Already on poor terms, the pair begin an all-out emotional war mid-performance that threatens the production's success. The only thing keeping the show together are threats from a pair of gangsters, who have come to collect a gambling debt from the show's Lucentio, Bill Calhoun. In classic musical comedy fashion, slapstick madness ensues before everything is resolved.
Dorothy Kingsley's screenplay, which was nominated for a Writers Guild of America Award, was adapted from the musical's book by Samuel and Bella Spewack. The songs were by Cole Porter, with musical underscoring by Saul Chaplin and André Previn, who were nominated for an Academy Award. Hermes Pan choreographed the dance routines.
The movie was filmed in 3-D using the most advanced methods of that technique then available. Devotees of the stereoscopic 3-D medium usually cite this film as one of the best examples of a Hollywood release in polarized 3D.
Fred Graham and Lilli Vanessi, a divorced couple, meet at Fred's apartment to hear Cole Porter perform the score for his musical version of "The Taming of the Shrew", to be directed by Fred and called "Kiss Me Kate". Lois Lane arrives to audition for the "Bianca" role ("Too Darn Hot"). Lilli decides against performing the lead of “Katherine”, opposite Fred in the male lead of “Petruchio”, as she is leaving to marry a rich Texas rancher. She changes her mind when Cole and Fred manipulate her by offering Lois the lead role.
Lois' boyfriend, Bill Calhoun, is playing "Lucentio" in the play. He leads a gambling lifestyle, which results in owing a local gangster $2,000, but he has signed the IOU in Fred's name. Lois laments his bad-boy lifestyle ("Why Can't You Behave?").
After a fiery confrontation during rehearsals, Fred and Lilli get together in her dressing room and reminisce about happier times ("Wunderbar"). Fred later sends flowers and a card to Lois, but his butler mistakenly gives them to Lilli. Lilli is overcome by this romantic gesture and fails to read the card ("So In Love (Reprise)").
The play opens, with Fred, Lilli, Lois and Bill performing an opening number ("We Open In Venice"). In the play, Bianca, the younger daughter of Baptista, wishes to marry, but her father will not allow it until his elder daughter, Katherine, is married. Bianca has three suitors – Gremio, Hortensio and Lucentio – and each of them try to win her over. She is prepared to marry anyone ("...any Tom, Dick or Harry...").
Petruchio arrives, seeking a wife ("I've Come To Wive It Wealthily In Padua"), and when he hears of Katherine, he resolves to woo her. Katherine hates the idea of getting married ("I Hate Men"). When Petruchio serenades Katherine ("Were Thine That Special Face"), Lilli is so moved by Fred's heartfelt delivery that she finally reads the card from the flowers, having kept it next to her heart. She sees that it is addressed to Lois, and attacks Fred/Petruchio mercilessly on stage, ad-libbing verbal abuse. As the curtain comes down, Fred has had enough, and spanks Lilli/Kate. Backstage, Lilli phones her fiancé, Tex Calloway, to come and immediately pick her up.
Lippy and Slug, a pair of thugs, arrive to collect the IOU from Fred. Fred decides to accept the IOU and convinces Lippy and Slug that he needs them to keep Lilli from leaving the show so it will be successful enough for Fred to pay the debt. Lois has learned that Fred has taken responsibility for the IOU and she comes to thank him, but each time she begins to thank him for not being angry about Bill forging his name, Fred kisses her to prevent Lippy and Slug from learning about his deception. Lilli and Bill walk in on the scene and become furious.
In order to keep Lilli from leaving, Slug and Lippy appear on stage, disguised as Petruchio's servants. They have no acting ability, but still manage to amuse the audience. Petruchio sets about "taming the shrew", but later reminisces about his days of philandering ("Where Is The Life That Late I Led?").
During the play's intermission, when Tex arrives to rescue Lilli from the theatre, he is recognized by Lois, with whom he once went on a date. When Bill is angered by Lois' behavior, she admits that though she loves Bill, she cannot resist the advances of other men ("Always True To You In My Fashion").
The gambling debt is cancelled by the untimely death of Slug and Lippy's boss, so they stop interfering with Lilli's mid-performance departure from the theatre. Fred tells her that she truly belongs in theatre, and also reveals his true feelings for her. She departs anyway, with some remorse, leaving a dejected Fred to be cheered up by Slug and Lippy ("Brush Up Your Shakespeare").
