21 August 2014 | eschetic-2
Definitely bizarre, but worth a look for British farce tastes, Frankie Howerd and Stubby Kaye fans
Gilbert and Sullivan's MIKADO is one of those classic works which seem to work almost as well in the most bizarre settings. The original satire on British mores was introduced just as the first ambassadors from the relatively newly "re-opened" island empire were arriving on English shores and the Foreign Office nearly closed it for fear of offending the Emperor's representatives, but when showed the work, the Mikado's representatives thought it hilarious and that it had next to nothing to do with their country and everything to do with the country they were coming to. The work was allowed to go on.
Since then it's been done hundreds of times in settings from the original supposed Japanese to Caribbean Island with an all black cast (save one white colonial office "Poobah" - THE BLACK MIKADO and a personal favorite) and has generally delighted; but some obviously work better than others.
This 1963 Frankie Howerd farce "version" (the popular English comedian - probably best remembered for the equally "special" CARRY ON films' first venture into film musical about the time he was taking on the lead in the Original London Cast of the stage FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM) has only the loosest ties to the sublime original W.S. Gilbert book, but in telling the basic story of the run-away son (Kevin Scott) of the Mikado (here American ex-patriot musical star Stubby Kaye as a 1960's corporate executive) wanting to marry the ward (Jill Mai Meredith) and intended of "the Lord High Executioner" (here a corporate "hatchet man" - Howerd), adapter Maurice Browning and director Michael Winner have hewed closer to the style of Howerd's broad (bordering on camp) comedy than Gilbert's carefully structured satire. The film's credits are perfectly honest in warning that any resemblance to the original is purely accidental. A few may even be reminded (especially given Howerd's connection with the latter show) of the travesty filming the great American musical A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM got itself three years later in 1966.
Giving the story a framing device of the tale being told in flashback among business men on an international flight to New York (as nearly as can be determined, the film was never released over here and only reached these shores on a few copies of a PAL DVD put out in 2009 by "Strike Force Entertainment") helps justify the surreal unreality of the farce both in sets, costumes and the sublime occasional outbreaks of the original G&S score. Some of these numbers work better than others as when WWII tension between allies is exploited for a brigade of American soldiers in the dream-like flashback breaking into the well known "Gentlemen of Japan" chorus - explained as "having been here so long they've 'gone native!'" as opposed to an overture in a (in 1963 very timely) calypso beat or the "Willow Tit Willow" melody used as "The Mikado Twist".
The film is certainly not for Gilbert and Sullivan purists (Katisha with the highly praised left elbow is here Katie Shaw - Jacqueline Jones - with far more broad based charms!) but the bottom line for many American viewers may well be how much they miss the immortal Stubby Kaye who spent too many years away from our shores. Any chance to see him clowning on film is to be grabbed - and the Mikado's entrance song, "My Object All Sublime," whose lyrics are traditionally altered and updated for almost every production, is as sublime a take on the number as I have seen. His all too brief "Flowers That Bloom In The Spring" (outrageously appropriated from Howerd's Koko - but who's complaining) will remind more than a few wonderfully of his wedding ceremony as "Marryin' Sam" in LI'L ABNER! 'Worth a look.
The 2009 DVD release is "fleshed out" with contemporary bonus featurettes GIRLS, GIRLS, GIRLS and IT'S MAGIC by the same director plus an "Image Gallery" of shots from the main film.