A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

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.”

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September 19, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , ,

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