Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Taming Of The Shrew (1929) DVD Review

The Taming Of The Shrew (1929) stars Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Edwin Maxwell, and Joseph Cawthorn. It was directed by Sam Taylor. This film version has some charm, and there are some wonderful moments. But there are lots of drastic cuts. Entire characters are gone – Lucentio, Tranio, Vincentio, the Widow and others are missing. Instead of the Induction, this film version opens with a puppet show, with the male puppet entreating, “Kiss me, kiss me.” The female puppet responds, “I’ll kiss you,” and then smacks him. The male puppet says, “I’ll tame you,” and hits her with a stick until finally she kisses him. The crowd watching applauds, and the camera slowly pulls back along the street.

Act I

We then go to Baptista’s home, where Bianca (Dorothy Jordon) is being kissed by Hortensio (Geoffrey Wardell). Baptista (Edwin Maxwell) walks in on them, startling them. Gremio (Joseph Cawthorn) enters too. Hortensio makes a plea with Baptista for Bianca’s hand, but Baptista reminds him that he is resolved that his elder daughter must be married first. At the mention of Katherine’s name (Katherine, not Katherina, in this version), there is a scream from one of the servants and the breaking of glass. The servants hide as objects are hurled at them. There is no doubt but that this Katherine is truly a shrew. And then Katherine (Mary Pickford) is revealed, breathing heavily and looking mean.

Hortensio and Gremio have their conversation about finding a husband for Katherine. After Hortensio says “and money enough,” we cut to Petruchio (Douglas Fairbanks) walking along the street toward the camera. Gremio and Hortensio see him, and oddly it is Gremio, not Hortensio, who shouts to him. Petruchio runs up and first embraces Gremio, then Hortensio. Gremio speaks Hortensio’s lines, asking, “What happy gale blows you to Padua here from old Verona?” Petruchio says, “Happily to wed” rather than “Happily to wive.” Hortensio then whispers to Gremio, obviously telling him of the idea to marry Petruchio to Katherine. Again it is Gremio, not Hortensio, who says, “Shall I then wish thee to a shrewd, ill-tempered wife?” (He says “ill-tempered” rather than “ill-favored,” a change that makes sense, as generally “ill-favored” means “ugly,” and no one in the play considers Kate to be ugly.) Gremio promises Petruchio that she’s rich. He adds, “And very rich,” at which point Petruchio turns to him, interested. A nice touch. Petruchio has a whip in this version. When Gremio speaks Katherine’s name, Grumio (Clyde Cook) makes a surprised sound, then tells Petruchio that he wouldn’t marry her for a mine of gold. It is Gremio, not Hortensio, who tells Petruchio Baptista’s name, but then Hortensio speaks his own lines, “For in Baptista’s keep my treasure is/His youngest daughter, beautiful Bianca.” But then it is Gremio who explains that Bianca can’t be wed until Katherine is. Oddly, Gremio is there when Hortensio comes up with the idea of being disguised, and even helps him with the idea. So Gremio is not a suitor in this version. And with Lucentio completely cut, it means Hortensio is Bianca’s only suitor. Weird. Petruchio gives his “Think thou a little din can daunt mine ears” speech. At the end he repeats “A woman’s tongue,” and laughs.

Act II

Act II opens with Katherine shouting to Baptista. Interestingly, she begins with her lines from Act I: “I pray you is it your will/To make a stale of me among these mates?” She then goes right to her lines about the “three-legged stool,” and straight into “What! shall I be appointed hours.” She then goes right into Act II Scene i, starting with her line, “She is your treasure, she must have a husband.” And she points at Bianca, who looks frightened. Katherine is holding a whip. She says, “Talk not to me, I will find revenge,” and stomps up the stairs.  Petruchio then enters, asking Baptista about Katherine. Gremio delivers his own line, “You are too blunt: go to it orderly.” Before Petruchio presents Hortensio in disguise as Litio, Hortensio lifts his fake beard to show Bianca who he really is. After Baptista says “the more my grief,” Petruchio’s response is oddly broken up, the first half given to Gremio, who says, “Oh, I see, then you do not wish to part with her.” Petruchio says, “Or else you like not my company.” Oddly, Gremio also says Petruchio’s line “And when two raging fires meet together/They do consume the thing that feeds their fury.” Hortensio comes tumbling down the stairs, with the lute broken around his head, his head clear through the instrument, which is ridiculous. Petruchio says, “Now, by the world, she is a lusty wench,” before Hortensio’s funny lines about the lute.

