Shakespeare on Film: Kiss Me Kate


Kiss Me Kate (1953)
d. George Sidney

Produced in garishly colored 3-D, five years after the original stage musical became a Broadway smash, George Sidney’s Kiss Me Kate combines Cole Porter’s songwriting genius with energetic backstage comedy. It opens as Porter (played by Ron Randell) helps blazered actor-director Fred Graham (Howard Keel) persuade fearsome ex-wife Lilli Vanessi (Kathryn Grayson), to star in their new show, Kiss Me Kate, as “a perfect shrew” opposite the Bianca of Lois Lane (the leggy Ann Miller), Fred’s current squeeze.

We cut to opening night, with time before the curtain rises to leave several plot strands dangling.

The four principals launch into their musical Shrew as “Shakespearean portrayers,” a play-within-a-play device that acknowledges Shakespeare’s Induction, and Sam and Bella Spewack use small chunks of his dialogue to bridge the gaps between musical numbers. Bianca’s “Tom, Dick or Harry” disposes briefly of the younger sister subplot and showcases Miller’s supercharged dancing. Porter channels Katharina’s violent temper into “I Hate Men,” a wittily damning inventory of twentieth-century male failings, vigorously delivered by Grayson. Keel shows off his emphatic baritone, strapping physique and uncomplicated charm as one of Petruchio’s most famous lines, “I’ve Come to Wive It Wealthily in Padua,” becomes the title of an appropriately rousing number, and the new husband’s rueful question, “Where Is the Life That Late I Led?” becomes his cue to sing the praises of “Momo from Milano” and many other ex-girlfriends. Compared to these showstoppers, the off-stage numbers are mostly fine, if conventional, love duets, presenting Fred/Lilli and Bill/Lois as the “Can’t live with or without you” couples beloved of vintage Hollywood comedies.

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