The Taming of the Shrew August 11, 2016
I’m not well-versed enough in Shakespeare’s oeuvre to know whether this 1967 adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew is among the best ever made, but I am familiar enough with the melodramatic relationship between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton to understand that brassy comedy of The Taming of the Shrew’s sort is the perfect genre to showcase their famously stormy real-life kinship. Embarrassing to better be acquainted with the personal lives of the most famous power couple in the history of the movies, I know. But I spend more time with the cinema than I do with centuries old plays, and, either way, the film is a lavishly designed costume comedy that wonderfully suits the personae of its larger-than-life leads. You could hardly ask for more.
Set in Italy just as the 17th century is about to make way, The Taming of the Shrew focuses on the marrying off of the respected Baptista Minola’s (Michael Horden) two daughters, the cutely virginal Bianca (Natasha Pyne) and the haughtily shrill Katharina (Taylor). Bianca is a sweet girl whose charisma and good looks have led her to become a magnet for potential suitors — she’s anxious to wed and start a life of domesticity. Katharina, about a decade her senior, is the complete opposite. Screechy and always looking for a fight, nothing sounds worse than settling down and tending to a husband; currently, she spends her days secluded in her father’s expansive living quarters, and she’d prefer it to stay that way.
But Minola isn’t willing to let Bianca get hitched without having his other daughter have her time at the altar, too. So Bianca is, understandably, irritated by the control her father has on her affairs. And it’s worrisome to have her personal wishes so drastically depend on Katharina, who, by most standards, is impossible to romance. As Bianca waits for something to change as would-be lovers circle around her like blood hungry vultures, in steps Petruchio (Burton), a loud-mouthed nobleman who likes a challenge and is therefore ready to take on the difficult task of getting Katharina to let her guard down and fall in love with him. But because Katharina is more a tigress than a meek calico, the swooning is going to be a hell of a lot harder than he might realize. Or so we think.
The love-hate relationship between Petruchio and Katharina, which jumps back and forth between kittenish physical brawls and flaming embraces, is a distinct echo of Burton and Taylor’s own union. Most of their co-headlined movies struggle to match their talents with material as fiery as they are (1966’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is really the only spotless picture they ever made together), but The Taming of the Shrew puts a temporary end to that notion. With its near screwball battle-of-the-sexes attitude, guided by boisterous performances and a high energy screenplay, it’s as funny as it is handsomely produced. Even its anciently unequal gender roles don’t muss up its rompy efficiency. B+