology, the methodology to make it happen was a bit more convoluted. In today’s digital systems a single projector will flash right and left views sequentially ( one after the other ) through a special polarizing filter that can be switched electronically to a vertical or horizontal orientation ( this explanation is completely wrong, but is easier to understand ), so all the left eye views are polarized vertically, and the right eyes horizontally. The Polaroid glasses that the audience wears has a vertically polarized lens for the left eye and horizontally polarized right eye. Everything was the same back then, but the whole sequential left / right frames and electronically controllable polarizer in front of the projection lens was way beyond the technology of the day.
Their solution was ingenious. The maximum length of film a single reel of film on a projector could handle was 5000 feet .. or just about one hour. Because of this, every theatre had 2 projectors, so they could ‘change over’ from the first reel of the film to the second without stopping ( again, simplification ). Some oldsters might remember that mysterious dot that appeared in the upper right of the picture, which was the projectionist’s cue to ‘change over’ from one projector to the other. The new Natural Vision 3D system exploited that there were two projectors in each projection booth so that each could run, at the same time, one with the right view and one with the left view. The left projector had a vertical polarizing filter, and the right projector a right polarizing filter. Easy peasey. The only real consequence being that you’d have to have an intermission at 60 minutes because you only had two projectors and couldn’t do a ‘change over’
Well, not quite. The two projectors had to be kept in absolute sync or everything would go to hell … and unfortunately that happened during 50% of the presentations. The methods for keeping the projectors in sync was crude, and simply splicing a break in one of the ‘views’ of the film without an appropriate splice in the other view would result in them being out of sync. The effect on the audience? Nausea, loss of 3D effect, blurry presentation. In just 2 years the audience, who was initially ecstatic about 3D didn’t want anything to do with it. At the same time Cinemascope, with its widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio was bursting on the scene. Audiences loved it because of its immersive qualities, exhibitors loved it because they didn’t have to deal with all the technical issues and 3D glasses. 3D died an unceremonious death in 1954.
3D has come back from the dead and then died again in the 70’s, this time mainly due to the cheesy content. ( remember Jaws 3D? ) IMAX then heralded the future of 3D with its Expo ’86 film, Transitions ( I saw it there, and I was blown away ), and after that digital projection and RealD ushered in the modern era.
When it comes down to it, the technology doesn’t really matter as long as it works … it’s down to the film itself and how it handles the medium. Kiss Me Kate did a damn fine job. While I don’t think I’ll ever be able to say I love it as much as a same era MGM musical like Guys and Dolls ( where the Dolls had a decidedly upper hand ) I certainly will respect it for its cinematography and choreography.
... and, 'If a Harris pat means a Paris hat, OK!' is probably the best musical line ever written.
★★★½ review by isa on Letterboxd
kate should not have kissed him
★★★★ review by Thorkell August Ottarsson on Letterboxd
Shakespeare, Cole Porter and Bob Fosse. What's not to like?
This is a wonderful musical. Cole Porter has written a musical version of Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew and we see him and the actors preparing for the play and then preforming it at the opening night, with just as much drama and comedy off stage as on stage.
There are three things that stand out in this musical, great music (it goes without saying), the 'Too Darn Hot' scene with Ann Miller (how did she dance like that in high heals?) and seeing Bob Fosse dance. He is so young and youthful and he totally steals the scenes when he is on stage. Bob Fosse choreographed the steamy duet between Bob Fosse and Carol Haney in "From This Moment On" (which includes Fosse doing a complete back-flip). Even though this scene lasts only 66 seconds it made critics take notice of the future award-winning choreographer and director.
Unfortunately my DVD was Pan and Scan of a matted version! There was so much missing on the sides! I wish this film was published in the correct format.
Here is the Too Darn Hot scene:
Here is the Bob Fosse scene I talked about:
And here is another scene with Bob Fosse (he is in red and white). Look at how he stands out!:
★★★★★ review by Rick Burin on Letterboxd
This is an old review from a rundown of my 100 favourite movies, as Adam's "underrated musicals" list brought it to mind:
This is a bold claim, but I think Kiss Me Kate is the second greatest of all the MGM musicals - after Broadway Melody of 1940 - a touch finer than Meet Me in St Louis, An American in Paris, and even Singin' in the Rain. It's based, ingeniously, on The Taming of the Shrew, as warring former lovers Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson are brought together for a musical take on Shakespeare's ode to spanking, and find life imitating art. The film mixes the best of the old - a peerlessly witty set of songs from the legendary Cole Porter - and the new, like Bob Fosse's outrageous, possessed, earth-shaking choreography to From This Moment On, the funky climactic ballet.
Despite many changes to Porter's censor-baiting lyrics, some of the smuttiness remains, along with all of the loveliness (From This Moment On is one of the sweetest songs around) and a clutch of unforgettable melodies. With the possible except of Lorenz Hart, who else could - or would - rhyme "Padua" with "cad you are"? The film's two light opera stars belt out the numbers with what I'm contractually obliged to refer to as "gusto", the underrated Keel giving a particularly attractive, charismatic performance. MGM also packed the supporting cast with superb specialist dancers like Tommy Rall, Bobby Van and regular B-movie player Ann Miller (who had also appeared in Easter Parade and On the Town), whilst giving a pair of non-musical contract players, Keenan Wynn and James Whitmore, a crack at song and dance in Brush Up Your Shakespeare. Everything about the film comes together, from the exultant music to the eye-popping hoofing. This was one of the last big productions from MGM's extraordinary musical unit and their first in 3D, which accounts for Keel periodically whizzing towards the camera, and it's a stone-cold masterpiece.
Favourite bit: From This Moment On - an ode to monogamy (and the joy of coupling off), which begins as a straight production number then positively explodes with invention, as Bob Fosse and Carol Hainey rip up the rulebook with 48 seconds of jazzy, finger-clicking goodness.
★★★★ review by kaila Starr on Letterboxd
I FINALLY OWN THIS!
this one one of the i watched over and over when I was a kid along with singin in the rain , cabaret and calamity jane
Howard Keel u are Fine , yes please
Taming of the Shrew which this is a play on is one of my favorite Shakespeare comedies as well.
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