The Mikado (1939) Poster

(1939)

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9/10
I am right and you are right and all is right as right can be
Spondonman4 March 2005
I've seen this 1939 Technicolor version of the Mikado now maybe 10 times over 3 decades and it hasn't palled on me yet, it's a wonderful production of a wonderful operetta. I'm not a huge Gilbert & Sullivan expert, but I consider this to be their best work overall - I'd give the music and lyrics 9.9 out of 10 alone - and I do recognise this was edited to be squeezed into 90 minutes. This means a few great scenes and songs are not here, but as it's still great all the way through anyway I don't mind too much.

Although he did a good job, was good looking and had a fine singing voice Kenny Baker is the only thing about this production that jars a little, his kind of material was best displayed in films like At The Circus. But I'm not a Kenny Baker expert either! Was it simply to help sell it in America, or did he want the role?

At this distance we should be grateful for what we've got - I wish this entire team (cast and crew) had also made some of the other greats such as Pinafore and Penzance for us to admire and then quibble over the chosen edit! To anyone who wants to give G&S a try, try this, revel in Gilbert's gloriously witty and extensive use of the English language, be roused by some of Sullivan's most beautiful and catchy tunes. If you still don't appreciate it then I don't think any of their other work will do it for you either.
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10/10
Suffers from cuts, but makes up in the quality of the performers--Modified rapture!
harleyquinn22031 August 2002
In the 1930s the decision was made to do a movie of a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta as a star vehicle for Kenny Baker. They decided to do "The Yeomen of the Guard" with Baker as Fairfax and engage members of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company for other roles in the film--including Martyn Green as Jack Point. However, they went back in this decision and decided to make a movie of "The Mikado" instead. In his autobiography, Green states that he feels "Yeomen" would have made a better movie.

This is an interesting Mikado, with both its upsides and its downsides. The biggest downside being the large amount of song cuts. The Mikado is one of Gilbert and Sullivan's best works, and it's a shame that so much of G&S's score is left out. Missing from the production are Pooh-Bah's "Young Man Despair;" Ko-Ko's excellent "Little List" song; "So Please You Sir, We Much Regret" (the quartet between Pooh-Bah and the girls); much of the Act I Finale; the quintet between Pooh-Bah, Pitti-Sing, Ko-Ko, the Mikado, and Katisha--"See How the Fates Their Gifts Allot;" Katisha's solo "Alone and Yet Alive;" and Katisha and Ko-Ko's duet "There is Beauty in the Bellow of the Blast." I assume these were all cut due to time, but it is a shame to lose them. Much of the dialogue is cut as well, cutting out some of Gilbert's funniest lines.

All this is made up for, however, by the actors. Despite the fact that it's Kenny Baker and Jean Colin's faces you see on the front of the box, the star here is Martyn Green as Ko-Ko. Green was the principle comic baritone with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company (a name which has always been synonymous with the best performances of Gilbert & Sullivan you can find) for many years and both this and the many recordings he made show that he was one of the best actors to ever play the Grossmith roles. He gives a stellar performance as Ko-Ko, the lord high executioner, and it really is a shame the list song was cut. Another D'Oyle Carte regular, Sydney Granville, plays Pooh-Bah and he is excellent as well. His Pooh-Bah is just as great as Green's Ko-Ko. There are quite a few other D'Oyly Carters here as well--Elizabeth Paynter and Kathleen Naylor (Pitti-Sing and Peep-Bo), the entire chorus, and Gregory Stroud (Pish-Tush) had done a bit of work with the D'Oyly Carte during the 1926 season. The rest of the cast does an excellent job as well. Victor Schertzinger manages to transfer the show to film quite well without it feeling too awkward on the screen (although I agree with Martyn Green in feeling that Yeomen would have made a better movie).

All in all, despite the song cuts, it is an excellent production of the Mikado, one that is well worth seeing. Of the Mikados I have seen on video and/or DVD (including this one, Stradford's production, Opera World's, and English National Opera's), I would say this is the best one out there. This is G&S performed the way it should be performed, the only disadvantage being that there's not enough of it.
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9/10
Modified Rapture!
Jamie-5829 May 1999
For many years it was fashionable to sneer at this early marriage of Gilbert & Sullivan, the D'Oyly Carte and the movies. But the distance of time has given us a more benign approach. There is very little - surprisingly so - damage done to the operetta; an aria or two juxtaposed and some odd casting. But most of what remains is charming, fresh and very lively.

