Shrew Taming

Richard Burton and Liz Taylor, in the Taming of the Shrew. Wheee! I’ve never seen it. I know the play. It was Richard Burton day on TCM. That’s right, basic cable, snobs. Shh. I feel very defensive that I’m not streaming EVERYTHING THERE IS TO STREAM.

So! It’s on later, almost nine in the evening. So late! It’s humid, why not stay up and gaze at a real life married couple [they were doing okay when the movie was made in 1967] chewing the scenery in perhaps one of Bill’s most problematic of plays. After all, it’s about ‘taming’ a woman until she acts like her dead houseplant of a sister. Much Ado About Nothing had a sister accused of dallying with another, her word not believed and she had to ‘die’ before she could be ‘clean and good’ again. Fuck me, that shit never dies or goes away, does it?

Directed by Franco Zeffirelli, filmed in Italy. This movie looks gorgeous. Just gorgeous. Lush rich jewel colors. Rust, hunter green, sapphire, golden-brown, deep lovely reds…oh my. The costumes were modeled off clothing from that time period. Yummy scrummy decadent lush seductive fabrics that invite touch and admiring eyes! Yes, I’m avoiding getting to why I quit an hour in.

Elizabeth Taylor as Katerina

I quit an hour into this thing.

Now, Richard Burton, who was a Shakespeare wiz, is clearly comfortable and at home in these wordy worlds. That trained voice hits the ears just so, that manly presence bursts with commanding manliness and hairy-chested alpha king wolf snap. He raises that voice a bit, the other men flatten down like mice before a magnificent barn cat. Clearly, he’s destined to tame many a wild wench. You also feel a bit on edge when Burton appears in a scene. What the hell is he gonna do? You want to watch him. If only. If only Kate, or Elizabeth Taylor, had been doing something other than her Martha parody from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? turn.


Before we meet our Petruchio, we meet Kate or Katerina. Fuck. Just…fuck no. She’s throwing a tantrum, like a toddler in the candy aisle. She’s physically and verbally abusive to one and all and hey, she just needs a good penis to show her who’s boss. There’s a very Men’s Rights theme in this play, ahem.  Liz Taylor, before this, had never done any Shakespeare. To make this story palatable, you need skilled actors who can make that rather harsh story, um, not so harsh. She did not pull this off, in my opinion. Her vocals were more shrieks and screams than anything else. She seemed psychotic rather than an unhappy woman unable to play the part everyone around her expected and demanded she play. That of the meek and mild feminine houseplant, head nodder, smiler, pleasant presence and all-around non-entity. At least, that’s what I always take away from any brush up against the TOTS.

Richard Burton

Before all this, we get Michael York, as the young lover and the sister, Bianca, who seems so ordinary and lackluster I had trouble picking her out in a crowd of other women. Really? This is what you want Kate to be? This silly houseplant of a girl? There also seemed to be real animosity between the sisters and Kate is even shown hitting her with a stick. I might need to go read this play again. Was this added in or in there already or…?

Now, Kate is gorgeous. Because she’s a hot, svelte Liz Taylor. Maybe she was told to ham it up to the point of absurd off-putting violence to make the taming part work better? Eh? Also, a daughter this nuts wouldn’t be shipped off somewhere? Or married off ASAP just to get rid of her? Come on. Or beaten or starved or any of the other ways to make a girl toe the line when she showed anything other meek servile cringing obedience?

Bianca knew how to work the crowd, I figure. She knows how to butter up the dingdongs so she can do what she wants in private. I’m guessing this but hey, gotta give that poor thing a personality somehow. I would love to see her teach Kate how to be meek and mild in public, while being herself where the menfolk don’t go. So that Kate can manage her life a lot better than tossing stools at people through windows and trashing entire rooms while shrieking incoherent jibberjabber.

I’d have to write that play, of course. I don’t think it exists.

So, our two main lovers meet and it’s a…um. Kate escapes Petruchio over and over, until they end up atop the pile of wool, after falling through the roof. I’m reminded of that rape-minded skunk and the poor cat trying to avoid that skunk as Burton chases Taylor through this old Italian house. Of course, he ends up atop her, holding her down, as she struggles to get away from this stranger who’s running her down like, well, that skunk and cat combo. It’s not funny or sexy. She even hurts herself, which is how he manages to ‘capture’ her, dragging her back before her father, sister and the rest of the gathered fuckskillets, who cheer at their chosen champion, who then locks Kate in her room. I? Um. Er?

Done. I’m out. No.

I don’t want to watch him break her or watch her be broken. The ‘taming’ part turns my stomach. Taylor plays Kate as the most unlovable, uncharming wretch ever but god damn it, no thanks to Burton and others cutting into her with gleeful malice until she has to surrender or be destroyed by all this.

I might have to watch the rest later, if I can find it somewhere or watch scenes later on, small doses of this well filmed but ulcer-inducing woman-hatey dreck. I adored Taylor in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. That’s Kate in Taming of the Shrew, hello. That energy and smolder and dissatisfaction and willing to go toe to toe, not bash Brick over the head with an actual brick, but find a way to live with him as he is.

Oh, and in Much Ado, I wanted Hero, at the end, to punch that asshole Shakespeare wrote that she had to love, right in the kisser. Just boom! And then walk off into the sunset to…live her life however she wanted. Rather like Judy Benjamin did. If you get that reference, I didn’t spoil anything for ya.

That’s my hasty take on a Burton/Taylor pairing. There were ten altogether, I believe. They work very well together but oh, not this time. I was crawling out of my skin. Ugh!

For fairness sake, I did watch her ending monologue, on Youtube. Ooooh, there’s the Liz I know and adore. She’s totally commanding, in control of that room, knows her worth, is a magnificent whirlwind that threatens to skin people alive with her focused flow of words, words, words. Burton, and we, cannot take our eyes from her. It was like there were two movies here. The hour-long cringey dreck and the two plus minute take down disguised as submission to a husband. Gimme the two minutes, of course.

Allrighty, let’s call it a day.

Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor

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