Saturday, July 15, 2006


I stumbled outside at 6 AM this morning, and already it was incredibly warm and humid. When the cool part of the day is this bad, you know it's only going to get worse. So I'm thinking this is going to be a weekend to stay inside, soak up the air conditioning and enjoy some movies. The idea of doing anything else--well, it's too darn hot.

Too Darn Hot is also a song from one of the movies I'll be watching this weekend, the 1953 adaptation of Cole Porter's Kiss Me Kate. (By the way, shouldn't there be a comma in there? It's always bothered me...) Overlooked and underappreciated for years, this wonderful movie is finally starting to get the reputation it deserves.

The reason it was ignored for so long, apparently, is because it was an MGM musical that wasn't produced by Arthur Freed. For the tastemakers who wrote the official histories of screen musicals, the product cranked out by the Freed Unit in the forties and fifties equaled Real Class.

And a lot of good things happened under Freed's supervision. He gave Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen the go-ahead to direct On The Town (though the decision to gut Leonard Bernstein's score was also Freed's), which would lead to even greater things with Singin' In The Rain and It's Always Fair Weather. He brought Vincente Minnelli to Hollywood and produced virtually all of his musicals, an amazing list that includes Meet Me In St. Louis, two obscure personal favorites, The Pirate and Yolanda And the Thief (Am I the only one who thinks Lucille Bremer was hot?), The Band Wagon...It's a good list. Unfortunately, Freed was also responsible for an endless stream of Mickey-and-Judy snoozers, gaudy biopics of Great Songwriters and the occasional overproduced adaptation of Broadway shows.

So the fact that Freed didn't shepherd Kiss Me Kate to the big screen indicates MGM must not have had much faith in it, which might explain why it gets away with so much. There's a great number early on where Ann Miller performs Too Darn Hot, basically a song about how, before air conditioning was commonly available, sometimes it's just too hot to have sex. The content of the song apparently didn't ruffle the feathers of any studio bosses, but, in a concession to Good Taste, a reference in the lyrics to the Kinsey Report was changed to "the latest report!"

This amuses me, because they let stand the lyrics to Always True To You In My Fashion, which includes the line "Mister Fritz is full of Schlitz," both a scatological pun AND a reference to anal sex (ah, the Cole Porter wit!), and let pass the Tom, Dick And Harry number, which features Miller and three guys in tights unleashing a sexually charged dance while singing, "Dick-a dick, dick-a dick, dick-a dick!" As dick jokes go, this is about as unsubtle as they come (sorry), but no one at MGM caught it.

Those three guys in tights, by the way, would be Tommy Rall, Bobby Van and Bob Fosse, and one big reason why Kiss Me Kate has attained a sizeable following in recent years is because it features Fosse's first choreography for the screen. Hermes Pan, who staged the dances here (and who did an ace job), let Fosse stage his own brief duet with Carol Haney. The results are sensational, and were directly responsible for Fosse getting the job as choreographer on Broadway's The Pajama Game, which is to say, this is dance history in the making.

But everything is great in this movie. Leads Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson slogged through a lot of middlebrow crap in the fifties, but Grayson is surpisingly good here, and Keel is magnificent--this is actually one of the best comedic performances I've ever seen. And of course, boy, can they sing. (It's a guarantee: their duet of So In Love will break your heart.) Kurt Kasznar, James Whitmore and Keenan Wynn are quite funny in supporting parts, the story moves along, the Technicolor on Warner Home Video's DVD pops out of the screen. A real treat.

Oh yeah, and the songs. That Porter guy knew what he was doing.