Chaos reigns in the theatre with... Kiss Me, Kate (1953)

The Sound of Music. Singin’ in the Rain. The Wizard of Oz. Cabaret. When people talk about the best movie musicals, these are often the titles that you’ll hear. In my opinion, there is one glaring omission: 1953’s Kiss Me, Kate. The property first opened on Broadway in 1949 and wound up winning the first Tony Award for Best Musical. When it came time for the show to be made into a film, it found the perfect studio in MGM, which produced the finest, sleekest musicals in all of Hollywood. KMK is first-class all the way with direction by George Sidney, choreography by Hermes Pan (Fred Astaire’s frequent collaborator), a screenplay adapted by Dorothy Kingsley from Samuel and Bella Spewack’s Tony-winning script, and a cast that can’t be beat.

Kiss Me, Kate, or KMK, is a brilliant mixture of William Shakespeare and Cole Porter. Represented in the film by Ron Randell, Porter has a musical version of The Taming of the Shrew called Kiss Me, Kate that he brings to Broadway director/producer/star Fred Graham (Howard Keel). Fred loves the show and guarantees Porter that he can convince his ex-wife Lilli Vanessi (Kathryn Grayson), another Broadway star, to portray the shrew, Katherine. Things did not end well between Fred and Lilli, as we can tell from the tension that practically leaps off the screen when Lilli arrives at Fred's apartment, an apartment that they used to share. Desperate to work with his ex again, Fred has Porter
play the show's major love song on the piano so he and Lilli can sing it and reconnect. Lilli struggles not to fall under the spell of "So in Love," especially when the piano is covered in old photographs of her and Fred (which are actually old publicity stills of Keel and Grayson).

She agrees to play the part, but as we'll soon discover, every time something goes right in this film, it'll quickly go wrong. The nice scene is interrupted by one vivacious, fast-talking, half-naked brunette in the form of Ann Miller. Lois Lane -- not that one, Superman fans -- barges in, all ready to show "Sweetie," er, Fred, "Too
Darn Hot," her audition for Kiss Me, Kate. Being Ann Miller, the number is slinky and done with a wink to the camera, Miller stripping off gloves and jewelry and throwing them to her audience. It's purposely set up as the opposite of the buttoned-up, more classical approach Lilli thrives in, whose deadpan expression as she catches Lois's bracelet and hands it to Fred is hilarious.

Lilli isn't thrilled with how cozy Lois is with Fred, the film hinting that the chorus girl has slept with him in order to get the role of Bianca, Katherine's younger and more sought-after sister. It's all too much for Lilli, who quits the show five minutes after agreeing to it. Fred knows his ex-wife, though, and he offers Katherine to Lois while Lilli is still within earshot. Outraged, she takes back her part and the animosity between the women grows.

We fast-forward weeks, maybe even months, ahead to the last rehearsal, which is taking place just hours before the show's opening. The cast is practicing how they'll take their bows and Fred sees the opportunity to irritate Lilli by criticizing how she does it. He instructs her to imitate Lois and Lilli obliges, ending the bow with a loud "You louse!" in front of the entire company. Adding to Fred's troubles is the disappearance of Lois's boyfriend, Bill Calhoun (Tommy Rall), who got the part of one of Bianca's suitors thanks to Lois's influence. Bill's whereabouts don't remain a mystery for long when a stagehand whispers to Lois that Bill is at the back entrance in need of money to pay his cab fare. You
can tell this isn't the first time she's had to bail Bill out as she wearily asks "How much?" and hitches up her skirt to get money from her garter. "Honey, you're the prettiest piggy bank in town," Bill says, grabbing her for a smooch.