Martyn Green steals the film as KoKo, though Sydney Granville gives a time honoured performance as Pooh Bah. My only real gripe is that Darrell Fancourt, that doyen of the D'Oyly Carte, was not called upon to sing the title role. What a document that would have been! As it is, it is the seasoned artists who make the most of the material. And if I don't believe that this is the best of the G & S works, it is certainly a delightful way of spending an hour and a half.
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10/10
Great singing, wonderful production.
Stracke22 October 2000
At the conclusion of the wonderful prologue (A Wand'ring Minstrel I), my wife and I broke into applause right there in the den. Can't remember our doing that before. One reason it's so good is that the director found a way to keep it in its stage home without being stagey. The key to this is editing -- lots of fast cuts among faces and angles. Given these, the camera can rejoice in the operetta's stage-centeredness: the chorus can file onstage in glorious pageant and wondrous costume; the singers can face the audience and extend their arms in that wonderful G&S take on the hamminess that underlies the proper Englishman. That's another great thing about this production. It's clearly about how *Englishmen* would look and act if someone transported them to a magical imaginary Japan whose dimensions are constrained only by only the few wisps of knowledge in the *English* mind. The singing is tops, the physical comedy is wonderful, and there's more good feeling in it than in the next 20 Hollywood feel-good movies you'll see.
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7/10
Sadly Incomplete
ian-bond5 January 2008
This is a remarkable film in many ways. The fact that it was shot in the UK in the new (and very vivid) technicolor, was a first for a start, and the preservation of the performances of a number of D'Oyly Carte principals makes this an important historical document. Sydney Granville (Pooh-Bah) had worked with Gilbet himself. Sadly, this seems to be a reissue of the version that was on general release in the cinema. The original cut of the film included a number of sections not present in this release - Ko-Ko's "Little List" song for instance was filmed and certainly was present in the original master copy (a copy of which was in the possession of a late member of the old D'Oyly Carte administrative staff). Hopefully, someday, a copy of the extended version will surface once again.
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7/10
Those Flowers That Bloom In The Spring Tra La
bkoganbing25 February 2009
With the exception of American radio tenor Kenny Baker, the members of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company are the cast of this filmed production of the Mikado. It was the first technicolor film done in the United Kingdom although in that same year, much better use of color was made in The Four Feathers.

A lot of history has passed since The Mikado made its debut in the 1880s. At that time Japan was considered the most exotic place on earth and with good reason. In 1853, the American expedition under Commodore Matthew Perry forcibly opened Japan to the world. Up to that time they had almost completely isolated themselves from the west for over 200 years. Westerners who found there way there, never returned. Only the Dutch had extremely limited trading facilities in Japan for years.

When they did open up, the curiosity of the west was unbounded on both sides of the Atlantic pond. In time the British would sign a treaty of alliance to protect each other's Far East interests. When that treaty was not renewed in 1923 it eventually set the two powers on a course for war.

But in the 1880s Great Britain was fascinated by things Japanese and Gilbert&Sullivan scored a big old satirical hit with The Mikado. If the music and manners of the cast sound British it's because from the safety of a land during the Middle Ages, the battling partners could get a few barbs in about British society and politics from a very firm safety net. The way Pooh-Bah collects offices and honors with the accompanying salaries was very much in line with the way the British courts over the years rewarded service rendered.

Starring in the role of Nanki-Poo the Mikado's son who has run away because he doesn't want to marry some old harpy dad's picked out for him is American radio singer Kenny Baker. He did several films, most notably the Goldwyn Follies where George Gershwin's last song hit during his lifetime, Love Walked In, became permanently identified with him. Baker was a regular on Jack Benny's radio program, later replaced by Dennis Day. Later on Baker scored a big hit on Broadway with Mary Martin in One Touch Of Venus. No doubt for reasons of export the British producers chose Baker to have some recognizable name away from the D'Oyly Carte regular company who no one on this side of the pond would have known. Baker's light pleasing tenor does justice to the Gilbert&Sullivan patter.

The film does lack production values though, it's a photographed performance of the opera. I would have liked to have seen better and outdoor sets possibly, but this is a never-neverland kind of Japan.

The Mikado got an Oscar nomination for color cinematography, but was just another casualty to the Gone With The Wind juggernaut of 1939. Still it's an interesting film and Gilbert&Sullivan fans who just care about the music should be pleased.
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superb, if snipped, Gilbert and Sullivan
didi-528 April 2010
This version of 'The Mikado' was released in 1939 and was an early Technicolor production. This, and the fact that most of the cast are D'Oyly Carte veterans and experts in the material, means it is extremely watchable today. Even the addition of American Kenny Baker as Nanki-Poo (who acquits himself very well in such exalted company) can't spoil the feeling of watching a superior piece of operetta.

