Daily Archives: April 13, 2021

The Taming of the Shrew (1967)

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*. “A motion picture for every man who ever gave the back of his hand to his beloved . . . and for every woman who deserved it. Which takes in a lot of people!” You won’t see an ad line like that on many movie posters these days. But in 1967 it wasn’t too extreme.
*. But that’s just the ad line. More disturbing is the way the movie presents Petruchio’s taming tactics. He’s really quite rough, and the movie plays up the humiliation and degrading of Katherina more than the source requires. Since its first production people have argued over just how sexist a play this is, with various sides being taken. That said, this seems to me to be a pretty sexist film version.
*. The Taming of the Shrew has always held the stage, in various forms, because it plays well as a blunt and bawdy comedy. It also helps that it can be taken apart quite easily without losing anything that makes the core story less enjoyable. Getting rid of the Christopher Sly “Induction,” for example, is an obvious first step.
*. That said, Zeffirelli jettisons a lot. Hortensio is diminished both in terms of his lines and his standing. It’s hard to see how, in this film, he and Petruchio could have ever become friends. There is also no explanation given for the sudden appearance of the widow he marries at the end.
*. Lucentio, played by Michael York, also gets short shrift. But then this was a star vehicle, with Burton and Taylor both investing in the production. It was Michael York’s first film.
*. The credits read: Screenplay by Paul Dehn / Suso Cecchi D’Amico / Franco Zeffirelli With Acknowledgements to William Shakespeare, Without Whom They Would Have Been At a Loss for Words.
*. If you’re a purist, you’re allowed to be upset. Shakespeare’s language is sacrificed in order to get more rousing, physical humour in, and the big lines are repeated. Indeed, one big line that gets repeated — “Of all things living a man’s the worst” — isn’t in Shakespeare at all.
*. But what are you going to do? Shakespeare has always been adapted to contemporary tastes. You have to play to your audience. The badinage about the sting in the wasp’s tail (“What, with my tongue in your tail?”) would have been raunchy on the boards of the Globe, but probably goes over most heads today.

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*. I’ve never thought that much of Elizabeth Taylor as an actress. But she was a great star, and she brings enough of that quality to this role to make it work. Her eyes have a real fire and fertility in them and she looks quite zaftig and heaving even buried under all that drapery.
*. Richard Burton, on the other hand, appears to be slumming it. I don’t get the sense that he was trying very hard (despite the fact that he sank a lot of his own money into the film). His Petruchio is one of the least sympathetic I’ve seen, and it’s worth saying that he is not an unsympathetic character, at least necessarily, in Shakespeare. Was this Burton’s fault? Or was it the ’60s?
*. I first saw this movie in an edited form when we studied the play in high school. I enjoyed it and thought it really brought Shakespeare to life. Perhaps it’s because of that association, however, that I find it juvenile and inadequate today.

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