The money troubles don't end there, of course. Loving to gamble, he's racked up a considerable debt, but don't worry -- he signed Mr. Frederick Graham's name to the I.O.U. Miffed that Lois thinks she has to flirt to move up in the world and not understanding why she wants to leave behind seedy clubs for the Great White Way, Bill sees the I.O.U. as a way to exact a little revenge on Fred, who he blames for putting stars in Lois's eyes. They take their argument up to the roof, Lois venting her frustration with "Why Can't You Behave," her plea to Bill to stop gambling and get serious, maybe even consider c-c-c-commitment? It's a terrific number, one that solidified to me during my first viewing that KMK was going to become one of my favorites. Tommy Rall is unfairly forgotten today, probably because he didn't receive lead roles like he should have. He's a stunning dancer -- balletic, athletic, and oozing confidence. Watching him match taps with Ann Miller is a privilege we are all lucky to have.

While Bill and Lois dance their little hearts out, Fred and Lilli are at each other's throats. Who thought it was a good idea to put them in conjoining dressing rooms, by the way? The twosome do everything they can to annoy the other, Lilli filing her nails furiously and Fred mocking her new fiancé, a cattle baron named Tex Callaway (Willard Parker). But then Lilli reminds Fred that today is the anniversary of their wedding and they quickly fall into reminiscing. Without even thinking about it, they cuddle and laugh about their early beginnings in the theater, Lilli correcting Fred when he tries to inflate the importance of his first roles.
Their relationship wasn't always contentious -- in fact, it seemed to be quite loving and nurturing. Is fame to blame for their divorce? Possibly, considering that it fed into Fred's ego, driving him to become not just an actor, but an impresario. If you don't believe me, look at how he puts his initials on all of his clothes, as if to reiterate how in control he is. Lilli was there to keep him in check, but that could only work for so long. Now here they are, in each other's arms and giggling about that absurd number they did years ago, "Wunderbar," a sprightly tune that has Lilli and Fred harmonizing and dancing without a care.
When their fun ends in a kiss, though, they both realize that something is still there. But before they can ruminate on that, the stage manager informs them that it's almost showtime and they need to get dressed. Fred returns to his room and finds some rather uncouth characters, Lippy (Keenan Wynn) and Slug (James Whitmore). They've come to collect on Mr. Graham's I.O.U., or as they humorously pronounce it, Mr. Gray-ham. Fred has no idea what they're talking about; besides, he's busy getting ready for the show and doesn't have time for this. The gangsters leave, for now. They'll come back for the dough at intermission.
Next door, Fred's dresser brings Lilli a flower bouquet that resembles the one she carried at their wedding -- he didn't forget their anniversary after all, she thinks as she sings a reprise of "So in Love" with a dreamy look on her face. Oh, but he did forget, dear Lilli. Over in Fred's dressing room, he vainly puts on a hairpiece (bold vulnerability from Howard Keel!) and asks his dresser if he delivered the flowers to Lois. "Ms. Lane, sir? I thought they were for Ms. Vanessi!" "Oh, you driveling idiot!" KMK has a lot of lines I love to repeat, sometimes because the line readings are just that impeccable. Keel's "idiot" line is no exception.

Lilli enters, breathlessly touched by Fred's romantic gesture. Realizing she hadn't read the card yet and thus doesn't know who the flowers were truly meant for, Fred tells her not to bother to read it because he can tell her what it says: "You're the only woman I've ever loved and the only artist I've ever worshiped." It's a sincere statement, but it's part of a lie all the same. Smitten, Lilli decides to tuck the card into the top of her costume so it will be near her and promises Fred she'll never call him a louse again. "You will, my sweet," Fred says with a sigh.

Showtime! The curtains open and two young, fresh-faced dancers (Bob Fosse and Bobby Van!) leap around and throw confetti as Bill, Lois, Lilli, and Fred sing the first number, "We Open in Venice," a song that sets the mood before really diving into the narrative. Someday I would love to watch KMK on the big screen, if only to catch all of the subtle facial expressions. It took me countless viewings to catch a great moment at the start of "We Open in Venice" where Lois, loving to show off her gams, poses in her tights so as to give the audience a good look. Lilli thinks Lois's constant leg-showing is vulgar and unnecessary, but she's not afraid to demonstrate that she has fantastic legs herself, so she
poses just like Lois. Lilli is tickled, Lois is annoyed, and the boys, well, they're impressed. Anyway, they all do some fun choreography on treadmill-like boards that allow them to switch places and be goofy. I couldn't find a decent video of this song, but if you're dying to see it, here's a low-quality one.

