A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 203- The Pirates of Penzance (1983)

The Pirates of Penzance (1983) – September 19th, 2010

Working, as I did, in a video store while I was in college, I was frequently asked by my friends to grab a movie to watch in the dorm. I got free rentals and we had a decent collection of movies at the store, so why not, right? I’m fairly sure this was one of the movie I was once asked to grab. I’d never seen it before and I’m not a Gilbert and Sullivan afficionado. I had friends who were though, and who told me I had to see this. And why did I have to see this?

Kevin Kline in thigh high boots.

Those five words right there were enough to make me want to see it and they’re enough to make me want to own it. Kevin Kline dancing in thigh high leather boots. Because, you see, he is a pirate king. Can that be my review right there? It’s what makes the most impression on me. Sure, the tunes are catchy and there’s the classic Modern Major General bit that everyone knows, but seriously. Kevin Kline. Dancing. Leather thigh high boots.

We bought this specifically for today, what with it being Talk Like a Pirate Day, even though there’s more singing than talking like a pirate. Maybe there should be a Sing Like a Pirate Day. We could all wear tall boots and pretend to be Kevin Kline. Maybe I’m obsessing over the boots and all to ignore my immediate criticisms, which aren’t of this particular production but of the script itself, which involves the pirate crew kidnapping Mabel’s sisters and the ladies themselves shrieking ineffectively. It’s icky, but not entirely unexpected, given the period it’s from. I don’t really expect the women of the story to have a whole lot of control over their lives. But then, apparently thanks to some bowlers and brollies, the ladies decide the pirates are really gentlemen who’ve gone astray (me, I’d say a bowler and a brolly are the mark of a spy) and want to marry them after all.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Forgive me. It’s the boots. They do things to me (but Kline’s the only one with boots like that, so it wasn’t the boots that won over the ladies). This is an early 1980s production of the Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera. The basic plot follows the adventures of young Frederic, a man who’s been apprenticed to a group of pirates until his 21st birthday. But he doesn’t want to be a pirate, so he takes off now that his apprenticeship is apparently over. Upon meeting a group of innocent young women, he convinced one, Mabel, to marry him. The pirates attack and try to kidnap the women and marry them (against the young women’s wills), their father lies to the pirates to save them, and then feels guilty about lying. Then it turns out that Frederic was born on February 29th in a leap year and therefore has only had five birthdays so far. So thanks to Frederic’s ridiculous sense of duty and the Major General’s guilt over lying (even if it did keep his daughters from being kidnapped by pirates), there’s all sorts of shenanigans wherein Frederic, the pirates, the daughters, the police, the Major General, the Pirate King, Mabel and Frederic’s old nurse, Ruth, all dance and sing about duty and love and to be honest, I kind of lost track. I was watching the boots.

By the end of the show, the pirates are all repenting their ways, ostensibly because they love Queen Victoria so much, and the young ladies all want to marry them and everyone will live happily ever after, the end. It’s all so over the top and full of parody and bombast and ridiculousness. I could do without ridiculous depictions of forced marriage, but like I said. Time period. This particular version of the opera is a film version of a Broadway production of the show and apparently was released both to movie theaters and subscription TV (think pay-per-view or OnDemand but in the early 80s) at the same time. Odd choice for an odd movie, which is very much a stage show on film. The sets are all very confined and obvious, the dance numbers are done as if on a stage. There doesn’t seem to have been much effort made to adapt the Broadway show to a screen, as if the people making it wanted to bring a Broadway production into the homes and theaters of the rest of the country without just filming a Broadway performance. But to be honest, I don’t really mind. There’s something about the show that seems to lend itself to this sort of production and it suits it.

I’m not really all that big on this sort of movie, as one might guess. It’s fun in parts, and I enjoyed a good deal of it, but there were definitely songs I just tuned out on. Well sung, well performed on stage, and I’m sure they’re well written too. It’s a well known title by Gilbert and Sullivan, so obviously people like it. I’m just not throwing myself into it completely. Maybe it’s the marriage thing. Maybe it’s that I’m just not interested in some of the songs. Maybe it’s that while I like the concept behind the paradox song, it’s not a fucking paradox. It’s like if Alanis Morissette wrote a song about what a paradox is, by which I mean it’s a song about something amusingly annoying, but it isn’t what they call it. I don’t know.

