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Kiss Me Kate

Warner Bros./Warner Home Video . R4 . COLOR . 110 mins . G . NTSC


Well, this is just one of the most colourful, exuberant and just plain brilliant musicals ever filmed!

Kiss Me Kate explodes with wit, style and great melodies. It was made exactly 50 years ago today. But its innate style and genius has kept it so fresh that if we saw it staged as well as this today we could only marvel at its invention and perfect pace.

Cole Porter, one of the very few American songwriters who wrote both music and lyrics, penned Kiss Me Kate for the Broadway stage. It opened in 1948 and ran for more than 1000 performances.

For the screen, MGM cast Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson, and they shine - this is the perfect vehicle for both of them. Kathryn Grayson in most of her roles annoys me intensely. In this role she not only stays reasonably close to pitch, but her acting is sensational... if only she could have reached this level in her other starring roles. And Howard Keel looks and sounds every inch the dramatic leading man. He's virility on a stick!

The story is a story about creating a musical from one of Shakespeare's classic plays, his The Taming of the Shrew. Howard and Kathryn play a previously-wed couple whose fights rival the pair they are playing in the musical based on the play. The musical they are working on just happens to be called Kiss Me Kate, by a Mr Cole Porter. Very convoluted, and very clever - and when we watch, it all unfolds so easily and wittily.

Ann Miller is the second female lead, and this is her best role in film. Her dancing is simply phenomenal. And watch for the very early appearance by Bob Fosse, who choreographs his own stand-out number. He of course went on to become one of America's leading modern stage and film choreographers.

The rest of the film is choreographed by Hermes Pan, a high distinction for any musical. Hermes Pan was Fred Astaire's choreographic collaborator on the string of great musicals Fred made with Ginger Rogers in the 1930s - a sound background!

The core of the film is of course Cole Porter's wonderful score. Here are So in Love, Brush Up Your Shakespeare, Too Darn Hot, Where is the Life That Late I Led?, From This Moment On and more. In those profligate days the best songwriters packed their musicals with great songs. None of the 'two songs only per show' rationing of Lloyd Webber and company.

The film leaps from the screen with razzle-dazzle energy and panache. The leaps were intended - the film was shot in 3D. But while the film has its fair share of special effects intended for 3D, it works just fine in flat 2D as well. The 3D craze had in fact just about ended by the time the movie was released, but Kiss Me Kate survived it all with distinction. May it play forever.


Even though the movie is 50 years old this year, this NTSC transfer is demonstration-quality.

I could spot no artefacts, edge enhancements or any flaws in a meticulous transfer to the digital domain. The film was shot in Ansco Color, a competitor of Technicolor, and I have rarely seen such luminous tones and colourings, and astonishingly natural flesh-tones.


The original two-channel sound has been reprocessed into Dolby Digital 5.1, but with no exaggerated effects. The sound is rich and natural. For most of the time it is fairly monophonic, but opens into a realistic soundstage for the musical numbers, with a warm blooming envelope of sound.


There is an isolated musical track, behind-the-scenes production notes and a good quality original theatrical trailer.

But the two main features are a recent remembrance of the making of the movie by star Ann Miller, titled Ann Miller Hosts Cole Porter in Hollywood: Too Darn Hot, full of valuable background information and with brief appearances by Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson.

The other feature is a 20-minute vintage documentary from 1949, Mighty Manhattan, New York's Wonder City, shot in Technicolor. The dialogue is pretty corny, but the images of New York back then are priceless - the Empire State Building then unchallenged as the world's tallest building, the Chrysler Building unchallenged then and now as the world's most beautiful building, and the amazing Flat Iron Building in all its antique splendour. It's a a great vintage edition to the DVD.


Of all the classic musicals of the past, this might well be the one which would appeal most to modern audiences without a special interest in the American song tradition.

It's a sensational DVD presentation, and definitely worth buying to keep for the long-haul. Save it, and show it to your children, and to theirs...

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  •  DVD NET Gold Review List 
      And I quote...
    "Kiss Me Kate explodes with wit, style and great melodies. This is one of the great musicals, and this is now one of the great DVDs."
    - Anthony Clarke
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