Directed by Sam Taylor. USA. 1929.

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The 1929 talkie version of Taming of the Shrew has little Shakespeare (about 20%) but a great deal of two immortals of the silent screen, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. Restored in 1966 with a new soundtrack and released in tangent with the Elizabeth Taylor - Richard Burton version, Taming of the Shrew has now found its way to DVD and it is quite a treat seeing these classic actors together for the first time. 

This early film version presents the play as a screwball comedy in the manner of Howard Hawks later His Girl Friday but without the rapid-fire dialogue. The 1929 version lasts only a little over an hour but is full of high energy and fun, if not much Shakespeare. Ms. Pickford was said to be dissatisfied with her performance as Katherine and to me she doesn't look shrewish enough but she is a charming presence and Fairbanks is a boisterous Petruchio who does perfect justice to his domineering character. 

One of William Shakespeare's most popular plays, The Taming of the Shrew satirizes the subservient role of women in the Elizabethan age. Set in Padua, a city in Northern Italy, Baptista Minola (Edwin Maxwell) has two lovely daughters, Bianca (Dorothy Jordan) and Katherine (Pickford). He refuses to have Bianca marry before Katherine but that is a hard sell since she is temperamental and possessed of a razor sharp tongue. Kate has managed to frighten off potential suitors until the lothario Petruchio, a gentleman from Verona, comes into town looking for a wife. When Petruchio and Kate meet for the first time, he boldly announces that he plans to court and marry her. She reacts with a flurry of insults, and he retorts with playful taunts, then tries to calm her. Finally, she slaps him. He threatens to strike back if she slaps him again. Later, after more fireworks, Petruchio uses reverse psychology on her, saying:   

I find you passing gentle.   
'Twas told me you were rough and coy and sullen,   
And now I find report a very liar;   
For thou are pleasant, gamesome, passing courteous. 
(Act II, Scene I, Lines 243-246)   

Kate says that she will see Petruchio hanged before she will marry him but suddenly changes her mind and in the next scene is upset because he is late for the wedding. Something seems to have happened offstage to change her mind but the audience is not told what. The two marry but that is only the prelude to the battle of wits as Petruchio attempts to subdue his rambunctious bride. There is a lot of farce and slapstick and as usual in Shakespeare, the commoners at Petruchio's estate come off as fools. At the end, Petruchio forces Katharine to acknowledge that he is always right, even when he says the sun is the moon and Kate ends up being "tamed". Though it seems that the ending reinforces male superiority, Shakespeare's women are not shrinking violets. The two seem to demonstrate true affection towards each other and it could be argued that Kate got what she wanted and can now let Petruchio think that he is in charge.

Interestingly, there is a prologue to the play, a play within a play, called the induction that does not appear in the film but it is a curiosity and seemingly has nothing to do with the play itself. In the induction, a nobleman on his way home finds an inebriated sleeping man named Christopher Sly. He decides to play a joke on him by having his servants bring him to the best bedroom in the home, dress him in the clothes of a rich nobleman and spray him with exotic perfumes. When Sly wakes up, the servants pretend he is a lord and master who has just woke up to reality after having been insane for fifteen years. Sly then watches as a traveling group of actors perform a play called The Taming of the Shrew. Could this be the author's way of mocking a commoner who is pretending to be the author of plays actually written by a nobleman?


Howard Schumann
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