KISS ME KATE
As movie adaptations of Broadway musicals go, KISS ME KATE ($20) is certainly one of the most enchanting. Because KISS ME KATE is a show within a show and primarily stage bound, there was a potential for the action to stagnate. However, director George Sidney and choreographer Hermes Pan invigorated the MGM adaptation of KISS ME KATE with lively staging- some of which was intended for the film’s intended 3D showings. Probably more important than the film’s lively direction is Cole Porter’s bubbly score for KISS ME KATE, which features some of his most delightful songs. Brush up Your Shakespeare, Too Darn Hot, Always True to You (In My Fashion), Why Can't You Behave?, Wunderbar, So in Love, Tom, Dick, or Harry and I Hate Men are all dynamically melodious examples of Porter’s wit and musical range.
The plot of KISS ME KATE concerns a musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, which is to open on Broadway starring recently divorced theater couple Lilli Vanessi (Kathryn Grayson) and Fred Graham (Howard Keel). Bringing the baggage of their failed relationship to the production certainly helps with the antagonistic quality that exists between Shakespeare’s characters Katherine and Petruchio, as portrayed by Lilli and Fred. A real backstage drama occurs on opening night, when Lilli inadvertently receives the flowers Fred intended for his new "protégé" Lois Lane (Ann Miller), causing Lilli's temper to explode out onto the stage during the performance. Further complicating the opening night theatrics is the arrival of two hoodlums that attempt to extract a gambling debt from Fred, although it actually belongs to Lois’ boyfriend Bill Calhoun (Tommy Rall).
The performances in KISS ME KATE are generally delightful, Howard Keel brings the perfect egotistical swagger to the dual role of Fred/Petruchio, plus he and leading lady Kathryn Grayson demonstrate the same chemistry that they generated in their earlier teaming for SHOW BOAT. Providing the film’s most memorable performances are Keenan Wynn and James Whitmore, who are at their scene-stealing best as the two hoodlums that pass along the clever musical advice to Brush up Your Shakespeare. KISS ME KATE also features Ann Miller at her comedic best as the flirtatious Lois, not to mention Miller's amazing gams and incredible tap dancing. Speaking of dancing, Hermes Pan’s choreography is uniformly excellent; plus for the film’s finale Pan allowed featured dancers Tommy Rall, Bobby Van and the legendary Bob Fosse to devise their own routines to showcase their particular dancing styles.
Warner Home Video has made KISS ME KATE available on DVD in a really good-looking transfer that frames the film in a 1.37:1 full screen aspect ratio. This 2D presentation of KISS ME KATE provides the cleanest, sharpest looking home version that I’ve seen thus far. KISS ME KATE came late in the fifties 3D cycle, with only half the prints actually being issued in that format, so this presentation accurately reflects what half the original audience saw in theaters. Produced in Ansco Color and released in Technicolor, the transfer comes fairly close to capturing the "flavor" of the original imbibition print. Hues are generally vibrant and warmly saturated, with no appreciable noise or fuzziness. There are some inconsistencies in the optical fades, but color reproduction remains generally pleasing throughout. Blacks appear accurate, whites are clean and contrast is fairly smooth. The film element used for the transfer is very clean, although the image does contain a noticeable grain structure. Digital compression artifacts are always well concealed.
For this release KISS ME KATE comes with an upgraded Dolby Digital 5.1 channel sound mix. Considering that KISS ME KATE was released in 1953, the audio component is pretty impressive. Fidelity is good, although a bit brassy sounding in the upper register. Additionally, the track is free from background hiss and audible anomalies. Stereo separation isn’t as pronounced as it is in tracks recorded just a couple of years later, but it is fairly nice. The surround channels contain some ambient and musical fill, as well as a handful of detectable active effects. Dialogue is always cleanly rendered and fully understandable. Vocals recorded for the songs have a bit more warmth than their spoken counterparts, but the difference isn’t too significant. No other language tracks are encoded onto the DVD, although English and French subtitles are provided.
Music underscores the basic interactive menus, which feature access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a few nice supplements. Starting things off is a music only track for those wanting to enjoy the film's delightful score. Cole Porter In Hollywood: Too Darn Hot is a nine-minute program hosted by Ann Miller that looks at the film production of KISS ME KATE and features brief interviews with Howard Keel, Kathryn Grayson, Tommy Rall and James Whitmore, all of whom reminisce about the movie. Also included on the DVD is Mighty Manhattan: New York's Wonder City a vintage two reel documentary that offers a circa 1949 tour of the metropolis. Production notes and a theatrical trailer close out the supplements.
KISS ME KATE is a genuine musical delight that has been released under Warner’s Classic Musicals Collection banner. The DVD looks and sounds very good and should please both movie buffs and musical theater fans. Recommended.
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