The Taming of the Shrew (1967)
User ReviewsReview this title
Scholars usually consider Shakespeare's THE TAMING OF THE SHREW to be among the playwrights lesser works, but it has been an audience favorite since its first known performance in 1594. Although many suitors beg for Bianca's hand, her widowed father is determined that she may not marry until her elder sister Katherine is wed--and Katherine is a hot tempered, willful, and vicious woman who makes life miserable for all who cross her path. Fortunately for Bianca, Petruchio is in need of money, and he is more than willing to marry Kate, no matter how resistant Kate herself is to the whole idea.
Shakespeare's original script has been trimmed here and there, and while purists may scream about it the result not only works for film, it also manages to capture the flavor of Shakespeare's language much better than any other film version of SHREW both before or since. And the look of the thing is beautiful: Zeffirelli brings his mastery of opera's larger than life visuals to bear upon the project, and the result is eye-popping production values, most particularly in reference to the costuming. Every cent spent shows on the screen.
Although she was a very fine screen actress, Elizabeth Taylor is not a name one would expect to find playing Shakespeare--but she carries it off in fine style, kicking, snapping, and snarling with tremendous panache in the first portion of the film, and then making Kate's "taming" seem entirely plausible in the latter portion. Unlike many later Shakespeare plays, SHREW is not greatly noted for its language; even so, Katherine's final speech is widely known and extremely memorable, and Taylor pulls it off with such credibility that one wishes she had done other classical roles as well.
Taylor's then-husband Richard Burton co-stars as the deliberately uncouth Petruchio, who sets out to tame a shrew and finds himself as much tamed by her as she by him. Burton, of course, was accustomed to the classics in general and Shakespeare in particular, and he plays with tremendous bravado. The supporting cast, which includes a young Michael York, is also very fine, and when all is said and done the 1964 THE TAMING OF THE SHREW is a tremendous amount of fun even if you don't like Shakespeare.
The DVD transfer is very nice. The picture has the occasional blemish, most often in the opening titles and closing credits, but on the whole it is remarkable, showing every detail of every set and every costume to fine effect. The sound is also quite good. Sad to say, there is really nothing in the way of bonus material, but the film is the thing, and Taylor, Burton, York, and Zefirelli do it up brown. More than just worth watching: worth owning.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer
In Zeffirelli's cast we also see Michael Hordern, Cyril Cusack, Natasha Pyne (as Kate's sister Bianca), and Michael York (making his film debut as Bianca's suitor). The action can drag a bit when away from the leads (who always did tend to swamp other players in their movies), but the wit and mischief of the original play shines through. My only quibble would be with Kate's final speech. Interesting that Taylor plays it this way, but my guess is that it isn't the end of the bumpy ride for these two!
It's based on the bare bones of Shakespeare's play about Baptista, a rich man with two unmarried daughters. The older daughter is so nasty that no one can stand her long enough to marry her, and everyone in town wants to marry the younger daughter but can't till the older is married off. A bad-mannered fortune hunter shows up and agrees to take the older daughter off the father's hands for a steep price. After the marriage, Petruchio sets about breaking the pride of Kate, and eventually he wears her down, but she works her own magic on him, and in the end they both find that they love each other.
Richard Burton should have won the Oscar for this role; he IS Petruchio. It's a national disgrace that he didn't get it. And Liz is really good as Kate. She makes us believe that she is a horrible shrew, and when her soft side emerges she makes us believe that she could have been sweet all along.
If you can find this film at all, try to watch it in it's letterbox version. You miss far too much of the action in the pan and scan format. It's shown on cable quite a bit, but mostly on the pay channels.
infuse this gorgeous film of "The Taming of the Shrew" with so much life and
energy, that it becomes a wonderful, bouyant, three-ring circus of entertainment. The sets and costumes of Zeffirelli's meticulously recreated Renaissance Italy are ravishingly beautiful. Each scene is composed like a painting--and Nino
Rota's score complelemnts the film perfectly. His melodies ring in the air long after the film has ended. Shakespeare would have been delighted.
I can't help but wonder what Zeffirelli would've done with an operatic version of this play.
