Self and Other II

film 2 of 4

The Mikado

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jun 18, 2015

I liked it! The film’s middling reputation is somewhat justified. Kenny Baker’s Nanki-Poo sings sweetly, but he’s really boring. And what’s with casting an American?! This is Gilbert & Sullivan! The production is also a bit wan in spots. In addition it is, as everyone seems to like to say, somewhat stagey. Or it’s trying not to be stagey, and it shows. But if the stage roots are evident—the rights-holding D’Oyly Carte gang actually required some of that, didn’t they?—then there are still a lot of aptly decorative compositions and camera movements. And whether rooted in stage or screen, the design is a delight. What costumes! And what preposterously candied, eye-popping Technicolor work. Thank goodness for Black Narcissus, but look what you can do when you use the process in the way it was intended, or in the way they forced you to do (cf. Natalie Kalmus).

In addition to pretty and pleasing, W.S. Gilbert’s somewhat dire sensibilities do shine through. It a powerful anomaly—so crowd-pleasing, so simultaneously savage. Ko-Ko’s excised song about the people he would like to eliminate is a good example. And more than savage is that great discussion about Pooh-Bah holding every official position in the government. At one level this effectively lampoons the presumptions of power. Better than that, it’s a pretty spectacular demonstration of the nature of perspectives. Things do depend.

(Try this piquant non-musical selection from Mr. Gilbert:

Green and Granville, Barclay and Willis are really formidable performers. They’re shticking it of course, but they’re so the old pros. Also, this film features superb extra work, which, given that we’re talking about an operetta chorus, is actually very much more than mere extra work. Individuals and communities, the concerto grosso, etc. And speaking of the troopers and the chorus, Mr. Sullivan really does provide us with some melodies and, even more, harmonies, that sneak into realms of the movingly beautiful.