Sunday, August 26, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Kiss Me Kate (1953) at UCLA

Yesterday was a wonderful day for musicals at UCLA's Billy Wilder Theater, as the Fosse, Fosse, Fosse! retrospective celebrated its final weekend.

The movies kicked off with a mid-afternoon screening of WHITE CHRISTMAS (1954) in 35mm. While not quite as sharp as the digital print I saw in 2013 -- which was one of my better experiences with a digital screening -- the print was lovely and I was delighted to finally see it in the 35mm format.

The screening began with some introductory comments noting that UCLA's Fosse series had been based on a Harvard Film Archive retrospective, and WHITE CHRISTMAS had been scheduled based on Harvard's scholarship. However, this proved to be a contentious issue, as questions were raised regarding Fosse's involvement; WHITE CHRISTMAS was apparently programmed at Harvard based on little more than IMDb listing Fosse as an uncredited choreographer. The credited choreographer was Robert Alton.

UCLA consulted experts on the topic; dance historian Debra Levine researched the film at the Academy's Margaret Herrick Library and found nothing regarding Fosse working on the film, while Michael Curtiz biographer Alan K. Rode found a single sheet of paper in the Paramount archives indicating that Fosse was on the set. There was rumor that late in his life Alton said Fosse had assisted him, and that seems to be the state of the research at this point. Hopefully it will be definitively clarified in the future. UCLA went ahead with the screening just to show a nice print of a wonderful movie, with the proviso that Fosse may -- or may not! -- have been involved.

The screening was much more lightly attended than a typical evening screening at the Billy Wilder Theater; perhaps too many people were enjoying a summer afternoon to want to head for a dark theater to celebrate Christmas in August! For my part, it was absolutely wonderful watching it and I'm thrilled I had the opportunity.

Trivia postscripts: While watching the "Choreography" number in WHITE CHRISTMAS I suddenly recognized a dancer with long blonde hair from THE PAJAMA GAME (1957). Fun what can be noticed when you see movies a few days apart! I also noticed a blooper with Vera-Ellen and a coffee pot early in the film which I hadn't picked up on before.

The evening program consisted of a double bill of KISS ME KATE (1953) and MY SISTER EILEEN (1955) and was well attended. Barrie Chase -- who incidentally was in WHITE CHRISTMAS -- was on hand in the audience last night, along with Andy Parks, son of Larry Parks and MY SISTER EILEEN star Betty Garrett. A seat was reserved for George Chakiris (another WHITE CHRISTMAS cast member), but he didn't attend.

Fosse acts and dances onscreen in both KISS ME KATE and MY SISTER EILEEN. Additionally, he choreographed the section of "From This Moment On" in KISS ME KATE which he danced with Carol Haney; the rest of that film's dances were done by Hermes Pan. Fosse choreographed all of MY SISTER EILEEN, billed onscreen as Robert Fosse. I reviewed MY SISTER EILEEN here in 2012.

Debra Levine opened the evening with an interesting slideshow presentation in which she used screen shots from "From This Moment On" to show how different moves and poses (including "The Star," "The Shlump," and tilted heads) became part of Fosse's signature style, turning up again in numbers such as "Steam Heat" in THE PAJAMA GAME. I really enjoyed her talk, which concluded with a brief tribute to the original Kate, Patricia Morison, who died last May at 103. (One small goof: Jeanne Coyne did not marry Gene Kelly until several years after she danced in KISS ME KATE.)

I saw KISS ME KATE twice in 3D at the Tiffany Theater on Sunset Boulevard in the late '70s or early '80s, with the old-fashioned red and blue 3D glasses. The 35mm print we watched last night, from the British Film Institute, was a flat print from the "left" of the two 3D cameras. I was reminded of my past 3D experiences every time someone threw something at the screen!

KISS ME KATE is a delightfully fun movie, filled with great musical numbers and humor. It's the story of a divorced couple, Fred (Howard Keel) and Lilli (Kathryn Grayson), starring in a new musical production of Shakespeare's THE TAMING OF THE SHREW.

Ann Miller and Tommy Rall lead the supporting cast as fellow actors, with Keenan Wynn and James Whitmore playing gangsters who become involved with the theatrical company, to great comic effect. Their farewell song, "Brush Up Your Shakespeare," is wonderfully fun.

Keel does a great job capturing Fred's egocentric hamminess, with Grayson likewise terrific as the "shrewish" Lilli. Incidentally, in recent years I realized that her hair and makeup as "Kate" make her a dead ringer for Eleanor Parker in the previous year's MGM production of SCARAMOUCHE (1952)!

I'm not sure if I noticed before that the framed photos on Fred's living room piano include a photo of Keel and Grayson in SHOW BOAT (1951); there's also what looks like a photo from ANNIE GET YOUR GUN (1950), which Keel starred in.

There are so many wonderful numbers in KISS ME KATE, including Ann Miller's amazing tap number "Too Darn Hot" near the start of the film; Keel and Grayson's duets "So in Love" and "Wunderbar"; Miller and Rall's "Why Can't You Behave" and "Always True to You in My Fashion"; Miller, Rall, Fosse, and Bobby Van performing "Tom, Dick or Harry"; and best of all, the previously mentioned "From This Moment On," one of my all-time favorite dances from an MGM musical.

KISS ME KATE was directed by George Sidney and filmed by Charles Rosher. The supporting cast includes Kurt Kasznar, Ron Randell, Ann Codee, Claud Allister, and Willard Parker. It runs 109 minutes.

KISS ME KATE has been released on DVD multiple times, including in a Cole Porter Collection, a TCM Greatest Classic Films Collection, and a single-title release.  (2020 Update: It's now also been reissued on DVD by the Warner Archive Collection.)

It's also been released on Blu-ray and VHS, and it can be rented for streaming.

The musical fun continues this weekend as I will be seeing the Fathom Events 60th Anniversary presentation of SOUTH PACIFIC (1958) today.

Related post: Tonight's Movie: Kiss Me Kate at UCLA (1958).


Blogger Seth said...

I enjoyed SOUTH PACIFIC this afternoon. As for KISS ME KATE, I have that TCM set, so it’s another title to move toward the top of the pile....

7:10 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I'm so glad I went to SOUTH PACIFIC!! You just can't beat sitting there with one great song after another, combined with the stunning visuals. A great afternoon. Good to hear you enjoyed it also!

I'm planning on going to THE SOUND OF MUSIC as well. I'll be seeing ENCHANTED on a big screen the same week so it's a little bit of a double dose of Julie Andrews since she narrates the opening of ENCHANTED. :)

Best wishes,

8:25 PM  
Blogger Vienna said...

The Cole porter score of Kiss Me Kate just sizzles! Must have been wonderful to see it and My Sister Eileen on the big screen.

12:50 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I love it too, Vienna! I have had some truly wonderful screening experiences this year and it seems like the majority of my favorites have been musicals!

Thanks so much for stopping by!

Best wishes,

12:16 AM  

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