Cool Mikado (The)
R2 - United Kingdom - Network/Strike Force Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Paul Lewis (7th July 2009).
The Film

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The Cool Mikado (Michael Winner, 1962) opens with a tongue-in-cheek declaration that the film has no relationship with Gilbert and Sullivan’s classic stage musical The Mikado: the film’s opening title card asserts that ‘Once upon a time Gilbert & Sullivan wrote the famous comic opera – The Mikado. Any resemblance between their creation and this film is completely accidental’. However, by all accounts the film’s producer Harold Baim rushed The Cool Mikado into production following the expiration of the copyright on Gilbert and Sullivan’s musical (see Winner, 2005: 80), and even to the most casual viewer it is obvious that the film is essentially a modernised adaptation of The Mikado, adopting both the narrative and some of the songs from Gilbert and Sullivan’s musical – including performances by the John Barry Seven.

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Opening on a aeroplane traveling from Tokyo, the film begins with the passengers on the plane expressing quiet disapproval at an American tourist’s (Charlie Hotfleisch, played by Stubby Kaye) loud recollections of his visit to Japan. Hotfliesch is seated next to a young couple; the male member of the couple, Hank Mikado (Kevin Scott), tells Hotfleisch of his romance with Yum-Yum (Jill Mai Meredith), an art student in Tokyo. The rest of the film tells the story of Hank’s affair with Yum-Yum; the narrative unfolds via a series of analepses, narrated by Hank Mikado. The other passengers on the aeroplane take the roles of the characters in Hank’s reflections. Hank explains how his relationship with Yum-Yum was complicated by her engagement to the American gangster Ko-Ko Flintridge (Frankie Howerd), and by the fact that Hank’s father, a judge, had sent Ko-Ko’s brother to prison. The stage is set for conflict between Hank and Ko-Ko, both of them vying for the affections of Yum-Yum.

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Until the early 1960s, Winner had mostly directed ‘B’ features and shorts, including ‘nudie cuties’ such as Some Like It Cool (1961); the majority of these were made for the notorious ‘quota quickie’ producer Harold Baim. The Cool Mikado was Michael Winner’s second full-length narrative feature, following the Billy Fury vehicle Play It Cool (1962). Both films were very much of their time, displaying an exploitative preoccupation with ‘swinging’ youth culture: The Cool Mikado offers plenty of eye candy, in the form of leering shots of the bikini-clad Jill Mai Meredith and the vampish Katie Shaw. The film adopts Gilbert and Sullivan’s musical and places it firmly in the context of the early-1960s exploitation picture. However, The Cool Mikado would mark the end of this first stage of Winner’s career: Winner’s next feature film, West 11 (1963), was a huge change of pace. An attempt to tap into the then-popular trend for social realist dramas, West 11 marked Winner’s attempt to step out of the parameters of exploitation filmmaking, a move signaled through Winner’s creation of his own production company, Scimitar Films. Through Scimitar, Winner would produce his next few films, including The System (1964), which in his autobiography Winner refers to as ‘the film that was to change my entire life’, and I’ll Never Forget What’s‘is Name (1967) (Winner, 2005: 90). Many of Winner’s 1970s American films, including Lawman (1971) and Chato’s Land (1972), were also produced through Scimitar.

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The Cool Mikado stars Frankie Howerd as Ko-Ko, with Howerd’s fellow comedian Tommy Cooper performing in a small role as the solicitor Pooh-Bah. In 1960, Howerd had been ‘outed’ by the tabloids, and in Winner’s autobiography the director notes that due to press revelations of Howerd’s homosexuality the comedian was, for a period of time, ‘unemployable’ (ibid.: 81). However, Winner managed to secure Howerd’s involvement in the film due to the American backers’ (United Artists) lack of awareness of the controversy that had sprung up around Howerd’s private life; this gave Howerd’s career a new lease of life (ibid.). However, despite this The Cool Mikado was the object of Howerd’s derision: Howerd once asserted that, ‘I can say without equivocation that not only was it the worst film ever made but the only production in show business that I’m positively ashamed of having appeared in’ (quoted in Donnelly, 2003: 347).

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The Cool Mikado was shot in four weeks. However, half-way through the shoot, the production ran out of money: the producer, Harold Baim, had budgeted the film at no more than £40,000, almost half the cost of Winner’s first full-length feature Play It Cool (ibid.). The majority of the film was shot at Shepperton Studios, and Winner had originally intended (via the use of blue screen) to overlay footage shot in Japan by a second unit. However, due to a lack of funds the footage shot in Japan was not superimposed on the blue screen footage, and thus there are moments in the film where it is clear that the sound stage sets are surrounded by a blue screen (ibid.). (The ‘travelogue’ footage shot in Japan is mostly relegated to the film’s opening sequence.) This, combined with the cheaply-produced sets, ensures that the film displays all the characteristics of the ‘quota quickies’ that Baim and Winner had for the most part been associated with.

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The Cool Mikado is a cheaply-produced ‘quickie’, wholly rough around the edges and the object of Frankie Howerd’s derision. However, despite being almost universally regarded as a misfire, there’s a certain camp charm to be had from this particular picture; like many exploitation pictures, the film can easily be the object of a somewhat ironic appreciation.

Video

The film is presented in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Considering its age and its status as a British production, the film was most likely shot with the intention of being exhibited at 1.66:1, possibly with the use of a hard-matte. The aspect ratio of this presentation is no doubt not representative of its original theatrical aspect ratio.

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Aside from this, the film is not in great shape: the source print is worn and exhibits fairly heavy wear and tear. However, considering its relative absence from home video and the film’s status as a low-budget ‘quickie’, this is to be expected.

Audio

Audio is presented via a two-channel mono track; this is clear and dialogue is always audible. There are no subtitles.

Extras

This release contains two vintage shorts directed by Michael Winner:
- ’Girls, Girls, Girls!’ (1961) (28:48). Accompanied by a voiceover from an unidentified male narrator, this exploitative short film follows the adventures of three young women who have moved to London: Sandra, Primrose and Tanya. The camera follows the young women as they participate in their day-to-day activities, leering at Sandra’s bum as she attends dance classes and taking other opportunities to show these attractive women in various situations.
- ’It’s Magic’ (1962) (29:21). Once again accompanied by the ruminations of a male narrator, this film follows the work of a magician; however, the film’s focus is largely on the magician’s relationship with women, offering Winner plenty of opportunities to show shots of attractive young women in bikinis and swimsuits or for the narrator to make suggestive comments about both the magician’s female admirers and his female assistants.
The disc also includes a gallery (00:43) of promotional stills.

Overall

One of Network’s first releases on their new sub-label Strike Force Entertainment, The Cool Mikado is by no means a classic. It’s a cheaply-produced ‘quickie’, wholly rough around the edges and the object of Frankie Howerd’s derision. However, despite being almost universally regarded as a misfire, there’s a certain camp charm to be had from this particular picture; like many exploitation pictures, the film can easily be the object of a somewhat ironic appreciation. Regardless of what one thinks of Winner’s controversial American films, which have acquired a cult status (although I happen to think his two Westerns, Lawman and Chato’s Land, are among the best American films of the 1970s), The Cool Mikado is nevertheless a big step below Winner’s more universally-praised ‘mature’ British pictures.

References
Donnelly, Paul, 2003: Fade to Black: A Book of Movie Obituaries. London: Music Sales Group

Winner, Michael, 2005: Winner Takes All: A Life of Sorts. London: Robson

For more information, please visit the homepage of Network DVD.

The Film: Video: Audio: Extras: Overall:

 


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