If you look closely at the actors' feet, you'll notice that Kathryn Grayson is the only one in high heels, being a very petite woman (I can sympathize). The fact that she was able to do that treadmill stuff in heels without breaking something is awe-inspiring. Despite looking confident, though, Grayson wasn't a very good
dancer. Keel really wasn't, either -- he often stepped on poor Grayson's toes during this routine! For years thereafter, she and Ann Miller would teasingly call him "Tanglefoot" and Miller would call Grayson "Twinkletoes."

Once everyone but Fred leaves the stage, Kiss Me, Kate's story really begins as Petruchio (Fred) gives the audience background on the story's central people. The wealthy Baptista (an unrecognizable Kurt Kasznar) has two gorgeous daughters, Bianca and Katherine. Bianca is followed around by three suitors: Lucentio (Bill), Hortensio (Fosse), and Gremio (Van). Bianca is
ready to get married, but custom dictates that the oldest, Katherine, must marry first. Katherine is a fearsome wench, though, one who would rather throw flower pots at suitors than flirt with them.

Bianca's frustration leads to one of the most joyful musical moments I've ever seen: "Tom, Dick, or Harry." Lucentio, Gremio, and Hortensio highlight in song what would make them great husbands, but pretty soon they find their aggressive tactics returned tenfold by Bianca in a fun role reversal. Acting demure at first, she begins chasing them, her big Ann Miller eyes darting around in excitement at these handsome men
clamoring over her.

This being a Cole Porter song, it's easy to find sex stamped all over it. Do these guys really want to get married, or do they just want the wedding night? The delight in watching Bianca -- and Lois -- is that she desires sex just as much as men, and she's not ashamed of it despite the side-eye she gets from Lilli or the hypocritical reproaches she hears from Bill. This equality is reflected in Miller's dancing and her numbers. Any step the men can do, you can bet Miller can do, and all with a grin on her face. Watch the number here.

Now, what to do about Katherine? Enter Petruchio, an old friend of Lucentio's who boasts in song that "I've Come to Wive it Wealthily in Padua." (On a sidenote, how fabulous are these song titles?) He doesn't care what his future wife looks like or how she acts, so long as she's rich and able to support him. Hortensio and Gremio see him as the ideal match for Katherine, but Lucentio says that he couldn't ask his friend for such a sacrifice. Overhearing all this, Petruchio is intrigued and agrees to go through with the marriage. Without meeting or even seeing Kate, he negotiates her dowry with Baptista and they're quickly betrothed.

Disgusted, Kate takes to the stage to condemn the opposite sex in the scathing "I Hate Men," an ode to how cruel and two-faced men can be. A sample lyric: "If thou shouldst wed a businessman / be weary, oh, be weary / He'll tell you he's detained in town on business necessary / His business is the business with his pretty secretary / Oh, I hate men!" It seems over the top, especially since Grayson bangs down an ale mug once in a while to punctuate her sentences, her furious look enough to tuck a dog's tail between its legs after one glance. But all of that undermines the song's message, which is essentially gender inequality. Kate sees this going on every day and she refuses to be a casualty of it. For Pete's sake, she wasn't even included in her own betrothal! Objectifying women so we can glorify men is never alright, and Kate's had all she can take. Unfortunately, things aren't looking up for her yet. Petruchio comes to meet his fiancée, but she's not having it, instead staying on a high balcony and forcing Petruchio to sing "Were Thine That Special Face" in an effort to soften her up. It's a lovely number, with a simple spotlight on Keel as he proves that he really was one of the greatest singers of the 20th century. Go ahead and try to fight me on that, but what you can't deny is that Keel looked damn good in a pair of tights.

Lilli takes advantage of the darkened stage to read the card that came with her bouquet. Again, the facial expressions are priceless. Fred nervously watches Lilli blow him a kiss with the card in her hand -- he actually turns his back to the audience so he can motion to Lilli to not open it. That's one of the things that cracks me up about KMK: these seasoned performers have no problem disregarding the audience. My sister was in the theatre department in high school and I did a lot of volunteering there, so I heard about all of the stage no-no's, one of the biggest being that you don't deny the viewers your face. Seeing Keel and Grayson do that exemplifies that although they're supposed to be in a play, the rules of moviemaking come first.

