The G&S Operas on Film

The first G&S film footage was probably a 1926 promotional film of The Mikado that the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company made to publicize their London season. It was only four minutes long, and as the prints had to be hand-colored, it is doubtful that many copies were made, or that many people even saw it.

Movie musicals were a Hollywood staple in the 1930s, '40s and '50s, but the only G&S opera to reach the wide screen during that period was The Mikado in 1939. The film was made with full D'Oyly Carte cooperation and two D'Oyly Carte stars—Martyn Green and Sydney Granville—in leading roles. Indeed, it is doubtful any G&S movie could have been made without D'Oyly Carte assistance, since the Company still controlled the performing rights in Great Britain. The 1939 film was a moderate success, but no more like it were made.

Fast forward to 1953 and Hollywood's telling of the story of the G&S partnership, The Story of Gilbert and Sullivan, also known by the title The Great Gilbert and Sullivan. Though not historically accurate in all respects, the film certainly captures the spirit of what the G&S collaboration was all about. Few Savoyards can resist its charm. In 1999, Mike Leigh took a far more serious look at Gilbert & Sullivan's and their associates — foibles, failings, and all — in Topsy-Turvy.

The Cool Mikado, a very loose adaptation, was released in 1962. Though Gilbert and Sullivan's songs and lyrics were mostly retained, an entirely new plot was substituted that only vaguely resembled the original. I have not seen it, but most people who have say that it was awful.

Joseph Papp's Pirates sparked tremendous interest in the G&S operas in the 1980s. The production was extremely popular in the New York City parks, on Broadway, in London's West End, and on tour. Ironically, the movie version was a flop. Another film made at about the same time, The Pirate Movie was clearly inspired by the Papp phenomenon, although it was only loosely based on the G&S opera.

There have also been several animated G&S films. In 1967, the British filmmakers Halas and Batchelor made an hour-long animated version of Ruddigore, with D'Oyly Carte singers providing the voiceovers. Regrettably, it is not currently available on home video. In 1975, Ronald Searle made Dick Deadeye, or Duty Done, an original film with cartoon characters and songs drawn from G&S. Finally, there are two animated shorts, by Sheila Graber, "Modern Major-General" and "When I Went to the Bar," with voiceovers by John Reed.

(Prev. Page) More of the Historical Tour (Next Page)