Michael Hordern is the harried father of the lovely Bianca and her older sister, the beautiful, but independent Katherine. The sisters, Natasha Pyne and Elizabeth Taylor are as different as they come. Young Michael York is most interested in Pyne, but Hordern wants to see the older daughter married off at first. But Taylor scares off would be suitors.
Enter Richard Burton who's a roguish fortune hunter, but Hordern is quite willing to overlook that if he'll just take Taylor off his hands. The rest of the film concerns both Burton and York's parallel quests for their mates.
The Taming of the Shrew is probably best known to today's audience as the basis for Cole Porter's biggest Broadway success, Kiss Me Kate. Yet it's still stands well on its own as William Shakespeare's most rollicking comedy and a medieval treatise on feminism. Yet even when it's over, you're not quite sure just how submissive of a medieval wife Elizabeth Taylor will be.
Director Franco Zefirelli recreated medieval Padua with a great eye for detail. In that wedding, I'm sure he must have gotten Richard Burton good and plastered for the scene. Burton was one of the most legendary imbibers in screen history, but that scene was way too real to be just acting.
Laurence Olivier supposedly once told Richard Burton that he had a choice of being the greatest classical actor of his generation or a movie star. Too which Burton is supposed to have replied that he wanted both. I think he succeeded with The Taming of the Shrew.
The only thing that really redeems this for me is part of Burton's performance. Occasionally, in spite of everything he, Zeffirelli, and the costume designer can do to obscure the fact, he can act, and delivers a scene here and there that shows that he might be worthwhile seeing in other Shakespeare roles (like his "Hamlet" a few years earlier). Other than that, the continuous slapstick gags, the visual noisiness of the production, and the fact that this is a very strange play in the first place, make this pretty tough sledding for non-fans of LizAndDick.
I voted with two as the costumes were quite nice and some of the scenes in the beginning made me almost giggle. Nevertheless, if you should think about buying the DVD of this dreadful and uninspired production save this money and go to the theatre!
Burton was fresh from his/her success in "Woolf," a project that was engineered differently, one in which the words don't matter as much as how they support the weaving of the characters. Mike Nichols stuff.
Zeffirelli has a different motive altogether. His notion is to take something inherently rich -- which is how he sees Shakespeare's plays -- and increase that enrichment with the addition of cinematic luxury.
Add to this mix old Will himself. He's all about situation, at least in the comedies of this period. Disguises, and hidden stratagems that misdirect. Everything is annotation to that, starting with the poetry, then the language, then -- and only then -- the characters and finally and only nominally the set.
Four different theatrical notions. Here they are squeezed together without merging: Burton working his vocal shapes to death in the context of a Nichols-like "combat" between the then two most famous actors alive. Both him and Zeffirelli picking and choosing which phrases to selectively use to support their conflicting goals. And around those phrases Zeffirelli swirls with exiting visuals and music.
What a hash. You should know that Shakespeare wrote comedies set in Italy because Italians were seen as comical. The way they elaborated language apart from meaning. The way they dressed where the decor had nothing to do with the purpose, so far outstripping it that by Elizabethan conventions just seeing an Italian in dress would elicit guffaws. Shakespeare's plays were essentially without sets, so some of the language would be designed to have the audience imagine a humorous excess of surrounding.
Now along comes an Italian to reshape the plays. And he brings the very excess that is the whole tenor of the joke. And along comes an actor that -- quite independent of that -- wants to turn what is a tussle of words into a tussle of emotions. This is also an Italian flaw that Elizabethans would have laughed at.
So instead of mining the inherent richness of the play, we mine the inherent ridiculousness around which the play builds its riches. That ridiculousness is enriched in appropriately ridiculous ways: campy theatrical rage; astoundingly colorful clothes (influencing and influenced by The Beatles and later to form the basis of their clothing store run by the aptly named "Fool"), and swirling motion of the crowds.
Everybody loses. To see how a similar mix can actually work, see how Emma and Ken spar -- but WITH the language -- in his "Much Ado About Nothing."
Ted's Evaluation -- 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.