Of course there are a number of songs missing from this score, which is a shame. Chief amongst these is Ko-Ko's 'Little List', which I think was cut because of contemporary references which could seem offensive today. If that's true, it is a pity to lose such a show-stopper. I'd also liked to have seen more of Pooh-Bah, who has two songs deleted.

If you like Gilbert and Sullivan, or operettas generally, or big stage production musicals, sung well and acted with style, 'The Mikado' is for you.
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5/10
I'm of two minds about this one
dakiwiboid3 March 2001
Admittedly, there are some magnificent performences here. Ko-Ko is truly delightful, and probably quite canonical. However, the cuts and interpolations made to turn the play into a movie are absolutely vile. Several totally uncessary scenes are added, songs are given to the wrong characters, and several of the best are cut. What's The Mikado without "I've Got A Little List" or Katisha's magnificent "Oh, Living I" aria? I'd also be more comfortable with classic Japanese costumes (which, BTW, Gilbert insisted on) rather than these exaggerated, silly versions of them. Sigh. The D'Oyley Carte association with this film led me to expect an absolutely authentic production, and I was terribly disappointed.
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8/10
Flawed but well made, well sung and interesting film of The Mikado
TheLittleSongbird26 July 2012
The Mikado is one of Gilbert and Sullivan's best works, and I was most interested in seeing this version after trying to view as many G&S productions as possible. I personally prefer the Lesley Garrett/Eric Idle 1987 version, but while flawed this Mikado is still interesting. Much has been said about the cuts, and I have to agree. I can understand why there were some, but some either didn't make sense to be cut or are just too good, KoKo's Little List number was especially true to this. I also thought the spoken prologue was rather pointless and characters have a tendency in important scenes in drift in and out of range.

However, visually and technically it is splendid, the Technicolour looks gorgeous and the costumes and sets are wonderfully authentic. The music is among G&S's best, and while you do wish it was complete it is beautifully performed and conducted. The comedy is sparkling and witty also, and the story is still charming enough. The performances are generally great, Kenny Baker is not quite as impressive as Nanki-Poo, vocally the singing is bright and clear and he looks the part but his acting is rather bland. On the other hand, Jean Collins sings Yum-Yum beautifully and Constance Willis is wonderfully arrogant and poignant as Katisha. John Barclay is an imposing Mikado, Gregory Stroud is good in the insubstantial role of Pish-Tush and Sydney Granville is delightfully pompous as Pooh-Bah. But the best performance easily comes from the splendid KoKo of Martyn Green, one of the best ever in this role, that's for sure.

All in all, interesting and generally well-made and sung, but at the same time perhaps not the most ideal of versions. 7.5/10 Bethany Cox
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8/10
Very well done, pity they didn't include all the tunes
jfcowie26 February 2012
I saw this in 1939 when it was first released ( I was 8 years old ). What I remember most vividly was the fact that the audience was told that if they loudly applauded any number then they would replay it there and then, i.e. give an encore, and they did. I've never seen that done in any cinema before nor did I ever see it done again. The production is much better than I could remember or that I had heard about it since. The transfer to DVD has been done very well indeed. It is a pity about the cuts but even so the production is a delight with excellent diction and the 'cut glass' accents of the pretty maids is splendid.

With regard to the cuts: the biggest loss is Katisha's "Hearts do not break" and Katisha's duet with Koko " if that is so let's merrily marry". Yumyum's " The sun whose ray's" is truncated in that the second verse about the moon is omitted, however the Mikado's " I've got a little list " is there and his laugh is terrific, worthy of Boris Karloff. What did surprise me was that Nankipoo's song " A wandering minstrel I " had an unexpected resonance when combined with the date 1939, it gave his patriotic ballad section a shiver up my spine and brought back memories I would rather not have brought back.

Anyway Ken Baker's singing was excellent and as I said the whole thing was beautifully done. I run an opera group and am going to suggest that we show this one evening and try to re-create the encores.
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10/10
A memorable G&S film
Bill-25831 March 1999
For 1939 and early color this is a film to be remembered. As Maltin says, Kenny Baker is not ideal, mainly because he has the only American accent in a cast of English G&S specialists and strikes a somewhat discordant note.

