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Warner Home Video presents
"May I remind you, Miss Vanessi, the name of this piece is The Taming of the Shrew, not He Who Gets Slapped."
DVD ReviewAfter much success on Broadway during the 1930s, Cole Porter hit a serious dry spell during the 1940s, with a series of ruinous stage disappointments not to mention seriously poor health. That all changed in 1949 with the rebirth of his career when he took part in an adaptation of Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew. The result, Kiss Me Kate, was a huge hit and an enduring crowd-pleasing favorite ever since. The modernized battle of the sexes came to the screen in grand style in 1953.
In a humorously self-referential prologue, Cole Porter (Ron Randell) is working with hammy Fred Graham (Howard Keel) to stage a musical revival of Shakespeare's comedy. Graham is determined to have his ex-wife, Lilli Vanessi (Kathryn Grayson) costar opposite him as the shrewish Katharine. At first grudging, Lilli insists once she learns that the part otherwise will go to the ditzy ingenue Lois Lane (Ann Miller), who is paying Fred altogether too much attention to suit Lilli. The tension between the two exes first expresses itself in a stirring of their affections and then erupts into open warfare when Lilli learns that a bouquet she thought was for her was actually intended for Lois. The last two thirds of the picture concern the chaotic staging of the play as Lilli attempts to torpedo the show. A subplot involving a forged IOU to the mob, enforced by a pair of inept gangsters, Lippy (Keenan Wynn) and Slug (James Whitmore). Throughout, the stormy relationship of Kate and Petruchio is paralleled by Fred and Lilli, though often in surprising manner.
Porter's fifteen tunes are nearly all memorable and catchy here, presenting a fine return to form for him. Oddly enough, the film version deletes one of the best-known songs from the stage version, the rousing Another Op'nin', Another Show, though it's still occasionally heard in the background arrangements. Particularly memorable is the saucy Brush Up Your Shakespeare, performed by Wynn and Whitmore, neither of whom exactly qualifies as a song and dance man. The dancing, choreographed by Hermes Pan, is striking and vigorous throughout, and a young Bob Fosse performs on film for the first time the unique style that has come to characterize much of Broadway dance to this day. Ann Miller's scorching striptease number Too Darn Hot is also memorable, and must have been especially so in the original 3D.
For Kiss Me Kate was on the cusp of two different fads, only one of which stuck. It was one of the few significant pictures shot in 3D, and the dance sequences often feature kicks and leaps out at the audience (not to mention provocative movements from the shapely Miss Miller). The presentation here is sadly only 2D, making many of Miller's dance moves seem pointless. There are also the usual quota of folks throwing things at the audience to remind them that they're in the 3D experience. The other fad, more successful, was widescreen presentation. MGM shot this picture so that it could be exhibited at any ratio from Academy 1.37:1 to 1.78:1. As will be seen in the video discussion, this has some more negative consequences.
Keel has a wild time with the hammy Graham, and he strikes definite sparks with Grayson. Miller is very fun, with her two-timing attitude disguised behind her wide-eyed innocence. The gangsters talk in that irritating Damon Runyon fashion that afflicts Guys and Dolls, but otherwise Wynn and Whitmore turn in a fine comic turn with excellent timing. The end result is still a great deal of fun and a classic musical that features a heck of a terrific score.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: As noted above, while the film was meant to be exhibited at a range of aspect ratios from full frame to widescreen, the full frame presentation here isn't quite right. All four sides seem to be seriously cropped, with characters cut in half or completely lost off the side. Hands and feet of dancers vanish off the screen as well, which would surely wreak havoc with the 3D effect. Color is decent, though reds tend to be a bit oversaturated and skin tones are on the ruddy side. Black levels are good overall. The source print is in good condition, with a reasonable amount of speckling for a fifty-year-old film. The cropping keeps this disc from getting a recommendation, however.
Image Transfer Grade: C-
Audio Transfer Review: The only soundtrack is a 5.1 remix. There is a noticeable amount of hiss present throughout. The remix has some issues that I find unhappy, such as the foley effects being much too forward in the mix. They are also of a different timbre from the rest of the picture, causing me to suspect that they may have been rerecorded for this mix. Grayson's singing voice sounds unpleasantly shrill, while Keel's voice has a hollow quality, neither of which is very pleasing either. However, Miller sounds terrific, so it's not just a question of the mix; possibly there were issues with the original music track that haven't quite been remedied here. The orchestral music sounds fine as well.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 36 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Isolated Music Score with remote access
Layers Switch: 01h:06m:57s
Extras Review: Another installment of Cole Porter in Hollywood is presented, centering on the making of this picture, with notable emphasis on the choreography. That's appropriate since this short piece (9m:40s) is hosted by Miller herself; Grayson and Keel both briefly appear and comment in interview segments of uncertain vintage, as do Whitmore and Wynn. A documentary on New York City, Mighty Manhattan (1949) running 20m:18s is also included, although its only visible relationship to the film is that it dates from the same year the stage play hit Broadway, and Miller is briefly sighted in the picture, dancing to Xavier Cugat's orchestra.
In addition to a brief set of production notes and a full-frame trailer, there is an isolated score, one of my favorite extras and one that is certainly worthwhile in this picture. The only downside is the lengthy silent bits where dialogue occupies the soundtrack alone.
Extras Grade: C
Final CommentsCole Porter's last great musical suffers from an unfortunate zooming and cropping that disrupts the visual aspect and a dubious 5.1 audio remix. There are some decent extras, but the cropping issue will deter serious film lovers.
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