It has it's occasional high points, such as Petruccio and Katharina's wedding, which both Taylor and Burton pulled off terrifically.. but most of the film tries to make you laugh, and just doesn't. Or at least it didn't make me laugh.
I guess everyone's tastes are different, but I'm shocked that this movie has scored as high as it has with IMDB voters.
This isn't a movie I'd even begin to recommend. I give it a 2 out 10.
The film is naturally light-hearted due to Zefferelli's fusion of mild slapstick with the original Shakespeare narrative. This particular comedic tone makes the film problematic and there are moments where the lead actors appear uncertain of their next move or utterance. For example there is the dreadful song, which Burton is required to sing, 'Where is the life that late I lead', dreadful in composition and in performance. Considering Burton was renowned for his voice, the fact that the song still comes across as cringe worthy despite his panache in deliverance, is a testament to the poor musical composition. It is also surprisingthat Zefferelli decided to keep the song in the film as it is distracting and an uncomfortable moment. Burton's dialogue has also been dubbed over in ADR in some parts and to the trained eye, this is very noticeable and equally disruptive.
The film does give Richard Burton a chance that he was rarely given in his under-appreciated career. A chance to act with excellent dialogue, story and supporting actors. Particularly in the oh-so-hilariously named scene 'Kate on a Hot Tin Roof' (a nod to Taylor's 1956 portrayal of Maggie in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof). The scene sees Petruchio chase his bride to be across the roof of her fathers house and fall through into an abandoned barn. Although it is highly contrived and at times plainly clear to see that Taylor is fearlessly tip-toeing across the 'roof' with a safety net mere inches below her, the scene is saved by Burton's outstanding talent and Taylor's ability to use that shrill, irritating voice to good effect.
The Taming of the Shrew also allowed for Elizabeth Taylor to give one of the best performances of her career – when she wants to. (Many myself included, consider her role as Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? to be her best.)
The controversial final sequence of The Taming of The Shrew sees Taylor shine as she speaks of the stupidity of women to wage a war of independence against their husbands when they should in fact, 'kneel for peace'. Granted, Shakespeare wasn't exactly known for his liberating views on women in society, but Taylor delivers a performance that is as believable as it is entertaining, particularly as the audience knows she would sooner have danced on Shaky's grave than adhere to his strict admonitions about marriage!Regardless of the comical contrasts that are immediately obvious between Taylor and her character, she shows the amateurs how it's done in this scene.
Despite the films discrepancies with ADR timing and musicality, there are many excellent scenes. The dialogue is naturally innovative as one would expect from Monsieur Shakespeare. The Taming of the Shrew remained a film that Burton and Taylor were always proud of, so much so that they put $1,000,000 of their own money into the production (a fact that they both seemed overly keen to mention in the 'Making of' featurette). Not a film that will change anyone's life but well worth watching for entertainment value and a must for Taylor-Burton fans.
So here's the story: Kate (Elizabeth Taylor), a woman with some firepower -okay a LOT of firepower- is too hot for the men of Padua to handle. No big deal, right? Wrong! Until Kate is married off, her sister Bianca must remain single (shock horror!) much to the annoyance of her various suitors. First world problems, eh? Luckily, Petruchio (Richard Burton) a booze-loving, money-grabbing brute comes to town to 'thrive and wive', and that he does, Kate being his chosen victim . . . ahem . . . partner.
The first scene of Kate and Petruchio together just goes to prove that when Zeffirelli is good he's good. He captures the brilliant wittiness, the sexual tension, the hint that these two could actually be good together. Sparks fly- along with the furniture. Never mind if Petruchio's flirting is practically sexual harassment-this exchange is an enthralling meeting of minds! Kate certainly gives as good as she gets and is a joy to behold in all her sharp-tongued glory. Yes indeed, things look very promising for Zeffirelli.
However, we want serious conflict, drama, obstacles and boy does Petruchio deliver! Cue violence, torture and starvation. Be warned, this is no harmless S & M to spice up the honeymoon, this is Petruchio's disturbing 'taming' process. Naturally this taming concept is challenging to make funny thus the film promptly nosedives. Zeffirelli cannot skilfully navigate the abrupt change in direction. He attempts to continue the bawdy and boisterous tone of previous scenes and this is his downfall. Shockingly, domestic abuse humour just doesn't sit with a modern audience. Let the bra- burning commence!
