When his career had been ebbing rather low, "Kiss Me Kate" rescued and re-established Cole Porter as a popular composer - furthered and strengthened when MGM produced a lavish film version of the popular stage musical.
A play-within-a-play, "Kiss Me Kate" follows the mounting of a musical of Shakespeare's "Taming of the Shrew" - starring a divorced couple, with music by "Cole Porter" (played by Ron Randell) - and the premiere engagement that's threatened by a possible elopement during intermission.
"Kate" was a film caught in the headlamps of an industry in transition: though not filmed in scope, "Kate" was one of the last major studio films to take advantage of the 3-D craze (although when ultimately distributed, less than half of the circulated prints were in 3-D. Even the included trailer makes no mention of the 3-D feature). The film was also shot in Anscocolor, a single-strip 3-color format derived from Germany's Agfacolor, which MGM had imported and later re-christened Metrocolor in later productions.
Though the prints were made by Technicolor, the radiant turquoise and aquamarine palettes found in Agfa stock still resonate in "Kiss Me Kate," something the film's set and costume designers exploited to the nth degree. Once the play actually kicks in, we're treated to designs unique to the Fifties: with bright red, juicy orange, and shades of green and blue, the overall look is highly stylized, including costumes reflecting a kind of streamlined/minimalist design, worn my energetic performers who move through Maurice Noble-inspired sets.
Moreover, though the DVD contains the 'flat' version, there's sufficient elements within the film to give a tantalizing impression of the 3-D effects devised by the director. Ann Miller, who hosts the featurette "Cole Porter In Hollywood: Too Darn Hot," says director George Sidney wanted her to throw various objects at the screen during her outrageous number "Too Darn Hot," although Miller's machine-gun dancing alone raises the sexual suggestiveness pretty well without the third dimension. Viewers will be able to imagine several moments in a real 3-D environment - particularly Keel's number on a small set stretched into the audience - and it's also worthwhile to note Sidney also helmed Elvis Presley's 1964 Musical "Viva Las Vegas" - one of the sharpest DVDs out there, with an explosive palette of candy colours. The man knew how to handle colour, and "Kiss Me Kate" is a thick slice of Fifties décor.
The newly remastered soundtrack in 5.1 happily doesn't dip into modern overkill, and there's a nice balance between orchestral and vocal elements, and applicable sound effects during the dance numbers. The complete soundtrack is also presented in 5.1 on a separate audio track, offering a more precise mix (though oddly, lacking extra bass present in the regular track) of Cole Porter's naughty lyrics and some impressive orchestra passages (arranged by Andre Previn and Saul Chaplin).
The "Cole Porter In Hollywood" featurette includes interviews with Howard Keel (on the studio's trepidation of his casting), Kathryn Grayson (on her dancing gaffes), Tommy Rall (offering some nice anecdotes on choreographer Hermes Pan, and co-star Bob Fosse), and James Whitmore (on his brush with musical discipline).
Produced in 1949, the vintage Technicolor short "Mighty Manhattan, New York's Wonder City" functions as an obvious travelogue for both American and foreign audiences, particularly post-war nations in the process of rebuilding shattered governments and cities. Touting prime hot spots - including the future site of the United Nations headquarters - "Mighty" trumpets American virtues, and there's a secondary message to foreigners, that integrated adoption of American ideals will reinvigorate wounded nations, and lead them to the civilized greatness - in architecture, art, society, and culture - as depicted in "Mighty Manhattan."
This Warner Bros title is available separately or as part of a five-disc “Classic Musicals Collection – The Cole Porter Gift Set” which includes "Broadway Melody of 1940," "High Society," "Kiss Me Kate," "Les Girls," and "Silk Stockings."
© 2003 Mark R. Hasan