Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Mikado (1939)

While the 1939 film of Gilbert & Sullivan's THE MIKADO is far from a faithful adaptation in terms of containing every song and scene from the show, it is certainly faithful to the spirit of the great 1885 operetta by one of the great teams in theater history.

THE MIKADO was my introduction to the work of Gilbert & Sullivan. I had first learned about this film years ago from my grandfather, who had seen it at the Little Theater in Baltimore when he was about the same age that I was at the time. He had never forgotten the stunning Technicolor photography and mentioned wanting to see the film again. I managed to find a copy on VHS at the time, and it has since become a favorite of mine as well.

Victor Schertzinger, a songwriter and filmmaker whose other directing credits include the first two Bob Hope-Bing Crosby "Road" pictures, does an admirable job in bringing the operetta to the screen. The film is photographed in Technicolor, imbuing the film with a gorgeous, pastel look. The casting of Kenny Baker, as Nanki-Poo, is a rather obvious concession to popular taste, but he acquits himself well in the role. The real stand-outs in the cast are the members of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, especially Martyn Green as Ko-Ko and Sydney Granville as Pooh-Bah.

Most of the classic Gilbert & Sullivan songs are present, although the film does omit a good deal of the score in order to maintain a manageable running time. Perhaps the most regrettable excision is Ko-Ko's comic song "As Someday It May Happen", which was shot but deleted from the film prior to its release (thankfully it is included as a supplemental feature on the recent Blu-ray release from the Criterion Collection).

Schertzinger's film of THE MIKADO may not be great cinema, functioning instead as a kind of filmed theater.  But it is a valuable and vivid record of the incredible talent involved in the D'Oyly Carte company, capturing the performances of Martyn Green, Sydney Granville and others for posterity, and for that fact alone is a treasure. It also remains a fine and effective introduction to the work of Gilbert & Sullivan.

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