Despite all that, and despite the not talking like pirates (maybe they are spies after all!), I had fun watching this tonight. It’s not my favorite movie in the world, but it does have some very funny moments. I think it’s just not to my particular tastes, whereas some people absolutely love Gilbert and Sullivan. I can’t argue with not sharing the same opinion with everyone, and I do admire the craft of making a show like this. I applaud the performances of Rex Smith, Angela Lansbury, Linda Ronstadt and George Rose. I’m not sure what the point of having the British cast dubbed over by the Broadway cast was and I kind of wish they hadn’t so I’d be more clear who sang and who didn’t. Nevertheless, I don’t fault any of the on-screen performances or the vocal performances, even if they were split in places. But mostly I applaud Kevin Kline. Because he is a pirate king.

September 19, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Pirates of Penzance (1983)

September 19, 2010

The Prates of Penzance (1983)

As every denizen of the internets knows today, September 19, is annual “talk like a pirate day.” So we were honor-bound to find a Pirate movie to mark the occasion. Since we had already viewed all of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies quite early in the project we turned instead to this 1983 movie of a Broadway production of the classic Gilbert and Sullivan operetta The Pirates of Penzance. As my wife pointed out before we put the movie in nobody seems to actually speak as a pirate ought to but still it does have pirates of some sort in it.

Naturally I’ve seen this before. Indeed I’ve seen other productions live on stage as well. Gilbert and Sullivan are very much a part of the culture of high-school and college theater. It’s probably a combination of the general charm and fun of the music and the preposterous lyrics, and the fact that they’re in the public domain now so a school doesn’t have to pay anybody to put on a production. Indeed so well known are the tunes in this movie that they have even made their way into such unlikely places as popular video games and such.

This is a very strange production. I mentioned in my review for the movie of the musical version of The Producers that it had very much the feeling of a Broadway production brought to the screen with a larger budget, but this movie is that concept taken in a much more literal manner. It’s as thought they took the stage play and removed the audience. The sets throughout the movie are very clearly sets. They wrap around and can be shot from any angle, but they don’t make any attempt to look real. They are filled with things like man-made water features, cloth flowers and fake plants. It’s as if the action has been transported to another world where everything looks like a stage prop.

The action is staged in an extremely over-the-top way, which would probably have read well from a distant theater seat but which seems almost insane from the intimate point of view of a close up movie camera. I strongly suspect that a great deal of the more slapstick physical humor came directly from the Broadway production. Particularly the antics of the keystone-cop inspired constables. It’s kind of interesting to see how a stage performance looks when it’s not toned down in any way for the big screen.

Amanda will tell you that we bought this movie primarily for Kevin Kline’s performance as the Pirate King, and she’s mostly right. He’s a joy to watch as he leaps and dances about – absolutely commanding the screen and stealing every scene. I pointed out to Amanda as we watched that he was playing the Pirate King as a Toblarone, which you will understand if you have seen the MST3K episode “Escape 2000.” He’s boisterous, bare chested, and full of rambunctious joy at every turn of events.

His is not the only great performance in the movie though. George Rose is wonderful as the upper-class-twit-of-the-year Major General Stanley. Angela Lansbury, who will forever and always be the confused witch from Bedknobs and Broomsticks for me, is fun as Ruth. And the clowning and capering of Tony Azito as the Sergent of the Constables is quite adept and fun to watch as well. I’ve heard some complain about Linda Ronstadt’s performance as Mabel, but I think it’s well enough done, it’s just a fairly shallow part to play with a lot of vocal flourishes that remind me somewhat of Mozart’s Magic Flute. (I would not be surprised if that was part of the inspiration – it seems to me that the operas of Gilbert and Sullivan are full of references to other works.)

Altogether it’s a pleasantly madcap way to spend a couple hours. The musical is full of farce and the movie takes that mood and runs with it. By the time you reach the climax, where the pirates and constables burst in on an amateur performance of the HMS Pinafore you’ve seen more silliness than in most movie musicals. If I have one complaint it’s that many times the lip sync to the singing is not perfect, (perhaps because some of the singing performances are not done by the actors on the screen) but I’m able to suspend my disbelief on so many other levels that this seems like nit-picking. I had fun watching this tonight and will doubtless have fun watching it again sometime in the future. “Arrrr.”

September 19, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment