You are here: Archive Home > The Mikado > 1938 Film > The Times Review
The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive   Title



from The Times January 12th, 1939

Conducted by GEOFFREY TOYE

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
established. Mr. Marlyn Green and Mr. Sydney Granville, freed from the restricted limits of the stage, roam at large about the screen with their dry wit and vast unction. They are ably supported by Mr. Gregory Stroud (Pish-Tush) and Miss Elizabeth Paynter (Pitti-Sing), both good singers and excellent actors in this style. Miss Constance Willis and Mr. John Barclay make Katisha and the Mikado less fearful of feature than Mr. Charles Ricketts has imagined them, but they abate nothing of their menace.

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
delightfully coloured spectacle. For the settings and costumes designed by Vertes are pleasing to the eve and make the most of the still rather limited range of the Technicolor process.

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
to delight it.

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.

Archive Home | The Mikado | 1938 Film

   Page modified 25 August, 2011 Copyright © 2010 The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive All Rights Reserved.