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In sixteenth century Padua, Hortensio loves Bianca, the youngest daughter of Baptista. But Baptista will not allow the two to get married until his eldest daughter, the extremely headstrong Katherine, is betrothed. This task seems impossible because of Katherine's shrewish demeanor. They believe their prayers have been answered with the arrival from Verona of the lusty Petruchio, whose father has just passed, leaving him to travel the world and marry. Having not yet met her, Petruchio agrees to court Katherine when he is told of her beauty and wit. Petruchio is even more excited at the prospect of marrying this wildcat of a woman after meeting her. Katherine will have none of it, even if it means her sister's spinsterhood, but has no choice but to marry him. Beyond the fact of the marriage itself, Katherine is even more irked by Petruchio's less than conventional behavior at the ceremony and post ceremony bridal feast. Each starts to play what they consider sly games of oneupsmanship ... Written by
Douglas Fairbanks' and Mary Pickford's marriage had deteriorated so badly by the time they made this film that many onlookers said that Fairbanks exaggerated Petruchio's harsh treatment towards Katharina in order to take out his own frustrations on Pickford. See more »
This very maligned film may not be great Shakespeare, but it is good fun. Mary Pickford's biographer Scott Eyman points out that this film has a reasonable ancestry, being based on David Garrick's performing edition of the play. Be that as itr may, Doug and Mary give us less than half of the text, and throughout the film they play it safe by alternating between silent pantomime and heavy theatrical declamation. Playing it safe? In 1929 it was still not clear whether or not sound was a passing fad.
Of the two stars, Doug is clearly the better. Director Sam Taylor moulds the roles around the performer, and not the other way around, which was unwise but understandable. The Fairbanks image suits Petruchio better than Pickford's suits Kate. (At her best Pickford is magnificent, at her worst embarrassing. She herself called it one of her worst performances, and there is no reason to doubt her.)
For an early talkie it has remarkable fluidity, though it is only the 1966 re-edited version that is available today. (When I approached the Mary Pickford Company in 1992 to see if I could arrange a screening of the 1929 release print - which was longer and had a different score - I was politely but firmly told to go away!)
Two points of interest. This film was emphatically not the box office flop that many writers have claimed; it returned a healthy profit on its first release. And the credit line "by William Shakespeare, with additional dialogue by Sam Taylor" is pure myth. It appears not in the script, the 1966 nor in the 1929 (I have it on reliable authority) prints of the film. Where do these things get started?
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