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Kiss Me Kate was an MGM musical, adapted from Cole Porter’s Broadway play of the same name.  The plot of the Broadway production was ‘a play within a play’.  Here of course, it is ‘a play within a film’.  Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson play Fred Graham and Lilli Vanessi, a divorced couple who are reunited on stage at least, as Katherine and Petruchio in Cole Porter’s play ‘Kiss Me Kate’, based on Shakespeare’s ‘The Taming Of The Shrew.  Although they are obviously still drawn to each other, their differing personalities cause them to repeatedly clash, and matters are complicated by Lois Lane(!), played superbly by Ann Miller.  Lois is set to play Bianca, the younger sister of Katherine, in Kiss Me Kate, and flirts constantly with Fred.  Furthermore, Lilli is now engaged to someone else!

Kiss Me Kate was a big success for MGM, and something of a comeback for Cole Porter, whose career had taken a dip prior to this.  Certainly, there are some lovely songs -and dance routines – in the film.  My favourites were It’s Too Darn Hot, Why Can’t You Behave? and Always True You In My Fashion, all sung by Ann Miller (she was accompanied on Always True… by Tommy Rall; and Brush Up Your Shakespeare, sung by Keenan Wynn and James Whitmore.  All of these numbers also featured some spectacular dances – Ann Miller was an incredible dancer, and to watch her dancing over the furniture in It’s Too Darn Hot, or skipping across rooftops with Tommy Rall in Why Can’t You Behave? was a treat.  The Brush Up Your Shakespeare dance is also amusing and delightful.  Kathryn Grayson played the part of Lilli very well, and she and Miller not only inhabited their roles in the film, but also their roles in the play within the film very comfortably.  (For my money, Miller was easily the best performer in the film, and credit should also be given to Tommy Rall who partners her in some excellent dancing.)

So with all this going for it, I was surprised that I didn’t enjoy this film more.  There were some great parts, and certainly some real talent involved, but I think Howard Keel didn’t work for me as a leading man.  He did actually have a long and successful career as a leading man, but I didn’t really find him convincing (although he was better when playing Fred than when playing Petruchio).  Of course, it’s all personal taste, and Keel has a very strong following, but I could never really warm up to him in this movie. However, I suspect that it may be the type of film where enjoyment increases with repeated viewing.

Overall, it isn’t one I would rush to watch again, but it’s worth seeing even if only for Ann Miller’s terrific performance.

Year of release: 1953

Director: George Sidney

Writers: Sam Spewack, Bella Spewack, William Shakespeare (play ‘The Taming Of The Shrew’)

Main cast: Howard Keel, Kathryn Grayson, Ann Miller, Tommy Rall

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