Golden oldie Kiss Me Kate might’ve been released way back in 1953, but it’s still one of the best 3D movies of all time. Hollywood has had an on-again, off-again affair with 3D since the medium first gained popularity in the 1950s. Currently, it’s off again and it seems theater audiences feel the same. In the past couple of years, 3D pioneer IMAX announced it would scale back 3D productions and 3D ticket sales were down significantly. James Cameron’s forthcoming Avatar sequels could spark another 3D revival – just as the first Avatar did in 2009 – but time will tell.
Part of the problem is most likely down to the ‘fake 3D’ film phenomenon. It makes sense a film imagined as a 3D project and actually filmed in the medium will make for a better 3D movie, but over the past decade, a lot of studios have shot films in 2D only to convert to 3D in post-production. The 2010 remake of Clash Of The Titans is just one example of the fake 3D fad and audiences can tell the difference in quality, and – as 3D tickets have a higher price tag – see it for the shameless cash grab it is. Unlike those ‘fake’ films, Kiss Me Kate is a genuine 3D movie and that’s why it’s a shining example of the medium, even so many years after its release.
Kiss Me Kate was MGM’s big screen adaptation of Cole Porter’s Broadway musical and starred Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel (Dallas) as Lilli Vanessi and Fred Graham – a bickering, formerly married pair of theater actors starring in a musical production of Shakespeare’s The Taming Of The Shrew. It was released during what’s often called the ‘Golden Era of 3D’, which was a short-lived period in the early 1950s when studios employed 3D filmmaking to lure audiences back to cinemas after the advent of television.
Back then, MGM was the all-singing, all-dancing master of movie musicals but Kiss Me Kate was its first-ever 3D musical. The studio went all out, producing the kind of big-budget Technicolor spectacle fans came to expect from MGM, but what’s amazing about Kiss Me Kate is how it uses 3D to its advantage. Like many of its contemporaries, the film does have gimmicky effects – such as objects being hurled in the audience’s direction – but its strengths lie in how 3D is used to make its song-and-dance numbers stand out.
Kiss Me Kate’s director George Sidney (1948's The Three Musketeers), its cinematographer Charles Rosher and choreographer Hermes Pan worked hard to use 3D to its full potential and made routines dazzle and pop – effectively replicating the experience of seeing the musical live. Not only is Kiss Me Kate a ‘true’ 3D film, but it’s also a film that recognizes 3D is best used to replicate things that are intended to be seen in the flesh – like a Broadway musical. That’s what makes Kiss Me Kate one of the best 3D movies Hollywood has ever produced.