Thursday, August 13, 2009

dual-system 3-D! Sidney's "Kiss Me, Kate"

Thanks to 3-D, Ann put the Miller in MGM's
"Kiss Me, Kate," based on the Cole Porter stage musical
San Fancisco's Castro Theatre - one of the last great movie havens for buffs in this country - has provided me with more than one unforgettable movie moment, the most memorable of which was a packed-theater screening of the 1996 restoration of Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo." Nothing touches it.

But coming close were a pair of '50s 3-D films, shown in the dual system, that my wife and I caught there just before we left the West Coast - Hitchcock's "Dial M for Murder" (1954) and George Sidney's "Kiss Me, Kate" (1953). It was fascinating to see how Hitch's use of 3-D brought out the claustrophobia of his boxy sets in "Murder" and how Sidney and company used the medium to sock across the musical numbers in "Kate," making them more vital that usual. Yes, memorable.

Well, ten years later, The Castro is screening both "Murder" and "Kate" again, along with Andre De Toth's "House of Wax" (1953) and John Brahm's "The Mad Magician" (also '53), for showings set for Friday, 14 August - Tuesday, 18 August ("House" on 14 & 15 August, "Murder" on 16 August, "Kate on 17 August, and "Magician" on 18 August).

If I was going to travel 3,000 miles back there for one title, it would be "Kiss Me, Kate," which for me is the best movie that Sidney, a real hit-or-miss director, ever made. He (and Ann-Margret) loused up "Bye, Bye Birdie," which inexplicably was a huge hit, but he did masterly work on the underrated and forgotten "Half a Sixpence." Sidney also helmed "An Evening with Frank Sinatra" - or, rather, "Pal Joey."

Unlike most MGM adapations of stage musicals, Sidney's "Kiss Me, Kate" wasn't truncated the way, say, "On the Town" and "The Unsinkable Molly Brown" were by the studio. Perhaps Metro had to too high a regard for Cole Porter to mess around with it. Porter's grand score is just about intact, and the choreography by Hermes Pan (with an uncredited assist from Bob Fosse, one of the costars in the film) makes sure that the twirling dancers seem to be kicking their way off the screen. Ann Miller is even more Ann Miller in 3-D, if you know what I mean.

The cast includes Kathryn Grayson (in her best film role); Howard Keel (always an unusually masculine presence in musicals); good sports Keenan Wynn and James Whitmore, and the talented dancers Jeanne Coyne, Carol Haney, Tommy Rall, Bobby Van and Fosse.


Terrence said...

I agree that "Kiss Me, Kate" is the best musical that either Metro or George Sidney made. I think the material is fool-proof. It would make a moron to mess it up. I would love to see it remade but, as you imply, there is no one of Howard Keel's stature, talent or masculinity who could pull it off. He was a great talent, often misused by his studio.

jbryant said...

Love, love, love, love, love KISS ME KATE. Would love to see it in 3-D, but probably won't be trekking up that far to see it.

My other favorite Sidney film is a non-musical, SCARAMOUCHE. Superbly entertaining, with that classic fencing duel between Stewart Granger and Mel Ferrer. And Eleanor Parker gets to have fun for a change instead of fretting.

wwolfe said...

You mentioned Keenan Wynn, so I thought you might enjoy hearing that a friend of mine and I just saw his grand-daughter, Jessica Kennan Wynn, make her professional stage debut as the female lead in a musical called "Life Could Be a Dream." She was terrific - very pretty, with eye-catching red hair, good comic timing, and a strong, expressive singing voice. After hearing her rendition of "I Only Have Eyes For You," my friend and I agreed that Jessica should be on the Broadway stage - soon. The show itself was a light, brightly colored merengue that used old doo-wop songs from the late 1950s and early '60s for its score. Nothing challenging, but very charming.

Ariel said...

While I will forever be uncomfortable with the public spanking in "Kiss Me, Kate", I can't imagine how fun it would be to see such a vibrant, dazzling film in 3-D. There are many things about the resurgence of 3-D that are irritating and tacky, but I'm pretty sure KMK would stand up beautifully.