(I saw this film when I was in the second grade and I still have vivid memories of it, I might even say that it opened a whole new world of musical theatre to me).
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8/10
Helium Trip
Gyran16 October 2009
This film romps through the Mikado in less than 90 minutes. Numbers are omitted or performed out of sequence. Most remaining numbers get only one verse. It ought to be a disaster but it is, in fact, highly enjoyable. The American lead Kenny Baker, as Nanki-Poo, and Jean Colin, as Yum-Yum both, strangely, sound as though they inhaled from a helium balloon before they started to sing. The rest of the parts are taken by D'Oyly Carte dependables. This was all beautifully shot at Pinewood Studios with excellent costumes and sets. I could not tell if the singing was lip-synched so, if it was, it was done very well. Maybe this film even predates the introduction of lip-synching.
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9/10
G and S purists will not like it, bit I enjoyed it immensely!
JohnHowardReid27 October 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Associate producer: Josef Somlo. Producer: Geoffrey Toye. This film was produced by arrangement with Rupert D'Oyly Carte. Made at London's Pinewood Studios.

Music played by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Geoffrey Toye. Chorus from the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company. Songs, all lyrics by Sir William Schwenck Gilbert, music by Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan: "The Sun, Whose Rays" (Baker, reprized Colin), "Gentlemen of Japan" (chorus), "A Wandering Minstrel, I" (Baker and chorus), "Our Great Mikado" (Stroud and chorus), "Behold the Lord High Executioner" (chorus), "Taken from a County Jail" (Green), "Comes a Train of Little Ladies" (chorus), "Three Little Maids from School" (Colin, Paynter, Naylor and chorus), "Were You Not to Ko-Ko Plighted" (Baker and Colin), "I Am So Proud" (Granville, Green, Stroud), "With Aspect Stern" (Green, Granville, Stroud, chorus), "The Threatened Cloud Has Passed Away" (Baker, Colin, Granville, Paynter, Naylor, chorus), "Long Life to Nanki-Poo" (Granville, chorus), "Your Revels Cease!" (Willis, chorus, Paynter, Baker), "Braid the Raven Hair" (chorus), "For He's Going To Marry Yum-Yum" (Paynter and chorus), "Brightly Dawns Our Wedding Day" (Colin, Paynter, Baker, Stroud), "Here's a How-De-Do!" (Colin, Baker, Green), "Miya Sama" (chorus), "Obedience I Expect" (Barclay, Willis, chorus), "A More Humane Mikado" (Barclay and chorus), "The Criminal Cried" (Green, Paynter, Granville, chorus), "The Flowers That Bloom in the Spring" (Baker, Green, Colin, Paynter, Granville), "Titwillow" (Green).

Deleted songs: "Young Man Despair", "I've Got a Little List", "So Pardon Us'', "Oh Fool", "Flutter Little Heart", "A Is Happy", "Alone And Yet Alive", "Beauty in the Bellow of the Blast", "For He's Gone and Married Yum-Yum".

Copyright 10 May 1939 by Universal Pictures Co., Inc. A G&S Films (London) Production. New York opening at the Rivoli: 1 June 1939. U.S. release: 8 September 1939. U.K. release through General Film Distributors: January 1939. Australian release through G-B-D/20th Century-Fox: 15 June 1939. 11 reels. 91 minutes.

SYNOPSIS: Rather than marry his father's choice, the son of the Mikado of Japan flees from the palace.

NOTES: Universal's first full Technicolor release.

COMMENT: Exquisite. Mind you, some viewers complained that Kenny Baker's American accent was distracting. Others were unhappy by the omission of Ko-Ko's famous patter song about his "little list". And many of the songs that are retained have been cut down to a few verses. But who could resist such a charmingly pastel-colored production, brilliantly enacted and sung, and so stylishly presented? Sound recording and other technical credits are superb.
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4/10
The costuming and scenery provide eye candy to the viewer.
jfarms195628 January 2014
The Mikado is a movie that should appeal to those who like musicals or those 35 and older. Older children may enjoy watching the movie with their parents as a family movie. The musical scores within the movie do give the movie a Japanese feel. The singing is okay and the songs delightful. The costuming and scenery provide eye candy to the viewer. All in all, a delightful little musical by Gilbert Sullivan. I think the effectiveness of the movie would have been more appreciated if Japanese artist had played the roles. This is a classic movie and one well suited for prime time. The overall plot of the movie is slow to develop. Bring your friends and family to this one. Popcorn all around here. Enjoy.
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7/10
Kenny Baker hogs it but historically of great importance.
standardmetal18 July 2004
This old Technicolor film from 1939 is shown on television quite a lot.

Kenny Baker is a taste I never acquired (Dennis Day, his successor on the Jack Benny show was much more bearable.) and, especially in the prologue, he's all over the place. He even sings "The Sun and I" which is one of Yum Yum's songs, though she later sings it as well.

Kenny's problem is not only his American accent but his really overripe tenor and equally overripe smile gets quite irritating after a while, at least to me.

Despite all this, the film is an important record of the D'Oyly Carte company in 1939 and especially of Martyn Green's performance. And I'm pleased they didn't cut the madrigal. A most interesting film for its time.

