November 08, 2004

Howard Keel, R.I.P.

Howard Keel has died at age 85. Most of you young'uns remember him best as Clayton Farlow, the guy who married Miss Ellie on "Dallas" after Jock Ewing cashed in.

I know him mostly because of the movie version of Cole Porter's "Kiss Me, Kate," in which Keel co-starred with Kathryn Grayson and Ann Miller. (I own a copy.) Frankly, the movie is rather flat and the acting is pretty poor. But the dance numbers are fantastic. And the songs are Cole Porter, after all.

There is one throw-away line that I enjoy that probably doesn't even register with people these days. Briefly, Keel and Grayson play stormily-divorced actors starring opposite each other in a musical version of Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew. Grayson, who is now engaged to a rancher named Tex, is cutting up rough, torpedoing the production to get at Keel for reasons I need not explain here. Finally, in exasperation, Keel puts her over his knee and spanks her onstage.

Here's the throwaway that I love: After the curtain falls, Grayson storms off the stage and announces she's going to send for Tex to come get her. "I'll show him my bruises," she says defiantly. Keel's slightly shocked response is, "You can't. You're not married yet."

I love that.

Without over-analyzing it, I love the assumed code of pre-nuptual propriety, a relic of a period long gone in the Culture. But I also love the obvious implication that once she does marry Tex, Grayson's character can show him anything she wants.

One of the problems with modern mores is that people seem to confuse propriety with prudishness, often believing that just because someone is unwilling to do something in the street (where it will frighten the horses), they are automatically unwilling to do it at all. In a culture virtually without inhibitions, they fail to understand that the existence of such inhibitions actually enhances things by giving people something to push against. Also, alas, there is no room in such an atmosphere for the kind of innuendo, double entendre and subtle little lines like this one that were such a part of the earlier era. A pity, really.

Posted by Robert at November 8, 2004 11:05 AM | TrackBack

Well said, Robert. I couldn't agree more - mostly because I'm often accused of being a prudish throwback rather than prudent in today's culture.

Posted by: jen at November 8, 2004 02:02 PM
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