The Mikado (1939)

  • Year: 1939
  • Released: 01 May 1939
  • Country: United Kingdom
  • Adwords: 1 nomination
  • IMDb:
  • Rotten Tomatoes:
  • Metacritics:
  • Available in: 720p,
  • Language: English
  • MPA Rating: Not Rated
  • Genre: Comedy, Musical
  • Runtime: 90 min
  • Writer: W.S. Gilbert, Geoffrey Toye
  • Director: Victor Schertzinger
  • Cast: Kenny Baker, John Barclay, Martyn Green
  • Keywords: japan, forbidden love, based on play or musical, minstrel, whitewashing, independent film,
false% – Audience

The Mikado Storyline

In a mythical Japan, Ko-Ko, a cheap tailor, has been appointed Lord High Executioner and must find someone to execute before the arrival of the ruling Mikado. He lights upon Nanki-Poo, a strolling minstrel who loves the beautiful Yum-Yum. But Yum-Yum is also loved by Ko-Ko, and Nanki-Poo, seeing no hope for his love, considers suicide. Ko-Ko offers to solve both their problems by executing Nanki-Poo, and an agreement is reached whereby Ko-Ko will allow Nanki-Poo to marry Yum-Yum for one month, at the end of which Nanki-Poo will be executed, in time for the arrival of the Mikado. But what Ko-Ko doesn’t know is that Nanki-Poo is the son of the Mikado and has run away to avoid a betrothal to an old harridan named Katisha. The arrival of the Mikado brings all the threads of the tale together.—Jim Beaver

The Mikado Photos

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The Mikado Movie Reviews

Flawed but well made, well sung and interesting film of The Mikado

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

I am right and you are right and all is right as right can be

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.

Those Flowers That Bloom In The Spring Tra La

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.