The Taming of the Shrew (1929)

Toronto Film Society presented The Taming of the Shrew (1929) on Monday, August 17, 1964 as part of the Season 16 Summer Series, Programme 2.

Shakespeare’s Theatre: The Globe Playhouse   USA   1952 25 mins   b&w   16mm

This short film was produced by the University of California Theatre Arts Department and has a narrative spoken by Ronald Colman.  A carefully made model of “the great Globe itself” is photographed to give some idea of how plays were presented in Shakespearean London.  (In site the Globe, on the Thames’ south bank, was close to the present Old Vic/National Theatre, Royal Festival Hall and National Film Theatre!)  There are shots and descriptions of the four stage areas and figures are shown in scenes from the plays to indicate how each area was used.  It’s to be hoped that this little film will help to tie in the Globe’s theatre strategy with the various visual styles of our features.  Other glimpses along the same line come at the opening of Henry the Fifth and in a snatch of “The Dream” which is included in tonight’s second short.  That is from a Stratford-on-Avon production and the Royal Shakespearean Theatre uses a proscenium stage but, on this occasion, adapted around a standing set of Elizabethan proportions.

Between Two Rivers (Shakespeare’s Land)   Britain   1963   20 mins    colour   16mm
Produced by AB/Pathé for the British Travel Association

No apologies for the fact this is as much about Oxford as about Stratford-on-Avon, nor for the rather fulsome commentary or general “British Travel & Holidays” aura.  The countryside where Shakespeare grew up is sacredly beautiful and–as recorded in lush, dense colour–fully explains the poet’s life-long reverence for nature, a reverence which is ceaseless in his verse.

The Taming of the Shrew   USA   1929   70 min  b&w   16mm

Production Company:  United Artists.  Director:  Sam Taylor.  Photography: Karl Struss.  Editor:  Allen McNeil.  Screenplay:  Adaption and additional dialogue by Sam Taylor.

Cast:  Douglas Fairbanks (Petruchio), Mary Pickford (Katharina), and Edwin Maxwell, Joseph Casthorne, Clyde Cook, Geoffrey Wardwell, Dorothy Jordan.

At the opening of this comedy Lucentio, one of Shakespeare’s endless young men, explains his presence,

“since for the great desire I had
to see fair Padua, nursery of arts,
I am arriv’d for fruitful Lombardy”,”

And sets in motion the secondary plot concerning Bianca and her suitors.  I understand, though, that there is practically nothing of Bianca in the movie, which is based on a much condensed version of “The Shrew” prepared by David Garrick in 1756 and known as “Catherine and Petruchio”.  So we had better quote instead words of the domineering gentleman with respect to his unsubmissive partner in love:-

“This is a way to kill a wife with kindness;
And thus I’ll curb her mad and headstrong humour.
He that knows better how to tame a shrew
Now let him speak: ’tis charity to show.”

Master Will’s lively contribution to the battle oft he sexes was written, very possibly in 1596, during an era when low comedy was as popular as high tragedy and audiences liked both to be energetic and noisy.  It is a rather rough joke, sitting slightly awkwardly in the Shakespeare canon, among other comedies as subtle as they are humane and as gentle as they are intricate.  Several scholars have gladly taken it off Shakespeare’s hands, attributing its knockabout and bawdy to another, unknown author, on fairly complex evidence.  (The text is closely linked to a separate stage piece called “The Taming of A Shrew” and there is uncertainty as to whether Shakespeare dusted off the old comedy or whether his play came first and “A Shrew” is a corruption of it, if you follow me)…Much depends, of course, on how a drama is presented.  It seems quite reasonable to me for Kate and Petruchio to be akin to Beatrice and Benedick.  Then their wrangling becomes an elaborate fencing match which both know will end to mutual satisfaction.  Certainly she is as rude throughout to him as he is chivalrous (albeit, ironically) to her.  Petruchio keeps an apparent upper hand by male arrogance, even cruelty, but Kate has the insidious advantage of being, as they say, all woman.

I have not yet seen the picture–a “first” in talkies–but it is said to be quite a lot of fun, in a primitive way.  Fairbanks, I gather, leaps around like The Black Pirate or The Thief of Bagdad and is nine-tenths of the whole show.  As for that notorious credit of the “additional dialogue”–well, Sam Taylor was a witty showman who spent his time working on very funny movies with such people as Beatrice Lille and Harold Lloyd.  Surely he must have seen the joke before anybody.

Calling our heroine Kate, by the way, brings to mind Cole Porter’s superb musical show and the equally splendid movie, Kiss Me Kate (with the line “no MGM attraction” reversed to “no Theatre Guild attraction” in the strolling players’ number).  As we lack time to run that 1954 film, we will try to play a couple of songs from the sound-track record.

Notes by Clive Denton

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