Saturday, January 5, 2013

So Kiss Me Kate (1953), Darling Devil Divine!

Picture it: a movie theater, 1953.  You're "sitting in the darkness, popcorn on your knee" as the old song goes, a pair of 3D glasses perched atop your nose.  Suddenly, the opening credits begin to roll, and as they appear on-screen, you realize -- holy cow! -- EVERYTHING IS COMING AT YOUR FACE.  3D!  In color!  With Stereophonic Sound!  This is what audiences experienced while watching MGM's film version of Cole Porter's Kiss Me Kate (albeit with "cleaned up" lyrics and the absence of Lilli's profane entrance), the tale of divorced actors who are forced to reunite when they are both cast in a musicalization of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew.  Sumptuous and extravagant (and even hilarious), this movie musical is a gem, regardless of the number of gimmicks it employed at the time to get audiences out from in front of their television set and into the theatre.  It's fast-paced, frivolous fun from the Jack Cummings unit (a step down from Arthur Freed, but it's all good, Jack -- I support you) with some epic dance numbers choreographed by the fabulous Hermes Pan, and even a segment choreographed by a featured dancer in the film ... a blond fellow by the name of Bob Fosse. 

The Actors:
  • Kathryn Grayson: This is easily my favorite film of my fellow North Carolina native.  Grayson, whose petite frame and heart-shaped face lent itself to playing pretty much every soprano ingenue ever, is really able to sink her teeth into the role of tempestuous stage star Lilli Vanessi.  Her delivery of "I Hate Men" (and really, every hateful line she throws at Howard Keel) is hilarious -- and not just because she keeps throwing junk at your face.  (3D WIN!)  She basically portrays the kind of human I aspire to be.  Also, I have to add that I don't think Kathryn Grayson ever looked any lovelier than she does in that beautiful, long, red wig she wears for playing Kate.  Seriously, she should have worn that wig forever.
  • Howard Keel: True story - I was first exposed to Howard Keel at some point in my elementary school career when I became obsessed with the TV show, "Dallas."  Teenage me discovering twelve/thirteen years ago that he had actually been a huge MGM singing star was like discovering America or a third arm.  I feel that Howard Keel was to musicals what Errol Flynn had been to swashbucklers.  He's the perfect combination of brash and boastfulness as Fred Graham.  The chemistry between Keel and Grayson in this film is positively electric.  No more of this precious Magnolia/Gaylord Show Boat nonsense.  It's time to throw things and yell! 
  • Ann Miller: Sheeeeeeeeeee's baaaaaaaaaaaaaack!  And this time her name is Lois Lane.  (No.  Not a joke.) I never love Annie more than when she's a man-eater, and boy does she feast upon the dudes in this movie.  She has four big dance numbers in this film, all of which contain some of the greatest dancing ever captured on film.  (We'll talk about those later.)  Girl can bust a move. 
  • Tommy Rall: Rall plays Ann Miller's paramour numero uno, Bill Calhoun, dancer and gambler extraordinaire.  It's fun to see him in another film with Howard Keel, with whom he would work again the following year in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.  (Incidentally, not exactly my favorite movie.  My apologies to everyone I just offended.)  Also, he really knows how to work the guyliner. 
  • Keenan Wynn and James Whitmore: Uncle Albert's son and Ado Annie's dad in a movie together?  Playing Runyonesque gambler-thugs named "Lippy" and "Slug"?  YOU BETCHA.  MGM seriously had some of the best ideas -- and truly more stars than there are in the heavens.  These two character actors are hilarious, particularly in their duet "Brush Up Your Shakespeare."  Also, I just have to throw out there that Wynn was also on "Dallas" as Digger Barnes no. 2.  How many future "Dallas" cast members can we put in this movie?
  • Bob Fosse, Bobby Van, Jeanne Coyne, and Carol Haney: All four of these folks are featured dancers, but they all deserve recognition.  While film fame never really found Coyne and Haney, they are both tremendously talented in their own right.  See my post on On the Town (1949) for more on Carol Haney.  Jeanne Coyne, on the other hand, was married to director Stanley Donen for three years.  They divorced, and she later married Donen's buddy, Gene Kelly.  (Bet those Christmas parties were awkward.)  Coyne and Kelly had two children together and were married until her death from leukemia.  Fosse and Van were later able to secure some decent roles in a number of MGM musicals, but theatre types will know Fosse for his immense contribution to the world of musical theatre.  Of course, later in his life, Bob Fosse became a high-profile Hollywood director of films like Cabaret