Fred's silent pleas to Lilli end up being for nothing when she opens the card and finds a sweet note to "my dear Lois." Infuriated, she seethes and goes off-script, confusing Fred and the guy playing Baptista (he never gets a name). I love it when Lilli throws the flowers at Fred, Baptista catching them and giving them to Petruchio: "Ah, a gift from my daughter!" Fred forgets they're supposed to be in Italy and replies with "Gracias, señor!" Lilli doesn't let up as she delivers her venomous lines with extra vigor, adding in slaps and throwing elbows. Fred is getting increasingly frustrated, saying under his breath "I'm warning you, Lilli!" It comes to a head when Fred-as-Petruchio goes "Kiss me, Kate!" and gets a major slap in return.

Now here comes the tricky part, arguably the worst moment in the film... Lilli's slap becomes the final straw. Fred grabs her and, claiming that she asked for it, begins merrily spanking Lilli's behind as the audience laughs. I hate this because it undermines the strength of Grayson's character, making her the laughingstock for everyone. More importantly, though, it's violence against a woman dressed up as a joke -- I've never found it funny, nor do I enjoy that every single poster and advertisement for this movie uses this image, Keel's hand in the air and a gleeful look on his face while Grayson appears scandalized. Foreign posters actually sexualize Grayson by lifting her skirt up and leaving her undergarments exposed. I'm definitely uncomfortable with sharing these images, so if you're super curious, you'll have to search for them yourself.

There is a behind-the-scenes anecdote that makes me feel a little better about the scene. Grayson and Keel were good friends and often played jokes on one another while filming. After the beating Keel took during Lilli and Fred's fight onstage, he told Grayson that he was going to get even with her. Ever sneaky, Grayson went to the costume department and had Helen Rose put a board into her costume and then went to do the spanking scene. Once Keel's hand connected with the wood, Grayson slyly remarked "Who got it, Howard? You or me?" She later laughed about the moment, saying "He took it in fun. He was a good sport."

Back to the film! The curtain goes down for intermission, both of its leads bruised and battered. True to form, Fred accuses Lilli of making him bleed when it's really just stage makeup. He's ridiculous, but we love him. Lilli, however, doesn't agree (for now) -- she calls her fiancé and demands that they fly to Texas tonight. That's right, she's walking out, and Fred is apoplectic. On top of that, Bill confesses about the I.O.U., but Fred is so distracted with Lilli that he lets Bill off the hook without so much as a slap on the wrist. While he's trying to figure out how he can stop Lilli, the answer is in his dressing room and gobbling up his food. Lippy and Slug have returned, giving Fred an
idea. He confesses to writing the I.O.U., but says that he can't pay it, especially since Lilli is leaving and the show will have to close. Eager to get their boss his money, Lippy and Slug agree to help make Lilli stay.

Because she has the worst timing, Lois chooses this time to come in and thank Fred for not getting angry with Bill. Before she can mention that it was really her beau's I.O.U. and thus ruin his plan for Lilli, Fred kisses Lois to shut her up. Just one kiss doesn't stop her, though, leading to a series of longer and deeper kisses until unfortunately both Bill and Lilli walk in on it. Now Lilli's really ticked!

The gangsters intimidate her into finishing the show (seeing a gun is certainly a good motivator), and it's time to go back on stage. Ensuring that Lilli doesn't attempt an escape, Lippy and Slug get in on the act, wearing silly costumes and looking completely out of place. Don't worry, audience, they're Petruchio's cousins. Nothing sketchy going on here.

Back in Kiss Me, Kate's storyline, Petruchio and Katherine get married and go to live at his home. She's furious and keeps her new husband from consummating the marriage by locking herself in her bedroom. In case you haven't been sold on how perfect Howard Keel is for this film, KMK makes it obvious with the witty and sex-obsessed "Where is the Life that Late I Led?" Petruchio is beginning to doubt this whole marriage thing, especially since he's being denied a wedding night. So, what's a guy to do? Sing about his previous conquests, of course!

