Monday, September 20, 2021

Kiss Me Kate

Tomorrow morning and afternoon, TCM is running a bunch of Shakespeare-themed movies. I'd never done a review of Kiss Me Kate before, so the last time it showed up on TCM, I recorded it with a view to getting around to watching it sometime. Seeing it on the schedule speeded up that process, so now you're getting the review.

Howard Keel plays Fred Graham, a Broadway star who is talking with his good friend Cole Porter (Ron Randell) about his latest project. Cole has written a musical treatment of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, and Fred would be perfect for the male lead Petruchio. They know who would be perfect for the role of Kate, actress Lilli Vanessi (Kathryn Grayson). There's just one catch: Lilli is Fred's ex-wife. And Fred is pursuing another woman now, dancer Lois Lane (Ann Miller), although she's got a boyfriend in Bill Calhoun (Tommy Rall).

After some persuading (and a spectacular if meaningless to the plot dance number by Miller), Lilli agrees to take on the role, and the play is a go. At this point, a substantial portion of the movie becomes the performance of the musical version of the play, although some of the backstage stuff is going to come into play.

Lois and Bill ahve both been cast in the play too, as Bianca and Lucentio respectively, if you know the original Shakespeare play, which I have to admit I don't know that much about. That's no big deal, except that Bill likes to gamble and has racked up a substantial amount of gambling debt. Worse, he forged Fred's name on an IOU to the gangsters.

The gangster, however, sends some henchmen who don't know what the guy who signed the IOU looked like, or else they'd find Fred and realize that Fred isn't the one who racked up those debts. Instead, the henchmen, Lippy and Slug (Keenan Wynn and James Whitmore respectively), simply expect Fred to pay up. At least Fred has the good sense to realize that he has a hit on his hands and try to wait for the box office to come in long enough to pay off the IOU.

But here there's a big catch: Lilli got a bouquet of flowers from Fred, whch she thought was part of an attempt to make up. But it was a mistake: the flowers were meant for Lois. When Lilli sees the card addressed to Lois, she threatens to quit the show then and there, like literally between acts of the performance. This would obviously be a disaster for Fred, and leads to the film's funnier moments of Lippy and Slug being dressed up in Shakespearean garb and going on stage to watch Lilli and make certain she doesn't bolt.

Kiss Me Kate has a lot of potential. Whether you like it, however, is going to come down to whether you like the singing and the dancing. For me, that was a bit of a problem, as neither Howard Keel nor Kathryn Grayson are my favorite singers. Not that they can't sing; they're more than proficient enough. It's just a style that I don't think holds up so well today. The dancing, unsurprisingly, is quite good, thanks not just to Miller, but Rall and also a young Bob Fosse as two of Miller's suitors in the stage version of the show.

Kiss Me Kate wouldn't be my first choice when thinking about any of the stars, or for Cole Porter musicals, but there are definitely going to be people who like it a lot.

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