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Kiss Me Kate

The Cole Porter Collection

  • Broadway Melody of 1940
  • Les Girls
  • High Society
  • Kiss Me Kate
  • Silk Stockings
  • These days, the name "Cole Porter" is automatically associated with phrases like "Broadway legend" and "celebrated American composer." But back in the late 1940s, Porter was in a serious career slump. After a string of stage hits in the '30s (The Gay Divorce and Anything Goes are two of the best) and some success in Hollywood, the high-living socialite suffered a huge blow when his legs were crushed in a 1937 horseback riding accident — he would have almost 30 surgeries on the injured limbs before his death in 1964. Porter threw himself into his work to escape his physical pain, but his early '40s shows (Panama Hattie, Let's Face It, Something for the Boys) didn't make much of an impact. Critics and audiences wondered if the talented musician had lost his touch. Enter Kiss Me, Kate. An instant success when it debuted on Broadway on December 30, 1948, Porter's revisionist take on Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew revived the composer's career, ran for more than 1,000 performances, and spawned one of MGM's best-loved movie musicals of the 1950s. Starring Showboat co-stars Howard Keel as egotistical actor Fred Graham and Kathryn Grayson as his sharp-tongued ex-wife/fellow performer, Lilli Vanessi, the big-screen Kate stayed faithful to the stage version, retaining all but two of Porter's songs ("Another Openin', Another Show" and "Bianca" were dropped, while "From This Moment On" was added). One of the only major changes to the story was adding Porter himself as a character — the movie opens on Porter and Fred cooking up a plan to convince Lilli to star in Porter's new musical, Kiss Me, Kate. From that point on, the self-referential "musical within a musical" follows feuding former lovers Fred and Lilli through rehearsals and into opening night. It's then, both as themselves and on stage as Petruchio and his recalcitrant bride, Katherine, that Fred and Lilli work through the complications that are keeping them apart — her fiancé, his girlfriend, their mutual quick tempers and "artistic" temperaments, and even a pair of persistent gangsters (Keenan Wynn and James Whitmore, offering some of the film's biggest laughs) — and find their way back to each other's arms.

    *          *          *

    Of course, Kiss Me Kate has plenty of breaks for Porter's catchy songs ("Wundebar," "Too Darn Hot," "So in Love," "I Hate Men," and more) and choreographer Hermes Pan's show-stopping dance numbers. Co-star Ann Miller (playing feisty ingénue Lois/Bianca) takes center stage for many of the latter, flashing her famous legs and happily hoofing with the trio of muscular dancers playing Bianca's suitors — one of whom happens to be a very young Bob Fosse. Fosse's sexy, jazzy, self-choreographed segment during "From This Moment On," in which he pairs up with fellow dancer Carol Haney, offers one of the earliest cinematic examples of the distinct, modern style that would make him famous and eventually help him win the Oscar for Cabaret. It's also worth noting that Kiss Me, Kate was filmed in 3-D to capitalize on the early '50s movie-house trend — director George Sidney told his actors to throw things (scarves, jewelry, etc.) directly at the camera during dance numbers to make the most of the format. But since the fad was already waning by the time Kate was released, only half of the prints were sent out as 3-D. Obviously, Kiss Me, Kate is a movie with a lot of history behind it. But it's also a fun, frothy, Technicolored romp of a musical that, as the recent successful Broadway revival proves, is still as entertaining as they come. Cole Porter may have written more hits after Kate jump-started his career (Silk Stockings, High Society), but he never wrote a better one. Warner's DVD lives up to Kiss Me Kate's reputation. The full-frame digital transfer (OAR 1.33:1) is lovely and clear, showcasing the bright costumes and gaudy sets, and the re-mastered Dolby Digital 5.1 audio puts extra oomph into all of Porter's songs (English, Spanish, and French subtitles are available). The features roster is healthy as well: In addition to a music-only track, a credits list, the theatrical trailer, and six screens of production notes, there are two worthwhile featurettes. The first, "Cole Porter in Hollywood: Too Darn Hot" is a retrospective "making-of" special hosted by Ann Miller. It's only eight and a-half minutes long, but it includes new retrospective interviews with Grayson, Keel, Whitmore, and other key cast members. Meanwhile, the 20-minute "Mighty Manhattan: New York's Wonder City" is a vintage travelogue from 1949 that celebrates America's cultural capital. Snap-case.
    —Betsy Bozdech

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