Prowling the set with a devilish grin, Keel sings to the
audience as if they were buddies having a cold beer in a smoky bar. It's boisterous and fun and sexy. What makes it even sillier is the set. Out of nowhere, this catwalk appears and Keel uses it to full effect during his song, but again, he keeps his back turned on half of the audience so the camera can stay stationary.

Then, when the song is over and Keel is taking a bow, he's suddenly back on the stage, with a shot from the wings showing no catwalk whatsoever. What the what? I won't try to explain it because I honestly have no answer, except that maybe Fred is so engrossed in his number that he imagines this setpiece...? I don't know,
don't try to figure it out.

By this point, Lilli's fiancé Tex has arrived. Not wanting to stir up trouble, Fred calls off Slug and Lippy and Lilli is free to go. While she's packing up her things, Tex waits downstairs and is noticed by Lois, who remembers him from a date they had not too long ago. Her uncontrollable flirting kicks into high gear, and Bill gets to witness it all. He goes out to the alley to get some air, and Lois follows, protesting all the way that she was just being friendly. According to Bill, that's the problem -- she's always being friendly. Lois doesn't see why it's a big deal because her relationship with Bill
remains her constant. His irritation that she can't focus on solely him betrays his earlier aversion to commitment. In other words, he may have said he doesn't want to settle down, but he does love Lois and he can't stand to see her treating their relationship so flippantly. Of course, the irony is that he does the same thing. They're both flawed, but if anybody could make it work, I'd bet it's these crazy kids.

"Always True to You in My Fashion" is a hilarious number, featuring Lois swearing that although she likes other men, they don't hold a candle to Bill. It gets quite racy, because again, it's Cole Porter. And Miller's liveliness makes it even worse (better?). She and Rall were a great team, too. Hermes Pan was the film's choreographer and he makes a little cameo as a sailor that catches Lois's eye during this song. You can watch the number here.

Back inside, Lippy and Slug are on the telephone and find out that their boss has been killed, thus the I.O.U. is null and void and they can leave. It's time for Lilli to go as well. She tells Fred goodbye, but he can't accept it.

Lilli: "You don't need me. You've got an understudy."
Fred: "Nobody could take your place, Lilli, onstage or off."
Lilli: "You read those lines very well."
Fred: "If I do, it's because I mean them...with all my heart."
Lilli: "What script did you steal that from?"
Fred: "It was a good script, Lilli, about two people who fell in love and got married. It should have had a longer run."
Lilli: "Maybe it was bad casting."
Fred: "No, the leading lady was great. It was the leading man who just wasn't big enough for the role."

After watching these two fight like crazy for the past 90 minutes, this quietly tender moment packs a bigger punch than their histrionics ever could. Lilli and Fred have always been real and honest with one another -- brutally so sometimes -- yet this time their words aren't out of spite. Instead, it comes from the full understanding of what they lost and what that completely means. KMK gets deep, guys. Sadly, it doesn't seem to be enough to make Lilli stay.

Seeing their new friend upset, Lippy and Slug sing him "Brush Up Your Shakespeare," a tune that was risque in the original stage version, but had to be watered down for the film. Seeing Keenan Wynn and James Whitmore sing and dance is quite comical, as it's intended to be. According to Whitmore, he and Wynn used their rehearsal time to goof off instead, frustrating Hermes Pan to no end. When it came time for them to show producer Arthur Freed and director George Sidney what they had been working on, Pan watched in embarrassment as the guys stumbled through the routine. Amazingly, Freed and Sidney thought it worked and only wanted a little more polish.

