Kiss Me Kate


‘…while the subtext is obviously in need of an update, Kiss Me Kate’s credentials as a great musical shouldn’t be a question of fashion…’

Not for the first time, I’ve made a mistake and would like to talk to you about it. There I was yesterday adding a few last minute typos to my review of Kiss Me Kate, and I happened to notice while doing my picture search that there’s a big red flag hanging above this film and abruptly pulled the review to revise. George Sidney’s film is an adaptation of a work by the notoriously un-woke William Shakespeare, bang up to date for 1953, but falling into disrepute over the recent culture wars; Kiss Me Kate is rarely referenced positively these days. Based on 1948 stage musical, this film version uses The Taming of the Shrew as a play-within-a-play to offer a front-line dispatch about the ongoing battle between men and women.

We open rather stiffly with an evening soiree; Howard Keel plays Fred Graham, a Broadway actor who we first see welcoming Cole Porter to his apartment in Manhattan. His guests include his ex-wife Lili (Kathryn Grayson) and a feisty new ingénue Lois Lane (Ann Miller), and sparks begin to fly as the two women size each other up. Keel has a role to cast; a lady must be chosen to play opposite him in a musical stage-show of The Taming of the Shrew, but casting his ex-wife proves to have plenty of collateral baggage to park, and when things go off the rails, he ends up spanking her on stage in front of an uproarious audience. It’s scenes like this that have diminished the resputation of this musical, and today’s critics have been keen to connect the attitudes here to serious issues of domestic abuse; women don’t require to be physically tamed, and some of the assumptions are questionable, even if they do hark back to the original text.

Ok, so the sexual politics that are being brought up to date here are still quite antiquated, but it’s worth noting that Grayson and particularly Miller don’t seem like anyone’s saps; Grayson delivers I Hate Men as a funereal lament for the opposite sex, while Miller’s upbeat Tom Dick or Harry looks at the male species in an agreeable caustic way, and both songs articulate an acerbic and decidedly female point of view. And Kiss Me Kate does have some claims to modernity; Bob Fosse contributes an early blast of his wired persona, and there’s the Brush Up your Shakespeare routine from Keenan Wynn and James Whitmore. The pay-off line ‘kick her right in the Coriolanus’ probably wouldn’t pass muster today, and with some reason; sexual violence towards women shouldn’t be something sung about with such glee, even in jest.

Yet Kiss Me Kate is a property which could really use a make-over for the MeToo generation, the musical score is as sharp as you’d expect from one of those new fangled integrated musicals from Porter. Only True to You Darling In My Fashion, In Padua, From This Moment On, Wunderbar and show-stopper We Open In Venice are all delivered with gusto here, the last of these delivered on an ingenious treadmill. Even the early adoption of 3D, with coins, confetti, keys and more objects flung in our faces, only adds to the spectacle, and while the subtext is in need of an update, Kiss Me Kate’s credentials as a great musical shouldn’t be a question of fashion. You don’t have to be a defender of the patriarchy to enjoy these tunes, but Kiss Me Kate should be viewed with a little caution today; a woke remake with Florence Pugh spanking Harry Styles and Chris Pine would seem like one way forward….




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  1. I went to a talk a couple of years back where the subject under discussion was “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” and one woman who said that as a child she had been brought up on those songs was horrified to later discover what the story was actually about.

    • I get that, and have been listening to these songs context free on Youtube. But this is a good musical, it just needs a bit of a tinkering to sit better with us now; attitudes have changed. In my house, anyway.

  2. Hmm. This is a tricky one. As someone who believes strongly that art from the past should not be discarded based on our present norms, I think you’ve split the baby nicely here. To continue my baby metaphor, we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Keep the music and the cleverness. I’m on board for a modern remake that won’t have me rolling my eyes…

    • But it is to my shame that I rewatched this and was about to give it a free pass; it’s Shakespeare, and Cole Porter after all. But a quick bit of reading suggested that this film is offensive, and having given it some thought, I can see why is is problematic now, but wasn’t considered so. The songs are just great, but I do think this film reflects outdated attitudes to women, and therefore needs careful handling. So I delayed and rewrite my review; I think you can still dig what’s great about this while accepting that all elements haven’t worn so well. But if we’re banning Shakespeare and mass producing Kevin Hart in Me Time, we’re applying the cultural razor in all the wrong places…

  3. speaking of Melissa McCarthy….
    I just watched the 2016 Ghostbusters the other day. It wasn’t horrible but it wasn’t as focused as the original, the “banter” between the women was completely bitchy and it actually wasn’t that funny.

    So tying that back to this movie, just be careful what you wish for if you want some gender swapped woke remake…

    • I watched the 2016 version of Ghostbusters with a mixed group of teenagers the other day and they loved it; I’m recalibrating my thoughts on that film and will get back to it. But it’s not the trevesty that some people say, not not in the same ball-park as the first film. But I do think Kiss Me Kate, which has been revived on stage recently, is a problematic enough text that it could and should be re-worked; the songs are ace, but the film reflects attitudes of the time, and that’s male-dominated. Not sure why Shakespeare even bothers getting out of bed in the morning if all he worries about are his woke credentials..

      • Of course the teens loved. A guy gets laser’ized in the nuts. As Alex has shown, that kind of humor appeals to the young and stupid. and I agree it wasn’t the travesty some made it out to be. But it was not a good movie.

        As for Shakes, I doubt he’s really worried about your woke concerns. He’s made his bundle and is now laughing all the way to the bank, every day. That is what I wish I was doing right now 🙁

        • It was not a good movie. Agreed.

          Maybe you should write woke versions of classic texts. Good money in that.

          • Actually, there isn’t good money. Most of the woke crowd would rather steal stuff online.

            And besides, the only woke stuff I could bring myself to write would be something like “And then he woke up and realized it had all been a horrible nightmare”. 😀

    • Sigh. I’d rather keep the Rock out of this. But the remake we get will probably be The Rock and Kevin Hart fighting over Melissa McCarthy on Netflix.

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