Today, we’re here to get into my first entry for my own Musical Screen Teams blogathon! That would be the 1953 musical Kiss Me Kate, featuring the team of Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel in their final film together!
Coming Up Shorts! with… Washee Ironee (1934)
(available on Blu-ray as part of The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 4 (1933-1935) from ClassicFlix)
(Length: 16 minutes, 38 seconds)
Rich boy Waldo (Wally Albright) tries to get into a football game with the Gang, and ends up falling in the mud. His mother is throwing a society party (at which she expects him to play the violin), so the Gang tries to help wash out his clothes. This one was decently entertaining. In particular, Spanky (George McFarland) going through town in his goat-led “ambulance” (complete with him imitating a siren) was one of the shorts’ more amusing bits, as was the kids making a mess of the society party. It does go a bit wrong when Spanky stops to get help from a Chinese kid at the laundry (the main problem being the way the other kids all treat him by attempting to speak “Chinese”). Apart from that, though, I enjoyed this one, and would gladly watch it again!
Coming Up Shorts! with… Barney’s Hungry Cousin (1953)
(Available as an extra on the Kiss Me Kate Blu-ray from Warner Home Video)
(Length: 6 minutes, 42 seconds)
Barney Bear has come to Jellystone National Park, hoping to enjoy a nice picnic. However, one of the bears living there keeps trying to steal his food! This one was quite fun. Admittedly, it is essentially the same joke over and over, as the one hungry bear keeps stealing Barney’s food, no matter what Barney does to get away from him or prevent it. Still, it serves its purpose in being funny, which makes it worth seeing!
And Now For The Main Feature…
Composer Cole Porter (Ron Randell) has put together a musical version of the Shakespearean play The Taming Of The Shrew, with plans to have it directed by Fred Graham (Howard Keel) with Fred also playing the lead role of “Petruchio.” They both want Fred’s ex-wife, Lilli Vanessi (Kathryn Grayson), to play the part of “Katherine,” and they invite her to Fred’s apartment to convince her to be a part of the show. She almost consents until Fred’s current girlfriend, nightclub performer Lois Lane (Ann Miller), shows up. Lilli decides to leave but quickly returns to accept the role when Fred and Cole decide to be sneaky and offer Lois the part of “Katherine.” During rehearsals, Fred and Lilli continue to argue, but start to reconcile right before the show’s opening night. However, Fred sends some flowers to Lois with a note (but his valet mistakenly delivers the flowers to Lilli), and Lilli (who believes the bouquet of flowers were meant for her) reads the note during a moment onstage. In a rage, she starts going off-script and hitting Fred hard. In retaliation, he spanks her onstage at the end of the first act. Having had enough, Lilli decides to leave the show immediately and go to be with her fiancé, Tex Callaway (Willard Parker). Fred at first has no clue how to convince her to stay and finish the show, but he quickly comes up with an idea. Fred learns that his castmate Bill Calhoun (Tommy Rall) (who is actually Lois’ boyfriend) had taken part in a crap game earlier, and lost a lot of money (but signed Fred’s name on the IOU). While he’s initially mad at Bill, due to the two thugs (Lippy, as played by Keenan Wynn, and Slug, as played by James Whitmore) hounding him about the money, Fred is able to make use of the situation by convincing the two men that he can only pay them back if the show is a hit (and it needs Lilli to stay for that to happen). So, the two men force Lilli to go through with the show for a while. However, between acts, the two men find out that their employer has been killed, thus negating Fred’s “IOU.” Without their help, can Fred convince Lilli to stay with him (and the show), or will she go off to live life with a millionaire?
The whole idea was the result of a 1935 performance of Shakespeare’s The Taming Of The Shrew in which then-stage manager Arnold Saint Subber watched the show’s stars, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, fight backstage. Later on, as Arnold Saint Subber was becoming a Broadway producer, he decided to make use of the idea as a backstage musical. With the help of his new partner, Lemuel Ayres, he brought in Bella and Samuel Spewack to write the book along with composer Cole Porter to write the score. They were all hesitant about the project, but they were able to come up with a show that would be a big hit with audiences, one of the few to run more than one thousand performances at the time. MGM quickly bought the movie rights, but film production was delayed since they couldn’t start until the Broadway show’s run had ended. In making the transition from stage to screen, the musical kept most of its score (save for at least one song that ended up being spoken), and added the Cole Porter song “From This Moment On” (originally written for the Cole Porter show Out Of This World, even though it was dropped before its premiere). Of course, the song “From This Moment On” is famous here for the fact that Bob Fosse had the opportunity to choreograph a section of the dance for himself and his partner, Carol Haney, which helped him greatly on the path to becoming a famous choreographer.
I picked this film (which I’ve seen many times over the years) to go with my Musical Screen Teams blogathon, with my planned focus on Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel, who had worked together previously in Show Boat (1951) and Lovely To Look At (1952). While I don’t quite think the film itself is the best of the three, I do think that their characters’ relationship works the best here. Unlike the other two films, we don’t see their original romance here. Instead, they’ve already been a married couple and gotten divorced. Yet, the seeds of love between them still exist somewhat despite the anger and hatred that Keel’s Fred keeps causing by his current relationship with Ann Miller’s Lois (even if Lois is just using him to help her own career and that of her boyfriend). On the musical side of things, Keel and Grayson only have two duets (the rest of the time, they are part of an ensemble), but those two songs, “So In Love” and “Wunderbar” are among some of the film’s best moments. “So In Love” is indeed, as it’s title suggests, a beautiful love song, used mainly as an audition for Grayson’s Lilli (and, even though Fred is using it to help manipulate her into doing the show, it still helps show enough of those seeds of attraction I already referred to). “Wunderbar” is just plain fun, as their characters recall a previous show they did together, with them even goofing around and trying to upstage each other, while also dancing together.
Of course, Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson are hardly the only things that make this movie wonderful. One thing this movie is noted for is the fact that it was made as part of the 3-D fad during the early 1950s (when Hollywood was trying to come up with ways to get people out to the theatres due to the rise of television). I personally can’t speak to how good the 3-D is, since I’ve never seen it on a big screen, and I haven’t had any of the technology to see it that way at home (since the Blu-ray came out while 3-D Blu-rays required a 3-D player and a 3-D TV, neither of which have I ever had). Still, one can get a sense of the 3-D aspects through many moments in the film, especially when they throw stuff at the camera during some of the dances. In general, Ann Miller (in some respects, the “third member” of the screen team, since she was also kind of the girlfriend briefly for Howard Keel’s character in Lovely To Look At) gets some of the best moments to show off her dance abilities. Her tap solo “auditioning” for the show to “Too Darn Hot” is one of the film’s highlights (regardless of whether you see it in 3-D or not). She also has “Why Can’t You Behave?” with Tommy Rall on the rooftop, and several routines with him, Bobby Van and Bob Fosse, all of which are fun! In my opinion, this is a very highly regarded musical for good reason, with great music by Cole Porter, great singers and dancers, wonderful comedy and Shakespeare! So, it’s certainly a film I would recommend very highly!
This movie is available on Blu-ray, either individually from Warner Archive Collection or as part of a four-film Musicals collection from Warner Home Video.
Film Length: 1 hour, 50 minutes
My Rating: 10/10
List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections
Lovely To Look At (1952) – Kathryn Grayson
Bob Fosse – Give A Girl A Break (1953)
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