Back inside the theater, the point has come in the play where Bianca and Lucentio finally marry. Everyone is ecstatic, except for Hortensio and Gremio, of course. As the newlyweds sing their devotion to one another with "From This Moment On," the two rejected suitors mope around until they come upon two pretty women, played by Jeanne Coyne and Carol Haney, who eagerly join them in dance. Coyne and Haney were wonderful dancers who frequently assisted Gene Kelly on such films as Singin' in the Rain and Summer Stock. Interestingly enough, Coyne was Mrs. Stanley Donen from 1948 to 1951... and Mrs. Gene Kelly from 1960 until her death in 1973.

For "From This Moment On," Hermes Pan encouraged the featured dancers to come up with their own moves, allowing each couple to have a solo that reflects their style. Miller and Rall are all balletic twirls and leaps; Van and Coyne do a cute tap interlude... and then Fosse and Haney enter. The music becomes jazzy and the lighting dims. While the choreography for the other couples is exuberant, Fosse created choreography that seems to tell a story. It feels provocative and sensual and utterly thrilling.  You can watch "From This Moment On" in its entirety here.

Still morose, Fred walks on to the stage for the show's final scene. When Lilli's understudy doesn't appear, he begins to panic until he hears Lilli's voice. She didn't leave after all! As Katherine gives her infamous speech about wives obeying their husbands, Lilli signals to Fred that she wants to give their relationship another chance. They embrace, the audience completely unaware that Katherine and Petruchio's happy ending is also Lilli and Fred's.

The uniqueness of KMK lies in its dual plots. The actors' lives and characteristics are reflected in the very musical that they're putting on, creating highly amusing results. It is seamless how the two narratives dovetail, and also very risky. Shakespeare made over as a bright Fifties musical? It sounds shaky, yet it is done with intelligence and sophistication. And then you add in Howard Keel and everybody wins. There are many standouts in this film, but if you ask me, Keel outshines them all. Along with Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954), KMK is the best showcase of Keel's talents that he ever had. For proof of this, look no further than the musical numbers. "Were Thine That
Special Face" and "So in Love" illustrate how gorgeously tender Keel’s booming voice could be, while "Where is the Life..." and "I've Come to Wive It..." exemplify what a tour de force he was.

Shockingly, MGM wasn't sold on the idea of Keel's casting and he had to be tested. "They thought I couldn't handle Kiss Me, Kate," the actor would remember. To prove he could be Fred Graham, Keel worked on Shakespeare with Louis Calhern, "a fine Shakespeare actor." He then went to the makeup and costume departments, joking that once he was in character "the ham came out." After his test, producer
Jack Cummings admitted to Keel, "Kid, I was wrong. You can do it."

Like Keel, Grayson wasn't MGM's first choice. The studio actually tried to lure Deanna Durbin out of retirement to play Lilli, but when that didn't work, they turned to Grayson, who proved to be a successful partner for Keel in two previous films, Show Boat (1951) and Lovely to Look At (1952). Although I think Durbin would have been wonderful in KMK, I must admit that Grayson does a fine job and Lilli is my favorite performance of hers. KMK wound up being her last movie at MGM and her second-to-last feature
film. After the decline of the movie musical, Grayson
found a career in theatre and in opera for several decades.

One of my favorite things about KMK is that, in addition to Tommy Rall, it features two of the most superb hoofers MGM had, the underrated Bobby Van and Bob Fosse. 1953 became the year Fosse made his foray in Hollywood with not one but three excellent supporting turns in Give a Girl a Break, The Affairs of Dobie Gillis, and KMK. Watching him in these films is fascinating. He is earnest, adorable, and unaware of the iconic legacy he was slowly building. He would later say, "My big break -- and the turning point of my career -- came when [MGM] let me choreograph a little dance for myself and Carol Haney in the film Kiss Me, Kate. It only lasted forty-eight seconds, but it changed my life."

While Fosse and Haney were practicing their solo on an empty soundstage, Ann Miller came upon them and was amazed. "When I saw the routine, I thought 'That's the best I've ever seen,'" she recalled. "It was a kind of eccentric dancing that nobody had ever seen before." She got Pan and George Sidney and they watched the rehearsal in secret. Everyone was bowled over. Once the magnificent routine wowed audiences, Broadway came knocking and in 1954, Fosse choreographed his first musical, The Pajama Game. The show provided him with his first of an eventual five Tony Awards for Best Choreography (the only person to do so), but more importantly, it gave Fosse a whole new career. When he returned to MGM in 1955 to make My Sister Eileen, he not only played Janet Leigh's love interest, he also choreographed the film -- and partnered with Tommy Rall again for an incredible dance routine!

