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A view on Blu-ray by Gary W. Tooze

The Mikado [Blu-ray]


(Victor Schertzinger, 1939)



Review by Gary Tooze



Theatrical: Gilbert & Sullivan Films

Video: Criterion Collection - Spine # 559



Region: 'A' (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 1:31:06.878

Disc Size: 44,223,477,629 bytes

Feature Size: 26,721,011,712 bytes

Video Bitrate: 34.99 Mbps

Chapters: 14

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: March 29th, 2011



Aspect ratio: 1.33:1 matted to 1.78

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video



LPCM Audio English 1152 kbps 1.0 / 48 kHz / 1152 kbps / 24-bit



English (SDH), none



• New video interviews with Topsy-Turvy director Mike Leigh (18:15) and Mikado scholars Josephine Lee and Ralph MacPhail Jr. (29:08)
Short silent film promoting the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company’s 1926 stage performance of The Mikado (3:42)
Deleted scene with Ko-Ko’s “I’ve Got a Little List” song (2:46)
Excerpts from 1939 radio broadcasts of the stage productions The Swing Mikado and The Hot Mikado
PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by critic Geoffrey O’Brien





Description: The legendary Gilbert and Sullivan troupe the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company joined forces with Hollywood for this 1939 Technicolor version of the beloved comic opera The Mikado, the first work by the famed duo to be adapted for the screen. Directed by musician and Oscar-nominated filmmaker Victor Schertzinger, it is a lavish cinematic retelling of the British political satire set in exotic Japan, with such enduringly popular numbers as “A Wand’ring Minstrel I” and “Three Little Maids from School,” and featuring American singer Kenny Baker as well as a host of renowned D’Oyly Carte performers, including Martyn Green and Sydney Granville.



The Film:

There's something about "The Mikado" which makes one wonder whether it ever should be taken away from the footlights, from the realm of unabashed nonsense and make-believe. Take the matter of make-up: on the stage the upslanting eyebrows and smudges of green greasepaint delightfully enhance the air of unreality into which Savoyards escape whenever the D'Oyly Carte troupe comes to town. But on the screen, when the close-ups zoom, those facial extravaganzas are a distraction. Take Ko-Ko: on the stage he's a pretty funny fellow; his capers, eye-rolling, music-hall mannerisms seems written into the part. But on the screen—well, Mr. Green does grow a bit tiresome; wasn't it during the Keystone days that comedians used to kick their heels before running?

But this isn't criticizing the picture, but the project; and that should be Universal's business, not ours. As a film edition of the most popular item in the G. & S. repertoire, it must be recognized as one of the most luscious productions of the operetta in history. Never were there such costumes or sets, never such colors—mother of pearl, dun, peach, orchid, all the pastel range. The voices are first rate, possibly excepting that of Jean Colin's Yum-Yum, and the microphone has the goodness to let us hear the lyrics instead of making us supply them from memory. Count those as assets, and the chorus work of the D'Oyly Cartes and the substitution of the London Symphony Orchestra for the usual eleven-man band in the pit. On the score of score, this "Mikado" ranks high.

Excerpt from Frank Nugent at the NY Times located HERE

Image :    NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.

Despite being Criterion I didn't have astronomic hopes for the image of the 1939 version of The Mikado via Blu-ray - but actually... I was quite overwhelmed by the appearance. Colors reminded me of a hand-woven Persian rug with soft vegetable dyes weaving their visual magic through a comforting, pillow-like, lens. In my opinion this looks magnificent. The image quality shows some less-sterling patches but this is only to be expected. Damage was virtually non-existent and I was charmed by the colors and thick appearance. This Blu-ray has a wonderfully supportive feel that I'll assume looks even better than it may have theatrically - over 70-years ago.  The Mikado is like a pastel dream and I will use this as a demo to my, more discerning, art-house friends.














Audio :

No surround boost going on here. The audio - with plenty of song numbers - is in an authentic linear PCM 1.0 channel mono track at 1152 kbps. It has its rough edges but worked very well with the lively video to create a sterling presentation. Lossless but obviously devoid of range or depth it nonetheless worked its charm on this reviewer. There are optional English subtitles and my Momitsu has identified it as being a region 'A'-locked.


Extras :

Extras provide new video interview with director Mike Leigh who dramatized Gilbert and Sullivan's creation of The Mikado in his award-winning 1999 film Topsy-Turvy, which required extensive research on the duo and the opera. In this 18-minute video interview, Leigh brings his unique perspective to the 1939 film version of the Opera. Also, recorded for the Criterion release are 1/2 hour with Mikado scholars Josephine Lee and Ralph MacPhail Jr. who have written extensively about the numerous stage and screen versions of The Mikado, going back to its debut in 1885. Here they discuss the history of the Opera and the 1929 film. Included are 3.5-minutes of the short silent film promoting the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company’s 1926 stage performance of The Mikado. It features several of D’Oyly Carte's most beloved performers, along with the costumes created for the production by celebrated designer Charles Ricketts. Several songs were cut or trimmed during The Mikado's journey from stage to screen and one of those was Ko-Ko’s “I’ve Got a Little List” song lasting just shy of 3-minutes. It was shot but deleted just before release - most likely removed due to its incorporation of controversial references to the current tensions in Europe (Hitler and Neville Chamberlain). It is presented here for the first time on home video. There are excerpts from 1939 radio broadcasts of the stage productions The Swing Mikado and The Hot Mikado (audio only) and a 16-page liner notes booklet featuring an essay by critic Geoffrey O’Brien.



Only Criterion could have created such a wonderful treat - and they are probably the only ones who would have given just appreciation for this film with their stellar transfer and educational extras. The Mikado has a true historic significance and those keen on that aspect will accrue the most appreciation from viewing the film. This is filled with life, love and humanity - certainly a cinema experience you don't get to indulge in every day. From that alone we give this Blu-ray a strong recommendation. Just brilliant.  

Gary Tooze

March 28th, 2011

About the Reviewer: Hello, fellow Beavers! I have been interested in film since I viewed a Chaplin festival on PBS when I was around 9 years old. I credit DVD with expanding my horizons to fill an almost ravenous desire to seek out new film experiences. I currently own approximately 9500 DVDs and have reviewed over 3500 myself. I appreciate my discussion Listserv for furthering my film education and inspiring me to continue running DVDBeaver. Plus a healthy thanks to those who donate and use our Amazon links.

Although I never wanted to become one of those guys who focused 'too much' on image and sound quality - I find HD is swiftly pushing me in that direction.

Gary's Home Theatre:

60-Inch Class (59.58” Diagonal) 1080p Pioneer KURO Plasma Flat Panel HDTV PDP6020-FD

Oppo Digital BDP-83 Universal Region FREE Blu-ray/SACD Player
Momitsu - BDP-899 Region FREE Blu-ray player
Marantz SA8001 Super Audio CD Player
Marantz SR7002 THX Select2 Surround Receiver
Tannoy DC6-T (fronts) + Energy (centre, rear, subwoofer) speakers (5.1)

APC AV 1.5 kVA H Type Power Conditioner 120V

Gary W. Tooze






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