The Memorable Quotes:
  • LILLI: Do you really think I could play the shrew?
    FRED: You'd make a perfect shrew!
  • "There's another good song in the score for Lilli!  'I Hate Men'." - faux Cole Porter
  • LOIS: Hey, wait a minute!  Now it's coming through to me.  She wants to do the number!  You gave it to her!
    LILLI: Why, that's absurd!  I wouldn't dream of displaying my legs.
    LOIS: What's the matter with your legs?  Are ya knock-kneed?
  • FRED: Calling me a louse.  And on stage!
    LILLI: Sorry.  I should have waited.  YOU LOUSE!
  • FRED: (to Lilli who is filing her nails) Lilli, will you stop that infernal squeaking? You know it gets on my nerves.
    LILLI: What do you want me to do, bite them off?!
  • LILLI: What happened to us, Fred?
    FRED: I -- I don't know.
    LILLI: Whose fault was it?
    FRED: Well.  Could've been your disposition.
    LILLI: It might have been your ego.
  • LIPPY: I don't like my face.
    SLUG: Neither do I.
  • "Thou jerk!" - Lilli
  • "Bill, you've simply got to tell Mr. Graham.  Signing somebody else's name is perjury!" - Lois
  • LOIS: (after Bill walks in on her being kissed by Fred) I was just saying, 'Thank you!'
    SLUG: How do you suppose she says, 'You're welcome'?"

The Favorite Musical Numbers:
  • "Too Darn Hot."  Ann Miller sizzles and shows off those gorgeous gams while throwing things at the audience and tap dancing on the furniture in a hot pink, beaded costume.  What's not to love?  Unfortunately, when she's finished dancing up a storm, Cole Porter informs her they've cut the number.  Reminds me of that moment in Singin' in the Rain when we spend twenty minutes watching the "Broadway Melody Ballet," only to have Millard Mitchell tell us he'll have to see it on film first.  *headdesk*
  • "Wunderbar."  You can tell that Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson are having such fun in this number.  The staging is simultaneously humorous and romantic.  You really root for them to get back together, regardless of the egomaniacal/violent tendencies.
  • "Tom, Dick or Harry." Another great dance number, not only for Ann Miller, but for Tommy Rall, Bob Fosse, and Bobby Van, all of whom are wearing really tight pants. 
  • "Always True to You in My Fashion."  Probably my favorite number in the whole show.  It's flirty, it's witty, and I'm pretty sure Hermes Pan shows up as a sailor boy toward the end of the song.
  • "From This Moment On."  This number is not so much about the song as it is the dancing.  You've got six outstanding dancers -- Ann Miller, Tommy Rall, Jeanne Coyne, Bobby Van, Carol Haney, and Bob Fosse.  The best part of the dance is the duet between Haney and Fosse, choreographed by Bob Fosse himself.  I don't know what made Hermes Pan decide to let him do his own thing, but it was a brilliant move on Pan's part.  The choreography is so perfectly Fosse, and of course Carol Haney is second only to Gwen Verdon when it comes to executing his style.  If you click on the above link, his piece starts at 2:11.  If it doesn't blow your mind, there might be something wrong with you.

The Random Thoughts Swimming Through My Head:
  • HAHAHAHAHAHA, FAKE COLE PORTER, HAHAHAHAHAHA.  However, he's just as snarky and flamboyant as the real Cole Porter, which makes it even better.  Also humorous is the fact that they try to have him distracted by Lois' legs.  How unlikely.  Pretty sure he's more distracted by Howard Keel.  Just sayin'. 
  • Somebody kill that blonde wig they forced Kathryn Grayson to wear.  
  • I just realized (upon viewing this film for the umpteenth time) that there are pictures of Howard Keel in Annie Get Your Gun and Kathryn and Howard in Show Boat sitting on their piano.  Well played, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.  
  • Walter Plunkett, you've done it again.  These costumes are absolutely stunning.
  • Ann Miller's first entrance consists of her coming in and taking off her clothes.  Why don't more people do this when they come into a room nowadays?
  • How many times can one person say "sweetie" in one film? (Talkin' to you, Lois Lane.)
  • Lilli should have stabbed Fred with that nail file.  I feel it would have added something to the scene.
  • I dig Howard Keel's earring. And his burro.
  • Ann Miller should obviously have done Shakespeare professionally.  
  • This film promotes domestic violence.  
  • Fosse caught Fred's little black book in the end.  There's some irony.