The Pajama Game, by the way, did wonders for Carol Haney, too, winning her a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical. Like Fosse, she became a Broadway choreographer, creating the dances for Flower Drum Song, She Loves Me, and Funny Girl before dying from pneumonia at the age of 39.

When Kiss Me, Kate first premiered on Broadway in 1949, it was a huge success, becoming Cole Porter's first hit in a decade and eventually the biggest hit of his career. It was also the first integrated musical he wrote, meaning the songs were connected to the plot and the characters. During the show's transformation into a film, a few things were changed. Some songs were moved around; a lot of the sexual content in the lyrics was cleaned up (it can still be found, though!); the opening scene with "Cole Porter" was added, as was "From This Moment On" from Porter's 1950 flop Out of This World; and various other little things, like Tex's change from being a government official to a cattle baron. Thankfully, the masterful score was left largely intact, a rarity in the days of old Hollywood.

Porter was very hands-on with the production of KMK, even though he was in bad health and came to the set accompanied by a nurse. (He was in a terrible horseback riding accident in 1937 that almost took both of his legs and that he never fully recovered from.) He oversaw the costumes, which were done by genius Walter Plunkett. (Seriously. All of these costumes are beautiful.) Porter also kept his eye on Dorothy Kingsley's screenplay adaptation.

KMK has the distinct pleasure of being one of the few movies in the 1950s that were intended to be in 3-D. Although I've only ever seen it in 2-D, it's obvious which moments were meant to pop out at audiences. A character will throw something at the screen or an actor will look at the camera directly during a song. It sounds distracting, but most of the time it isn't -- these moments actually make sense in the film's world, such as when Bill is playing around during "Why Can't You Behave?" and he goes flying towards the audience. Despite all of the trouble everyone went to to make KMK a 3-D spectacular, only half of the 3-D prints were ever sent out because the craze was almost over by the time the movie was released. If you're ever curious as to what KMK would look like in its original format, however, and you have the right equipment, you can buy the 3-D print on Bluray here. Honestly, the best thing about the film's 3-D history may just be these publicity photos:

With all of this stuffed into one Technicolor extravaganza, it's hard to imagine why KMK isn’t mentioned in the same breath as, say, Meet Me in St. Louis or The Band Wagon. Simply put, it is a shining example of the creative genius that epitomizes the Golden Age of Hollywood and a tremendous display of the era's blinding talent.


This is my first of three entries to the Broadway Bound Blogathon. Do yourself a favor and check out the other amazing posts here, and please stay tuned for my next two entries!


  1. Wow, this is a fantastic review! I've only seen clips of Kiss Me Kate, and now I want to see the whole thing. Bob Fosse and Hermes Pan's choreography...oh my word. Thanks so much for joining!

    1. Thanks for doing this event! Kiss Me, Kate is one of my favorite films. It won't disappoint you! :)

  2. A grand, grand article on this fabulous film. (Shall I gush some more? I could gush some more.)

    I adore Kiss Me, Kate and this movie version features so much talent and everyone is at the very top of their considerable game. And even with that I think Annie outshines them all! It is almost too much!

    1. Aw, thanks, Paddy. This film is bursting at the seams with talent. Everyone gives 110% and boy, does it show!

  3. I haven't yet seen this film, but I don't think I've ever read a negative review of it. After reading your thorough review, I can see why it's so highly regarded but, like you, I don't know why it hasn't joined the pantheon of "Singin' in the Rain", "Meet Me in St Louis", etc.

    Also, you always have the best images with your reviews. I enjoy the photos almost as much as your writing. :)

    1. Why, thank you! It's a lot of work getting those screenshots, surprisingly, but I love doing it. Especially when the film I'm reviewing is as magical as Kiss Me, Kate. I just know you'll love it once you see it.


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