The Mikado (The Criterion Collection)
Movie: 3 stars
Picture: 3½ stars
Sound: 3 stars
Extras: 3 stars
The 1939 film of The Mikado was intended as the first in a series of Gilbert and Sullivan productions under the banner of the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, but World War II intervened, making the movie unique. It’s a curious artifact, part British and part not, with a Yank playing Nanki-Poo (Kenny Baker) and a director, Victor Schertzinger, having lengthy and distinguished Hollywood credentials. Even the sets and costumes somehow manage to look almost equally Burbank and Savoy.
The problem with the movie, though, lies in its presentation. It starts out with a “Prologue” that is supposed to spare us a stagy introduction but actually seems to make things slower — and when the story finally picks up, many numbers are cut and others truncated in order to ensure a conventional (91-minute) running time. Still, we do get the legendary Ko-Ko and Poo-Bah of Martyn Green and Sydney Granville, the charming Yum-Yum of Jean Colin, and a fair taste of the G&S tradition that the movie was supposed to preserve.
The early Technicolor is surprising, as it leans toward pastel shades rather than the spectacular reds and greens we’re accustomed to from the period. And it comes off well, if a touch grainy, in the 1.33:1 picture. The uncompressed PCM mono sound isn’t bad for 1939, either, though there are times when the orchestra obscures the lyrics.
There’s no commentary, but you do get some scholarly analysis plus a talk with Mike Leigh. Other extras include audio excerpts from two 1939 jazz-style adaptations. A silent short promotes the D’Oyly Carte’s 1926 staging of The Mikado, including a few brief shots in what appears to be two-strip Technicolor. You also get Ko-Ko’s “I’ve Got a Little List” song, which was cut from the finished film — and when you see it, you’ll understand why.
(Photo courtesy The Criterion Collection)
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