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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

KISS ME KATE -- Movie Review by Porfle

KISS ME KATE (1953) is a fairly staid, traditional musical that's occasionally buoyed by a new wave of imaginative up-and-coming performers--such as the young Bob Fosse (soon to be a major choreographer himself) and Bobby Van--who were eager to infuse the art form with fresh, unconventional ideas and youthful enthusiasm. 

The sometimes bland story and execution are also carried along, at times almost singlehandedly, by that irrepressible force of nature known as Ann Miller.

The movie begins in the penthouse of Broadway actor and director Fred Graham (Howard Keel) who invites Cole Porter (Ron Randall) and his volatile ex-wife Lilli (Kathryn Grayson) over to look at a new script he wants to produce which is a musical version of Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew."  What we're in for, as you might guess, will be a stage production which will parallel in many ways the temptestuous relationship and eventual reconciliation of Fred and Lilli, with plenty of song and dance numbers squeezed in along the way.

Just as this first section begins to drag a bit, Ann Miller (playing a dancer with the unlikely name of Lois Lane) comes in and blows the doors off the place with an incredible solo performance of "Too Darn Hot" that sets the bar high for the rest of the film.  There was just never anything like her that I've ever seen in any musical--unlimited charm, energy, and blazing talent coupled with a seemingly insatiable desire to show it off.  Not to mention an utterly uninhibited, sexy charm that you simply don't see every day. 

Her appearances throughout the film are like B-12 shots that enliven and invigorate things whenever Howard and Kathryn's mildly amusing romantic conflicts grow a tad tiresome.  Joining her in this is athletic hoofer Tommy Rall as her unreliable boyfriend Bill, another dynamo whose powerful dancing is augmented by gymnastic moves. 

Bill, we find, is a gambling addict who tends to sign Fred's name to his I.O.U.'s, resulting in Fred being visited by a couple of thugs named Lippy and Slug who are  played by the unlikely song-and-dance team of Keenan Wynn and James Whitmore.  When they refuse to leave until they're paid, Fred gets them into costume and puts them into the show, which gives KISS ME KATE some of its more endearing comedy relief. 

The stage production itself tends to slow things down when too much attention is paid to actually doing bad Shakespeare.  However, things pick up when Fred and Lilli's personal problems start to get played out during the performance. 

Most of Cole Porter's songs are top-notch as usual, as is the choreography by Hermes Pan.  The sets are attractive and photographed in vivid Technicolor.  Filmed in 3D (but released as the fad began to wane and thus distributed mostly in 2D), the action is filled with people throwing things at the camera throughout the entire running time.  The cast is terrific, including small parts by "Pete Smith" regular Dave O'Brien, Kurt Kasznar, and Ann Codee, who was "Tante Berthe" in THE MUMMY'S CURSE.

Highlights include Keel and Grayson's duets on songs such as "So in Love" and "Wunderbar", Keel's solos on "Were Thine That Special Face", "I've Come to Wive it Wealthily in Padua", and "Where Is the Life That Late I Led", and a couple of delightful numbers by Ann Miller and Tommy Rall, "Why Can't You Behave" and "Always True to You in My Fashion." 

Wynn and Whitmore even get into the act with their two-left-feet schlubfest "Brush Up Your Shakespeare."  Grayson's main moment in the show, which the shrewish Lilli performs with conviction, is the song "I Hate Men."

For the lengthy showstopper number "From This Moment On", which comes before the story's inevitable happy ending, director George Sidney treats us to Ann Miller, Tommy Rall, Bob Fosse, Bobby Van, and Carol Haney in a dazzling exhibition of dance in which they were allowed to incorporate much of their own personal style into the choreography. 

This is one of the most thrilling sequences in the film and, among other things, reaffirmed my newfound admiration for Ann Miller.  (I can't wait to see my old favorite ON THE TOWN again in which she co-stars with the likes of Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Vera-Ellen, and Jules Munchin.)

While not as fresh and fun as SINGIN' IN THE RAIN or as sophisticated and insouciant as THE BAND WAGON, KISS ME KATE still remains one of old Hollywood's most solid, lavish, enjoyable musicals from the glory days of MGM.


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