Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 2, No. 8. May 31, 1939
"The Mikado" and "All Quiet"
Conceive an emasculated stage Mikado with an American crooner in the leading Pole, prefaced by an utterly unnecessary prologue, containing no contralto solos and no "little list" song, presented with lavish settings on a revolving stage, and you have an accurate picture of the film version of Gilbert and Sullivan's comic opera.
"The Mikado" was first produced at the Savoy Theater fifty-four years ago, and has remained one of the most popular of the series. Yet, despite its elegant tradition, despite Kenny Baker and the prologue, we are reluctantly forced to say that we enjoyed the film version more than the actual opera.
Gilbert and Soda.
The principals (except Kenny Baker) were excellent, and Koko's Gilbertian foolery was a Joy to behold. Though we missed seven good songs and heard half only of six others, the best were there, all beautifully sung in the traditional Savoy manner (except "The Flowers That Bloom in The Spring," in which Sullivan was incontinently murdered). The subtle dialogue was shortened only, and not "adapted," and it was interesting to watch how much of it was far above the intellectual capacity of the audience, which appreciated Koko but was a little doubtful about Pooh-Bah.
The London Symphony Orchestra, the D'Oyly Carte chorus, lavish and not too realistic settings, a pretty Yum-Yum, and a magnificent Katisha (whose left shoulder-blade wasn't mentioned), enhanced the illusion that we were really seeing a Gilbert and Sullivan opera.
But why Kenny Baker? If he could learn to sing the songs and speak the lines, he might in time become an acceptable G. and S. artist. Was it to make the film "sell" to the Great American Public? Or because he's got Japanesey eyes?
Thank God. anyway, that Hollywood didn't produce the show. Otherwise we might have seen Stan laurel as Koko. Oliver Hardy as Pooh-Bah, Joe. E. Brown us Pish-Tush, and Clark Gable as Nanki-Poo.
Unless, of course, the Marx Brothers and Bing Crosby were available....
Not so Quiet.
To some it may seem sacrilegious to couple "The Mikado" with "All Quiet on the Western Front." Yet "All Quiet" must be subjected to a similar revaluation to "The Mikado." Both shows had a definite aim and object when they were first produced; what is their value today? "The Mikado" succeeds today as entertainment pure and simple; is the lesson of "All Quiet" relevant now?
Since the rise of aggressive Fascism, with its first manifestation in 1931, absolute pacifists have been strangely uneasy. Being sensitive people, they cannot view with equanimity the plight of the Austrian, Spanish and Czechoslovakian peoples; being intelligent they look at Fascism with abhorrence; and being pacifists they shrink from taking military measures against the aggressors. They realize, quite rightly, that no war has ever brought about the ostensible objects for which it has been fought, that the conception of sovereign states is flagrantly immoral, that belligerence has no survival value either in a single organism or in a community, and that the theories of Hegel. Bosanquet, and Mussolini as to the nature of the relationship between the State and the individual are amoral and false. Thus there is dissension in the pacifist ranks in times of crisis. For instance, Mr. C. E. M. Joad, in his latest book, "Why War?" supports Chamberlain's attitude at Munich with arguments which he presents in a half-heated manner, and which he himself appears to admit are unconvincing.
And if the pacifist is a socialist, his intellectual difficulties are increased. He cannot be content with the present state of society; as no great reform has ever come about except by the use of force, he cannot expect to change society by purely pacifist means; if he succeeds in changing the society, he may provoke a world war. The awful example of Spain is before him.
So the message of "All Quiet" is not as effective as it was. When the picture was first released. It was sufficient to salve a person's intellectual conscience if he merely professed unqualified pacifism. Displaying the horrors of war was enough. Surely people would realise that Paul Baumer must [unclear: pt] be killed again.
But mankind has gone on buying cheap and selling dear, with the natural result that its desire for peace has had no effect at all on the forces making for war. How often must it be reiterated that "the individual may be a moral individual, the mechanism is entirely amoral and concretely materialistic"? The world will go on Joining the Oxford Group till the bombs begin to fall.
Why the Cuts?
The problem becomes from its very nature more complex through the years; "All Quiet" illuminates to-day only a small portion of that problem, but its light is dazzling.
It was interesting to note that several powerful scenes were cut—notably the scene with the dying Frenchman in the shell-hole; that Kat's remark about kicking someone in the backside was unspoken, that the audience laughed just as loudly in the wrong places and clapped when the British troops were first seen advancing over the battlefield, and that the eyes of the small boys going out of the theater still shone with the glory of it all.
The photography was surprisingly good; the interlude with the three French girls still strangely beautiful; and the final scene artistically powerful. And didn't the small boys love it!