******* out of ***********
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Technical information.
aesop-12 September 2004
Was channel surfing and came upon this film. I am not a G&S expert,The print looks like a duplicate. It was copied from a print and not the original negative. Before VCRs it was illegal to own a film, except those where the copyright had expired. People could duplicate and sell these films and show them without having to reimburse the creator of the film. That is why until recently every TV station would show "Its A Wonderful Life". This film looks like a candidate for a restoration if the original negative still exists.

PS in order to make the 10 lines. Did you know Groucho Marx was obsessed with The Mikado. In 1960 he did a TV version in which he played Ko-Ko and his daughter played Peep-Bo
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Buster Keaton would have been great as Koko!!!!
edwardholub6 September 2007
This was an unexpected delight. The only exposure I had to The Mikodo was a live "under the stars" show at the Open Air Theater in Washington Crossing Park, N.J. (starring Lee Bristol, president of Bristol/Myers) and the film Topsy Turvy. Kenny Baker was OK, but I can't help thinking that he was "groomed" to be another Dick Powell. I was laughing like a little kid more than once at the zany antics. A bit more physical comedy could have been displayed but that might have endangered the purity of G&S. Looking at Martyn Green's performance made me think of how Buster Keaton could have played Koko. And that brought to mind the old television version with Groucho Marx in the role. Despite the cuts, it was a fine program.
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2/10
Cheap and chippy hatchet job
joekerr-525 March 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I came to this movie expecting a full-scale professional performance, encouraged by the presence of authentic Savoyard Martyn Green in the cast (he plays Ko-Ko). But this movie adaptation is pretty far gone. For the first 20 minutes Schertzinger channels Quentin Tarantino: He gives us a capsule summary of the whole plot, followed by a flashback to Nanki-Poo's departure from court (including "If you want to know who we are" and some dialogue pilfered from Act II). Then Nanki-Poo sings the first verse of "The sun whose rays" -- Yum-Yum's song from Act II -- just to mix things up a bit. After that it settles down with a classical "Wand'ring Minstrel I" (interrupted only by one Village-of-the-Damned-looking little girl tugging on Nanki-Poo's sleeve during "Oh, sorrow").

Green's Ko-Ko and Sydney Granville's Pooh-Bah are reasonable facsimiles of the stage roles, although they do manage to botch most of Gilbert's jokes with a wooden delivery -- and in many cases the punch lines are simply cut out! (Note to screenwriter: "On the Marine Parade!" isn't funny in isolation, you know.) John Barclay's Mikado is appropriately diabolical, although his evil laughs are curtailed by the cutting of "A more human Mikado"'s middle half. Kenny Baker's Nanki-Poo is an inoffensive tenor (contradiction in terms?); Yum-Yum, on the other hand, sounds like one of the Chipmunks in most of her songs.

The songs also suffer. Whose idea was it to throw random church-bell sound effects over the singers in the madrigal? Most detrimentally, "I've got a little list" is cut entirely, as is Katisha's Act II solo, and "Our great Mikado" is shortened by a verse (which renders the lyrics more than a little confusing). To fill the resulting dead air, we get an encore of Ko-Ko's part of "The flowers that bloom in the spring" (yes, with even Nanki-Poo enthusiastically belting out "Oh, bother the flowers of spring!") and an awful lot of random shots of people entering and exiting. Blame the cuts on budget or censorship (or having no idea, or not being there) -- you can't blame them on time constraints.

Schertzinger's "Mikado" was the first in a planned series of Pinewood G&S adaptations. One good thing to come out of the Blitz: It was also the last!
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Gilbert & Sullivan! D'Oyly Carte Opera Company!
Frumious_Bandersnatch_4630 September 2011
I REALLY wish I could give this production 4½ stars. I find that I didn't really like it -- but I didn't really DISlike it, either.

At the start, I was SURE that this movie had been "colorized". I checked the date, I checked my screen, I checked the date, I checked my screen. Then I restarted the opening credits and saw it was, indeed, filmed in color -- in 1939.

Yes, they cut "I Have a Little List" and a couple of other favorites. And, yes, they chopped quite a lot out of "My Object All Sublime" -- among others. And yes, they switched the order of some them.

However, I think today's audiences would prefer the emended "Little List" and "Sublime" to Gilbert & Sullivan's original lyrics. I think this version was filmed BEFORE the "official" amendments to those songs -- to eliminate the N-word.

I agree with the reviewer who said that this production is better seen as a visual record of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company than as excellence in transferring a stage production to film. Now I'm off to find another version to watch. 2011/09/28.
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