Monday, February 29, 2016

Movie Review: The Pirates of Penzance (1983)

The Pirates of Penzance (1983) co-written and directed by Wilford Leach

Young man Frederick (Rex Smith) is finally 21 and free from his indentures to a band of lackluster pirates. His nurse Ruth (Angela Lansbury) was supposed to apprentice him to a pilot but because she can't hear well she signed him up for the pirate gig. She's been on the boat with him and wants to return to civilization with him. The pirates are happy to send her along though Frederick is unsure if she is the best woman for him. He's been at sea since he was eight and hasn't seen any other girls. They give him reassurances of her middle-aged worthiness that he accepts at face value. Before he leaves, he has bad news for the pirates. He likes them but thinks they are too soft-hearted--never attacking a weaker party (so they always get beaten) and sparing orphans (word has got around, so everyone claims to be an orphan when the Pirates of Penzance attack). He wants to reform his ways which means he will have to take arms against them in his new, civilized life.

On shore, Frederick discovers the beautiful daughters of Major General Stanley. He sends Ruth packing and tries to woo them. One daughter, Mabel, is interested. Before they can settle things, the pirates arrive and plan to wed the ladies against their wills. The Major General shows up, claims he's an orphan (which is really a fib), and gets them out of trouble. But more trouble is brewing in the second half when Frederick's plan to lead the local police against the pirates is derailed when Ruth reveals that he was born on one of those rare February 29ths, and thus has not yet reached his 21st birthday. Being the slave of duty, Frederick returns to the pirates side and leaves the locals to fend for themselves.

Being a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, the ridiculous plot is a nice excuse for some delightful songs (Poor Wandering One and I Am the Model of a Modern Major General among the best) and fun comedy. The actors do a fine job with the singing and the acting. The sets are very stage-like, surprisingly so. For a theatrical production, they'd be great but they look a bit cheap as movie sets. Much of the choreography looks as if it was just ported over from the stage production and doesn't take advantage of the opportunities a movie production can provide. Even so, it's still a fun production and a great introduction to Gilbert and Sullivan for novices.

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