Unfortunately,one of the biggest lures of the film turns out to be one of its biggest turn-offs; Burton as Petruchio. He fails miserably in his misguided attempt to make Petruchio the lovable rogue. Burton's interpretation is no more than an abusive, drunken lout. Whether he actually falls for Kate is irrelevant because he is cruel and revels in her suffering. The taming is a source of entertainment for him which makes his treatment of his wife all the more derogatory and humiliating.Combined with his constant alcohol consumption and 'heh heh heh' chuckle (which is a form of torture in itself) he makes for a despicable and extremely irritating character.
Despite the problematic domestic abuse Zeffirellli does create some much needed comedy thanks to the eccentric Hortensio (Victor Spinetti) who wears enough makeup to put Maybelline out of business. Rejoice some gender equality at last! His camp mannerisms and ridiculous high-jinks add light to an often disturbing tale. His general cluelessness makes him an endearing character, so much so that a What Hortensio Did Next spin-off would be greatly appreciated. Hilarious facial expressions and slap-stick humour make him quiet the scene stealer and his ingenious disguise (fake beard and glasses) as he woos Bianca is so bad that it is in fact pretty good. Undoubtedly, Hortensio provides a fun alternative to the overbearing Petruchio.
Other highlights include the sumptuous set designs and costumes, particularly Katherine's stunning wedding dress. Certainly this is a visually beautiful film, it's just a shame the other elements didn't come together so seamlessly. Also, Taylor gives a powerhouse performance, executing Kate's infamous speech with great dignity and poise despite stomach-churning lines like 'Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper'. Indeed it's a relief to finally see her get the better of her husband when she speedily disappears after their kiss. Yet, strangely in spite of Kate's small triumph during the ambiguous finale the film's overall vision still seems to mock women's rights just as they were coming to the forefront of society.
Shakespeare's play provides the perfect platform to make a statement supporting female independence yet Zeffirelli wastes the opportunity, reducing his adaptation to a sketch on physical and mental domestic violence. Considering the film's questionable tagline 'A motion picture for every man who ever gave the back of his hand to his beloved ... and for every woman who deserved it' it seems deliberately misogynistic rather than a lack of skill on Zeffirelli's part, especially given the brilliance of his 1968 Romeo and Juliet.
With adaptations as awkward as this, it's no wonder The Taming of the Shrew remains one of the Bard's lesser loved works. Indeed, I never thought I'd see the day when a nineties teen flick was more female empowering than a supposed classic but you'd be better off watching 10 Things I Hate About You (with the added bonus of Joseph Gordon-Levitt!) as Zeffirelli simply doesn't do The Taming of the Shrew justice. Tabloid followers and Taylor-Burton fans will enjoy the antics but for anyone else avoid it like a playhouse in the plague!
The film boasts the use of prodigy Nino Rota's music which draws the audience into the atmosphere of the film and gets them hooked on the storyline. The set and costumes are immaculate; they truly lead the viewer to believe that it is set in the late 1500's. Attention-to-detail is impressively significant; fine details in the background, such as a labelled drunkard hanging in a cage over the street, are what intensify the film's quality greatly. There is one point in which Lucentio's accomplice talks directly to the camera about the situation and I found that this brought an interesting touch to the camera work; it almost felt as though I was part of the film! The script is also relatively similar to Shakespeare's original text and some memorable line's such Petruchio claiming "Will you, Nill you, I will Marry you" are none the less brought to life by Burton's macho voice. The fiery character of Katharina is also brilliantly portrayed through Taylor's acting, although some could argue that perhaps she should have toned down her make-up and overacting in a role such as this. The priest's obvious fear of Katharina is shown at the marriage ceremony; a fear which is only too common in the story! Humour is rarely used vocally in the film, but it seems as though Katharina's rages and reactions, as well as a personal comedic key point of Petruchio chuckling as well as engaging in a choking fit during the marriage ceremony, appear to be examples of the type of humour seen in the film. Compared to the original text, it could be said that the humour was quenched and replaced with a more modern quirky version.
