Movie studios of the 1950s began to feel the burden of decreased box office sales during the early days of television. They fought back with every fancy type of technology that they had at the time, from stereoscopics to cinemascope. Shows like “Kiss Me Kate” were exactly what audiences had come to expect by the end of 1953: production quality that just did not translate onto a square, black-and-white television screen. “Kiss Me Kate” offered all four impressive technologies that Hollywood had to offer. It was in full color and played in a widescreen, or “letterbox,” format (which sounds natural today, but back then it was a novelty that sold tickets fast).
The film was also in 3D and had a stereophonic soundtrack, and more importantly, it was actually played that way; most exhibitors had given up on one or both of these expensive processes. Theater owners had no problem booking a lavish musical like “Kiss Me Kate” in 3D — especially one with MGM’s tag on it — because by this point many theaters were playing the flat versions of various stereoscopic films released in the 3D boom of 1953-54. With all this draw, it was naturally a big hit.
Unfortunately, it’s difficult to see the film today as it was meant to be seen when it was first released. While you can see where some of the shots may have looked really neat in 3D, the flat film still holds up. It’s still a colorful, witty and ultimately entertaining musical. “Kiss Me Kate” is about a divorced couple starring in a musical spinoff of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew,” involving all the hilarious backstage drama (which leaks onstage more often than you’d think professionally possible) and somehow also includes a duo of goofy gangsters with a knack for singing and dancing.
It is truly a delight to watch as the characters’ personal issues with one another contribute to the quality of acting. It would be a disaster in most plays if actors went off script by slapping and elbowing each other onstage. However, in “Kiss Me Kate,” it makes the rendition of “The Taming of the Shrew” exactly what it should be — slapstick comedy. As with most romantic comedies, musical or not, you can see the ending by the opening credits, but the movie is so enjoyable that it’s worth the ride.