Katherine stands at the top of the stairs and cracks her own whip to get Petruchio’s attention. He gets a closer look, then laughs at her, which throws her off. He then begins, “Good morrow, Kate.” She responds, shocked and angry, “Kate,” leading to the rest of Petruchio’s line, “for that’s your name, I hear.” They then approach each other on the stairs. Instead of “bonny Kate,” he says “wild Kate.” She goes to whip him, and he embraces her to stop her, then carries her down the stairs and kisses her. He tells her to sit down. When she refuses, he pushes a chair over to her. It hits the back of her legs, causing her to sit. A lot of the best lines from this scene are cut, including those about asses and women being made to bear. After “If I be waspish best beware my sting,” she slaps him. But all the rest of the lines about the sting are sadly cut. She slaps him again after he calls her “pleasant,” and again after “courteous,” and again after “and sweet as springtime flowers.” Katherine kicks something, shattering it and hurting her foot. That leads to Petruchio’s line “Why does the world report that Kate doth limp?” He pulls her onto his lap. At that moment, Baptista and Gremio peek in, and from their perspective behind Petruchio and Katherine, it looks as if things are going very well. In the reverse shot, we see Petruchio has his hand over Katherine’s mouth so she can’t respond. Then Baptista makes his entrance. While Petruchio tells Baptista how Katherine loves him, she whips him several times, which Petruchio ignores. One of the many terrible cuts is the loss of all the lines whereby Petruchio explains that Katherine continues to appear the shrew in company, but not when they’re alone. You need those lines, particularly in this version where she’s whipping him. Petruchio then kisses Kate. She hits him a couple of times, then gives in to his kiss. Petruchio exits, and Katherine is at a loss for a moment, clearly knocked unbalanced by the kiss. She then gets up and attacks Baptista and Gremio with her whip, which of course is absurd.


Act III Scene i is cut. Act III begins with wedding bells ringing, and the crowd gathered for the wedding, waiting for Petruchio’s arrival. Baptista’s first line is “What mockery.” Petruchio arrives in a foolish costume, including a boot for a hat. In this version, we see the wedding. Petruchio eats a piece of fruit during the ceremony. So instead of Gremio recounting what happened later, we see Petruchio say “Ay, by goggs woones.” Katherine takes a long time answering if she takes Petruchio as her husband, so Petruchio stamps on her foot. But Petruchio does not knock the priest down, as described in the play. After the wedding, there is a continuity issue, as Katherine’s fur piece is first over one shoulder, then the other, back and forth several times. After Katherine entreats Petruchio to stay and Petruchio says he’s content but still they must go, she suddenly takes out a whip and cracks it, which is the silliest bit with the whips. Seriously, a whip was somewhere within her wedding gown? When Petruchio tells Grumio “Draw forth thy weapon,” he pulls out a dagger. Petruchio then picks Katherine up and carries her away on his horse. Tranio is cut from this version, so Gremio says his line, “Of all mad matches never was the like.” And, oddly, Baptista then speaks Bianca’s line, “That being mad herself she’s madly mated.” Gremio then speaks his own line, “I warrant him, Petruchio is Kated.”

It is raining when Grumio, Petruchio and Katherine arrive at his house. Grumio sneezes as he asks Curtis if the house is trimmed, the cobwebs swept, and so on. The servants quickly set a table, as Grumio continues sneezing. We then see Petruchio and Katherine arriving in the storm. There’s a nice moment after Petruchio changes into warm, dry clothes where he watches Katherine in her wet clothing shivering by the door. Katherine then draws out her whip, so Petruchio gets his and cracks it. When she turns, he scolds his servants, not Katherine. Petruchio begins eating, but shouts at Grumio when Katherine tries to serve herself. He then grabs the fork from her hand to inspect the meat. He then whips his servants, until Katherine stops him. He carries Katherine upstairs. Once in the chamber he takes out a Tarot deck, and seems to be playing some variation of solitaire with the cards – very odd. While Katherine changes into night attire, Petruchio sneaks downstairs to eat. His dog joins him at the table, and it is to his dog that Petruchio delivers his “Thus have I politicly begun my reign” speech. But Katherine stands at the top of the stairs and overhears this, which is a really poor choice. She shouldn’t know his plan, but in this version she does. So she goes to bed, pretending to be asleep when he returns, thus changing the tone greatly from that of the play, for now Katherine is in the position of power. So when he opens a window to let in the cold air, she pretends to like it, and opens a second window. Petruchio is dismayed, unsure.

Act IV

The rest of the film is quite different from the play. The Tailor and Haberdasher are cut. While still in their chamber, Petruchio points out the moon and says, “How bright and goodly shines the sun.” In the play, they are on the road to Baptista’s house, and it is the sun that he describes as being the moon. So here Katherine says, “The sun! The moon. It is not sunlight now.” Because they are not on the road, he can’t threaten to turn back. Instead, Katherine quickly catches onto the game and plays along. Because of the switch from day to night, Katherine has to say, “And the sun changes even as your mind,” which doesn’t really make sense. Instead of being pleased, Petruchio is upset by her sudden agreement and looks for something else to upset her. He discovers a spot on the bedding, and tears it off the bed. Katherine then finds a spot on the mattress, and pulls it off the frame. She then gets on the mattress on the floor, looking cutely at Petruchio. They then fight over a cushion, all of this being a far cry from Shakespeare’s play. She throws a stool, which hits him on the head, knocking him down. She, then worried for him, runs to his side, saying, “Oh, beloved.” He then returns to his speech from Act I, saying, “I that have heard lions roar, the rage of an angry sea.” She helps him to the bed, then realizes he’s exaggerating his pain, and she smiles. She tosses her whip into the fire.

Act V

Act V opens with Katherine standing at one end of the table at Baptista’s house, giving her famous speech, beginning with “Thy husband is thy lord.” There is no bet leading up to this, particularly because Lucentio has been cut, as has the Widow. So it seems she has begun this speech entirely on her own, which is strange. Petruchio is seated, holding his whip. Clearly she is playing here, not really meaning what she’s saying. She even winks at Bianca after “obey” to let her know it’s all an act.

Time: 65 minutes

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