Watch 52 musicals, one every week, in 2015.
KISS ME KATE (1953)
Sadly not a Fifties version of Secretary as the poster would have me believe, Kiss Me Kate is a musical film adaptation of William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. Well, actually, it’s a musical film adaptation of a musical stage adaptation of William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. I mean, specifically, it’s a musical film adaptation of a musical stage adaptation of William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew about a musical stage adaptation of William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew.
I’m just gonna lay it out here, folks; this is going to be a short one. I didn’t really enjoy the plot of Kiss Me Kate.
Good night, everybody!
Alright, I guess I can be more specific. The set-up is okay; you’ve got two divorced characters and there’s awkward tension and jealousy and a couple o’ mooks are out to collect debts on the wrong guy and all this is going on in the middle of performing a Shakespeare play. This could get craaaaazy! But it just kinda… doesn’t.
For once, I beg of you, the show must not go on.
The big problem with the pacing is the Kiss Me, Kate within the Kiss Me Kate. (The play has a comma, the movie doesn’t, I don’t know why.) We meet our protagonists post-divorce, we don’t get to learn very much about them, and suddenly we’re just watching everybody put on a play for thirty minutes. Then shit goes down around intermission, and that mucks things up in the second half, but it’s nothing really worth a belly laugh. I could have enjoyed this as a straightforward musical adaptation of Shrew or a zanily disastrous production of a play in the vein of Noises Off, but hovering somewhere in the middle, it did little for me.
Can’t believe I’m calling a movie with this much spanking boring.
Not helping matters is that I found the two leads pretty irritating. Howard Keel’s Fred Graham is a bit of a pompous dick, and Kathryn Grayson as his ex-wife Lilli Vanessi comes across as very… well, shrewish. They’re not fun on their own and I’m not rooting for them to get back together. Also, their singing is way too operatic and cheesy. Just, really, I didn’t care for them at all.
In contrast to them is the sassy tap dancing spitfire Ann Miller, who I first fell in love with in On the Town and am glad to report that my heart is still a-thumpin’ for. Her character, inexplicably named Lois Lane even though the other one had existed for 15 years at this point, has a rivalry with Lilli for roles and maybe also Frank’s heart/penis. This is, of course, a wacky misunderstanding, but I honestly don’t know why Frank isn’t after her since she’s clearly the perfect woman.
Beauty, brains, charm, humor, and she taps like nobody’s business.
Lois’s beau is Tommy Rall as the gamblin’ actor Bill Calhoun, who is similarly full of life and talent and just generally more fun to watch than the couple we’re supposed to care about. Seriously, I think this movie landed on the wrong protagonists.
Oh, look, struggles I care about.
The last performances worth mentioning are Keenan Wynn and James Whitmore as two thugs out to put the squeeze on whichever actor owes their boss money. They’re fun, but at the risk of sounding like a broken record in regards to this movie, they’re not fun enough.
THE SONGS AND DANCES:
Is this article coming across like a book report I really didn’t want to do? I hope not. I paid attention and took copious notes, honest, but I’m sorry, here comes another aspect of Kiss Me Kate where my reaction was mostly “blah.” Like, I try to cover every musical number, but I don’t see the point this time since I wrote “snooze” or “yawn” or “boring” next to half of these songs, so I’ll skip the misses. And these tunes were written by Cole Porter, who is supposed to be terrific, but try again, I guess. That said…
…”Too Darn Hot” might be the best song-and-dance combo I’ve seen in any musical. On paper, it’s just a jazz ensemble playing in a living room while Ann Miller sings about it being too warm to boink while she dances around and over the furniture; nothing elaborate, no Busby Berkeley bells and whistles. But wow. It’s just so vibrant. The band is on fire, they’re hooting and hollering for Ann, she’s flirty and fun, her tap dancing is incredible, the editing and camera angles keep things fresh, her outfit is pink and sparkly and fabulous, and it all serves a purpose in the story (making Lilli jealous). This scene sets the bar too high early on and nothing after it comes even close. I’d recommend this movie I mostly snored through for “Too Darn Hot” alone.
No screencap will do it justice. You’ve got to see it.
A bit later, Ann and Tommy Rall have a silly little rooftop dance in “Why Can’t You Behave.” It’s slapsticky and acrobatic and just makes it that much easier to tune out the songs where dancers aren’t working goddamn magic with their bodies.
There’s a pattern to the songs I didn’t like, and it’s that the leads are involved. For some reason, every one of their tunes is slow and boring and doesn’t have crazy awesome dancing in it, so my eyes get a little heavy… and then HELL YEAH, ANN MILLER’S BACK. In the play-within-the-movie, she’s Bianca, and she has a great ditty about wanting to get with any guy in “Tom, Dick or Harry.” Her tapping is phenomenal, as usual.
Also, everyone’s dressed like candy.
And then nap break for, like, an hour, and then ohhh, goody, Ann Miller again. This time it’s light on the tapping but heavy on the comedy in “Always True to You in My Fashion.” See, her man is jealous that she rubs elbows and maybe other bits with fellas around town, but she explains that she is always loyal to him… in the way that she defines as loyal. It’s cute and sweet and is probably just a fun song with jokes about infidelity but I have chosen to see it as a lesson on the importance of communicating your feelings with your partners because I need to find something relatable in this heap.
How progressive/not boring!
If you twisted my arm to pick a song I liked that didn’t feature Ann Miller, “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” is sort of neat. It’s a couple o’ wiseguys talkin’ about how knowing a few lines of the Bard might get you laid. Whee.
If I had to make one suggestion… Ann Miller, maybe?
Tap dancing in a sparkly pink outfit? Just throwing that out there.
Hmm, my notes refer to a song called “From This Moment On” that I labeled “kinda fun” but I don’t remember it at all. Lemme cue it up again…
Oh. Hi, Ann.
- Every time somebody in the movie threw an object toward the screen, I’d shout “In 3-D!” Turns out my shitty joke wasn’t a joke; this was shot in 3-D.
I THINK THIS LINE’S MOSTLY FILLER:
While there’s a baffling line in “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” about getting kicked in the Coriolanus, the WTF award goes to Ann Miller for some dong-themed scatting in “Tom, Dick or Harry,” where she totally gets away with mentioning her craving for a dick sixteen times…
“A dicka dick, a dicka dick, a dicka dick, a dicka dick,
a dicka dick, a dicka dick, a dicka dick, a dicka dick…”
Not enough Ann Miller.
But really, I can see why some people might love Kiss Me Kate and declare it a classic. Personally, though, a lot of great elements never gelled to make it a satisfying whole. I’m also one of those lunkheads who hasn’t brushed up his Shakespeare, so if this was pulling a lot of clever winks to the original text, I was missing them. I’ll take West Side Story over Kiss Me Kate. And Forbidden Planet over both.
Okay, I’m off to add every Ann Miller movie ever to my Netflix queue. See you next week.
Funny Face (1957)