|The Mikado > 1938 Film > The Times Review
"THE MIKADO " FILMED
from The Times January 12th, 1939
The producer who undertakes the adaptation of a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta for the cinema has one of the least enviable tasks. He finds himself between the Scylla of that large band of devotees who know every line of Gilbert and every note of Sullivan, and the Charybdis of that vaster public of film fans who, though many of them must know more about these operettas than they do of the average " classic," care nothing for tradition. Your true Savoyard regards any addition to or subtraction from the authorized version as something akin to blasphemy, but the larger public would be unlikely to find a literal transcription of the old ritual amusing. The producer's problem is to prevent the piece becoming static, the mere picture of a stage play, while doing no violence to the text.
Mr. Geoffrey Toye, who, besides conducting the performance, has adapted the music and the dialogue, has been as conservative as is consistent with the new medium and a reduction of the action to an hour-and-a-half's length. Some good things have had to go, none more regretted than "There is beauty in the bellow of the blast." But, apart from allotting a verse of "The moon and I" to Nanki-Poo — we feared for a moment it was going to be a theme-song — the necessary exposition at the beginning is cleverly fitted to the old dramatic scheme with the minimum of dialogue and no sham Gilbertian quips.
From Nanki-Poo's " A wandering minstrel " the action proceeds as we know it, yet the moments when it hangs fire are very few. This is greatly to the credit of the director, Mr. Victor Schertzinger, who has managed to achieve an effect of movement without restlessness and without resort to vulgar tricks. if he sometimes lapses into a childish literalness, as when the "ding-dong " of the madrigal brings a picture of pealing bells, he must be forgiven for grasping at any straw in a difficult situation. The convention of a play with songs is effective, because no bones are made about it, and the finale to the first act is splendidly handled from the cinematic point of view.
With a Savoyard in control and several
Savoyards in the cast the comedy is safe.
But, while tradition is preserved, it has
been allowed more freedom than is
usually permitted in the theatre. The
fun seems more spontaneous, but it is kept
on the plane of convention Gilbert
There remain the hero and heroine.
Mr. Kenny Baker makes the handsomest
Japanese Prince imaginable, and that he
seems to have learnt English in some place
nearer to Japan than London is not against
the probabilities. He is also the best singer
in a cast whose chief excellence is ability
to sing their music well and make their
words clear. That excellence is shared by
Miss Jean Colin, though her Yum-Yum is
otherwise the only colourless thing in a
The musical side of the production has
been most carefully handled. Not only
is the singing good, but the detail of
Sullivan's orchestration is reproduced with
a fidelity that is rare in the cinema. There
are hardly any blaring fortissimos to
offend the ear, and many lovely passages
The first public performance of the film will be given this evening at a gala in aid of the Boy Scouts Appeal Fund, when the Duke and Duchess of Kent will be present.
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