The final act of the stage play begins, with Bianca marrying Lucentio. The rejected suitors, Gremio and Hortensio, meet two new girls ("From This Moment On"). At the finale, the show is temporarily halted when Lilli's understudy goes missing. Suddenly, Lilli reappears on stage, delivering Kate's speech about how women should surrender to their husbands ("I'm Ashamed That Women Are So Simple"). Fred is bowled over, and the play reaches its triumphant finale ("Kiss Me Kate"), with Fred and Lilli back together as a real couple.Kathryn Grayson as Lilli Vanessi / 'Katherine (Kate)'
Howard Keel as Fred Graham / 'Petruchio'
Ann Miller as Lois Lane / 'Bianca'
Keenan Wynn as Lippy
Bobby Van as 'Gremio'
Tommy Rall as Bill Calhoun / 'Lucentio'
James Whitmore as Slug
Kurt Kasznar as 'Baptista'
Bob Fosse as 'Hortensio'
Ron Randell as Cole Porter
Willard Parker as Tex Calloway
Lilli's understudy, Jeanie, is mentioned several times, but never appears.
- "So in Love" - Lilli and Fred
- "Too Darn Hot" - Lois
- "Why Can't You Behave" - Lois
- "Kiss Me, Kate" - MGM Studio and Orchestra Chorus
- "Wunderbar" - Lilli and Fred
- "So in Love (Reprise)" - Lilli
- "We Open in Venice" - Lilli, Fred, Lois, Bill
- "Tom, Dick or Harry" - Lois, Gremio, Bill, Hortensio
- "I've Come to Wive it Wealthily in Padua" - Fred
- "I Hate Men" - Lilli
- "Were Thine That Special Face" - Fred
- "Finale Act One (Kiss Me, Kate)" - Chorus
- "Where Is the Life That Late I Led" - Fred
- "Always True to You in My Fashion" - Lois and Bill
- "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" - Slug and Lippy
- "From This Moment On" - Lois, Bill, Hortensio, Gremio
- "Finale" - Fred and Chorus
The film does not differ greatly from the stage version, but there are some significant changes.
The opening scene in Fred's apartment, and the brief appearance of an actor playing Cole Porter, is added; it provides more of the background to Lilli and Fred's troubled relationship.
Nearly all of Porter's rather risqué lyrics had to be "cleaned up" to avoid the wrath of the censors, thus dulling much of the comedy and making the results rather bland. "Brush Up Your Shakespeare", the most suggestive song in the score, was cut in half, and its position changed. In the stage version, the gangsters, Slug and Lippy, inadvertently find themselves on stage, and entertain the audience with their tribute to Shakespeare. In the movie, they sing the song while backstage to cheer up a depressed Fred following the departure of Lilli.
The Opening Chorus ("Another Opening Another Show") sung full out which gave the superb feeling of excitement felt backstage on an opening night was reduced to an orchestral musical bridge. Perhaps this did not match the changed storyline incorporating the appearance of "Cole Porter".
"Too Darn Hot" was also sanitized, and its position changed. It was originally sung by Paul, Fred's African-American dresser and a group of chorus actors relaxing backstage between the two acts of the musical, and had no bearing on the plot. In the movie, it is sung by the show's Bianca, Ann Miller, in the opening scene, where it is claimed that it was originally intended for the stage musical, but was cut. The lyrics are shortened and the reference to the Kinsey Report is removed.
"So in Love" is sung as a duet by Fred and Lilli in the opening scene, in the stage version they sing it individually at later stages. In the film, Lilli's new fiance is a naive Texas cattle baron, in the stage version he is a domineering east coast government official. The song "From This Moment On" was from Porter's musical Out of This World. it was added to the film version of Kiss Me, Kate, sung by the newly wed Bianca and Lucentio, and her rejected suitors.
Some of these changes may seem surprising to present sensibilities e.g. in "Too Darn Hot" the line "according to the Kinsey Report" becomes "according to the latest report". In the stage version the word "bastard" is used a handful of times, but this is deleted in the film, replaced with e.g. "you louse". However they did retain the scene where Fred spanks Lilli, which some might now consider controversial.
Another change was made to placate studio management, rather than censors. In "We Open In Venice," the line "not stars like L.B. Mayer's are we" was changed to "Shakespearean portrayers are we." Louis B. Mayer had been forced out as head of MGM a year and a half before this film's release.
The movie had a mostly positive reception. Although Kiss Me Kate is often referred to as the first 3-D musical, Those Redheads From Seattle, also a 3-D musical, was released by Paramount Pictures on October 16.
According to MGM records the film earned $2,011,000 in the US and Canada and $1,106,000 elsewhere, meaning a worldwide gross of $3,117,000. However, due to high production costs, it incurred a loss of $544,000.
The name of the play has a comma missing after "Me".