Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours 2 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Directed by: Franco Zeffirelli
Written by: Paul Dehn
(based on the play THE TAMING OF THE SHREW by William Shakespeare)
Starring: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Natasha Pyne, Michael York, Victor Spinetti, Alan Webb & Michael Hordern
TAMING OF THE SHREW isn’t exactly the easiest Shakespeare comedy to discuss in this day and age. In this day and age, positive movement is going strong in squashing sexism. It’s fairly well-known that Shakespeare’s era was not a pleasant one for women. This is apparent in torture devices like the Scold’s bridle (an iron cage that was locked onto the head of accused nagging wives to keep them from speaking) and in the fact that TAMING OF THE SHREW was absolutely hysterical at its time of origin. The play and its film adaptations are pretty much a humorous take on spousal abuse. As you might imagine, that light-hearted concept hasn’t exactly aged well over time. Thankfully, this 1967 film tries its best to add laughs that are not included in the original text and winds up being a decent effort. However, a slow pace and uncomfortable overtones remain.
The film begins with the lord Baptista trying to marry off his two daughters. While everyone pines for the younger Bianca, they are all petrified of the older Katharina as she has a fiery temper and terrorizes anyone who comes near her. Baptista will only allow Bianca to wed if someone will first marry Katharina. Lucentio, a potential suitor for Bianca, has devised a clever plan and recruits the eccentric Petruchio to woo Katharina. Through sneaky tactics, Petruchio is wed to Katharina and uses manipulation to tame his new shrewish wife. Meanwhile, Bianca is the center of many suitors’ attention as they squabble for her hand in marriage.
One of the biggest problems with Shakespeare adaptations are inherent in source material being rather lengthy. The length can work better in a play environment with performers standing in on a stage and an intermission halfway through, but might be a mixed bag on film. In SHREW, scenes have been omitted from play and that’s a both a blessing and a curse. The positive is that the introduction jumps right into the main story as opposed to the corrupted text’s actual, pointless opening scene. However, a side story with Bianca and Lucentio is almost completely skipped over. This wouldn’t be a problem if there weren’t the same amount of set up given to those side characters. While the actual taming of the shrew is the main focus of the play, there are other scenes detailing Bianca’s side-story that do pay off in the end. This film just ignores that almost entirely, which makes the conclusion a tad anti-climactic. Nice touches are made in how certain dialogue exchanges play out, particularly Petruchio’s introduction to Katharina, as the actors use the sets around them to their advantage.
The biggest issue prevalent in 1967’s TAMING OF THE SHREW is the same problem that many have with the actual play. Of course, this is the blatant sexism on display. The marketing even went as far to have the tagline of “A motion picture for every man who ever gave the back of his hand to his beloved…and for every woman who deserved it.” That attitude is pretty much on display in jovial fashion here. At least one can take solace in Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor being married at the time this was filmed. Burton is clearly having a blast as the crazy jackass Petruchio and Elizabeth Taylor steals the film as Katharina.
In spite of blatant sexism and a long running time taking some of the fun out of this Shakespeare comedy, the film makes the honorable effort of saving an ending that was played out as rather depressing in most productions. The creativity on this point offers a bit of wink-and-nudge that Zeffirelli, Burton and Taylor were all aware of the play’s questionable issues in treating domestic abuse with a light-hearted lens. Tudor times were horrible for women, but at least there’s an attempt to pretty parts of it up with the slightly redeemable final scene. This is far from the best Shakespeare adaptation, but it’s currently the best version of SHREW available.