The Return of Gilbert and Sullivan (Film, 1950)

W. S. GilbertMelville Cooper
Arthur Sullivan   Tudor Owen

Music by Scatman Crothers and The Sportsmen
Other performers include:
Billy Gray, Dee Turnwill, Mara Lynn,
Pat Hogan, Joe Graves

Producer: Irving Allen
Directors: Irving Allen and Sid Kuller
Screenplay and Lyrics: Sid Kuller
Distributed by Lippert Pictures

Report by J. Donald Smith

Knowledge of this unknown G&S picture first came my way when I was offered a poster by a movie memorabilia dealer. Since the film was unknown, I was initially skeptical, but bought the poster anyway. The film does (or did) really exist! Considerable digging, including a visit to the library of the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences, has yielded the following meager information:

The film is listed in the appendix to The Motion Picture Guide — 1927-1984, by Jay Robert Nash and Stanley Ralph Ross (Cinebooks, Inc., Chicago, 1987). The appendix is for films which had very limited distribution or may have been pulled even before being released.

Squibs in The New York Times (July 2, 1950 and July 30, 1950), Variety (June 26, 1950) and Quick (September 4, 1950) report the filming of The Return of Gilbert and Sullivan, a short subject (35 minutes) whose theme was the return to earth of Gilbert and Sullivan to protest the jazz treatment [i.e. "The Hot Mikado"] of their work. Some original lyrics as well as rewritten material ("I am the very model of a Freudian Psychiatrist" and "They Call Her Poor Butter-Up") accompanied selections from Pinafore, The Mikado, Iolanthe, The Pirates of Penzance and Trial by Jury. The film was done as a fantasy using painted canvas sets (as in a theater) and was shot in two days time! (According to one of my sources, this quick-and-dirty approach was typical of Allen, who was not particularly successful as a motion picture producer but became very successful when he subsequently went into television.)

Later articles in Variety (May 2, 1952) and another paper (whose name is indecipherable in the records — April 8, 1952) report that Lippert Pictures had acquired the distribution rights to the picture. The book on the history of Lippert Pictures has no mention of the film, but the company admits that its records of its early distributions (this film was its first!), particularly of short subjects, are incomplete. The motion picture copyright catalog indicates that the copyright was never renewed, so it is now in the public domain — assuming anyone could find a copy!

The Academy has no reports of reviews, and the film seems to have disappeared without a trace. There are only two subsequent mentions of the film. There is a brief reference to it in the biography of Scatman Crothers (Scatman: An Authorized Biography, Jim Haskins with Helen Crothers, William Morrow & Co., NY 1991) The other mention of the film occurs in the obituary of Sid Kuller, the writer and co-director (Variety, September 29, 1993), in which the film is credited with having won a jury award at Cannes. (No such record is in any report of the Cannes Film Festival which I have been able to find.)

The film was made in England (Allen was known to have worked exclusively in England during this period; the performers, with the exception of Scatman Crothers, were all British.) Reference is made to the expiration of the copyrights of the Gilbert and Sullivan works. Since it was only the Sullivan copyright which had expired in 1950, not the Gilbert one, was the release blocked by the Gilbert copyright holders? Would the copyright have mattered if the film were only for American release? What happened to it?

If anyone can add to our sketchy knowledge of this film, such information would be much appreciated.

Lobby Card
This is a lobby card. J. Donald Smith reports that he has four different lobby cards for this film, and he knows of a fifth. He suspects that there were as many as eight lobby card designs printed.

[Richard Simonton added that he has original lobby cards for this film. It shows "two stuffy Englishmen wide-eyed at the sight of jazz dancers." The existence of these cards suggests that the film had a theatrical release, however brief.

These do not seem to bear any relation to the poster shown above, which I downloaded from an Ebay auction item. —ed.]