I wrote this review of the 3D Bluray of the 1953 film, “Kiss Me, Kate” which is now available on Amazon:
A surprisingly-painful to watch at times, peep at 1953 attitudes, especially towards men. Reviewed in the United Kingdom 🇬🇧 on 4 March 2023
WARNING: Mild spoilers ahead.
I say mild because this is old-fashioned, musical fayre and pretty-predictable stuff. Boy used to have girl, boy had lost girl, boy wants girl back, boy regains girl.
Other reviews have highlighted the pristine print; what a treat it is to see it in 3D and the tendency of the players to throw things out of the screen and not quite hit the right spot. (Quite a few flinches still to be had when stuff comes right at you though – water, confetti, even fire. It’s a lot of fun when they get it right.)
The songs are largely memorable although by no means all of them. Unlike the Julie Andrews, Sound of Music school of musical singing, Kathryn Grayson screeches her way through her songs in operatic fashion and I loved every moment of it. Howard Keel and Miss Grayson are perfect for one another.
Those who remember Katharine Grayson’s performance as the epitome of virginal innocence in “Show Boat” will be surprised to find that the role she plays in “Kiss Me, Kate” is totally different. Even her appearance is transformed by the heavy makeup she wears throughout the film and the character’s personality is vile.
In the first quarter of the twenty first century – when an increasing number of men are heartily sick of what women have become thanks to feminism and are turning their backs on them en masse – it is easy to view the 1950s through rose-tinted glasses as a time when men were men and women were still women, desirable, submissive and agreeable, undamaged by the feminism which has ruined the world since the 1960s – and there is undoubtedly a growing percentage of men who think this way.
Indeed, in “Kiss Me, Kate”, on the face of it, there are none of the complaints for example about “objectification of women” when Ann Miller dances provocatively, clearly willing to endure the male gaze and even revelling in it. No scolding dogs for wagging their tails here. The men make no secret of the fact that they are looking and indeed, the male gaze appears to be accepted as normal and I found it very refreshing even if Miss Miller’s “Too Darn Hot” number felt downright absurd as she struts around showing off her very-nice legs and shaking her cleavage from side to side. Approve or disapprove, such dancing does feel a little dated and absurd today.
What I found hard to bear was the verbal, emotional and physical abuse which is heaped upon Howard Keel’s character by his vile, ex-wife who appears to think she has some God-given right to go around hitting men with impunity as though men are put upon the earth in order to act as punchbags for violent, entitled women. She even taunts Keel’s character with that old shaming tactic – informing him that if he retaliates, then he “is not a gentleman.”
The response – “I am NOT a gentleman” sounded remarkably contemporary (even MGTOW) with its implication that he has no desire nor intention to be one and when, having warned her repeatedly that he will only take so much physical abuse, he puts her over his knee and gives her a well-deserved (but presumably shocking in 1953) spanking, there is great satisfaction to be had. She absolutely has it coming.
At one point, when I had begun to wonder whether ” shrew” and “feminist” were in fact interchangeable words, Miss Grayson’s character bursts into a rendition of the song “I Hate Men” and I burst out laughing.
Eventually, it seems that all Howard Keel’s character has to do is flatter the witch, declare that she had been wonderful but that he hadn’t been “big enough for her” and back she comes, ego suitably massaged, cooing like a dove into his arms.
The big question is why would anyone want her? At one point, Keel’s character even wonders if he has a broken rib! She should be in prison for assault, domestic violence and emotional abuse. She is neither lovable nor amusing. She is just a monster.
Today, in 74% of cases of reciprocal, domestic violence, it is the woman who strikes the first blow, yet domestic violence is still seen in many quarters as the domain solely of men. “Kiss Me, Kate” exhibits attitudes which are subtly still around today (inherited?) although the worm is ever-so-slowly turning. At least people do occasionally ask who struck the first blow and it is recognised that it is not a black and white issue any more. (Men still get 60% longer sentences for the same crimes though.)
In “Kiss Me, Kate” however, the violence is so normalised that the theatre audience actually laughs when Grayson’s character slaps Keel’s at the front of the stage. Yes, hitting men is so funny…
Inevitably there will be feminists declaring this film to be “sexist” (against women of course) but then one of the least-endearing features of feminism is its penchant for double-standards, hypocrisy, misandry and willful blindness. I find” Kiss Me, Kate” to be more a peep into 1950s’ attitudes to men and it isn’t pretty.
True, at the end, Miss Grayson’s character submits to her man, apparently having come to her senses and acknowledging the role of women as supporting and nurturing their men but the real sexism is in the attitude to men and their not-to-be-questioned role as abused punchbags who must never hit a lady.
Thus, “Kiss Me, Kate” at over half a century old, is very much a product of its time. Those men who judge today’s women in terms of “the juice ain’t worth the squeeze” would do well to look at “Kiss Me, Kate” and at least ask themselves whether the women really were nicer in the 1950s or was there an epidemic of violence behind the scenes but with no internet for men to take notes to compare with each other? As it is, the general acceptance of the violence perpretrated by Miss Grayson’s character is astounding. When it is occurring, the other people on stage do not bat an eyelid for most of the time.
If you can ignore all the normalised, domestic violence and emotional abuse at the hands of the main, female character, “Kiss Me, Kate” is otherwise a delightful farce, beautifully staged, even charming. Do not suppose for one moment that I do not recommend it for I surely do. It is as much an enjoyable, musical romp as it is a fascinating, social document.
William Mobberley recommends*:
(*As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.)
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