However, it is inevitable that one would notice that this film seems to focus overly on the characters of Katharina and Petruchio, even perhaps on the real life relationship of Taylor and Burton, as this was filmed during their first marriage. The couple lived their lives in the eyes of the media and I somewhat got the impression that Zeffirelli may have used this to his advantage in order to secure more popularity for his film. The power of Elizabeth Taylor as an actress is highlighted and despite that fact that her character is quite unattractive to the audience, I found that towards the end of the film, I had almost become a fanatic of her and was interested in viewing more of her work. The role of a young, unmarried girl is almost unrealistic for her as she was in her thirties when the film was released. The chemistry between Taylor and Burton positively enhances the impact of the film and it is undeniable that the pair are profoundly comfortable with each other, even though the storyline tells a different story. On the other hand, it is noticeable that other characters in the film were very much in the shadow of Katharina and Petruchio. The character of Bianca seems to have gotten much less attention in the film than I had expected, which I disagree with as she is the cause that led to Petruchio trying to woo Katharina.
The film had flaws which were more substantial than the previous. Petruchio's mental abuse of Katharina after their marriage in the film was short of appalling. I found that, at times, I became quite uncomfortable during the film and would have preferred if Zeffirelli had perhaps sugar-coated some of Petruchio's harsh actions. Katharina's spirit is more so shown as broken, as opposed to her personality being tamed, which added an unwanted melancholy touch to the film. The duration of the film was likewise exhausting, as I perceived that my attention diminished at times.
Over all, The Taming of the Shrew is an enjoyable film, but unfortunately it is not suited to modern audiences, as some aspects may disgruntle viewers, particularly feminists. At the time of its production, it was of remarkable quality, but in today's world it is somewhat timeworn. However, older audiences would definitely gain a thriller from watching the film and viewers of any age would kindly warm to the character of Katharina and even Elizabeth Taylor as an actress, as I believe that amongst Cleopatra, this film is doubtlessly one of the greatest showcases of her career.
******* The Taming of the Shrew (2/27/67) Franco Zeffirelli ~ Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Michael York, Natasha Pyne
This is simply a delight; a colourful, joyful adaptation that is full of the zest of life. Shakespeare adaptations always face the danger of being too stagey, whilst many also fall into the danger of changing the setting and then congratulating themselves on their brilliance. This film avoids both traps, successfully turning the play into cinema whilst delivering a nuanced and detailed portrait of the age. Director Franco Zefferelli is particularly good at inserting (silent) additions to the play that add to the action. The production values are superb, with superlative costumes and locations. The cast is also absolutely superb, with the real life married couple of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor delivering powerfully rowdy and physical performances, well supported by the likes of Michael York. Terrific fun.
Worth two viewings.
Shakespeare wrote comedies where a great deal of the comedy is acted by minor characters in the stories. In this production, no minor characters were allowed to do that and the removal of all that comedy can only be attributed to Burton & Taylor being producers of the film. It appears that Burton & Taylor wanted to use this production to portray their own personal marriage travails, not to portray Shakespeare drama.
The scene where Biondello brings the books for Baptista's daughters to study became very dry though Biondello is supposed to be comical in this scene. The scene where Petruchio gets clothes becomes dry because the Haberdasher is not allowed to react to Burton's comments.
All this might be of small consequence if Burton & Taylor could act comedy themselves, but they can't. Neither Burton nor Taylor were capable of comedy. They are both fine dramatic actors, but not for comedy. They take their parts far too seriously to act comedy. Unless the actor is doing a monologue, comedy usually requires a working relationship between two actors. Burton & Taylor did not allow that relationship with the minor characters in this production, though they did attempt it between themselves. But they are far too serious in their dialogue to come off comically.
For real Shakespeare comedy, see "Much Ado About Nothing" with Kenneth Branagh & Emma Thompson. Now that is real Shakespeare comedy. Be sure to observe the flippant dialogue & bantering between Benedick & Beatrice, as well as Dogberry's lines to the judge and the criminal's reactions when they are brought before the judge. This production of "The Taming of the Shrew" is a true disgrace to the spirit of William Shakespeare.