Reviews for The Pirates of Penzance ( 1983 ) 720p

Kevin Kline was born to wear thigh high boots and a puffy sleeved shirt.

By: lemon_magic
I saw the movie version of "Pirates Of Penzance" again six years after my first viewing;I have to admit it wasn't quite as good as I remembered. The movie can't seem to build any momentum for the first few numbers until the Major General shows up. It falters again for several minutes while Kline, Stevens, and Lansbury struggle gamely with the "Leap Year" birthday number (it just isn't all that funny,guys); and the gimmick of staging the big fight between the cops and the pirates through an community theater staging of "HMS Pinafore" is way too cutesy and self-referential. A few of the "patter songs" have a bit of obvious filler, too (although a first time viewer might not notice this among all the clever word play).

But man, that scene where the pirates are parading through the commons singing "WITH CAT-LIKE TREAD, WE HARDLY MAKE A SOUND" at the top of their lungs...it makes me forgive the movie any of its obvious flaws. Kevin Kline was born to play the "Pirate King" and the movie is worth watching for his (and the Major General's) performance alone. Everyone else is good-to-great... there's not a flat tire or a bad performance in the bunch. Linda Ronstadt's abilities were a surprise to me; even though I am sure she got some "assistance" via dubbing and clever arrangements that hid her weak spots as a singer, she still made a smashing Mabel. And Gilbert and Sullivan's frothy, feather-light operettas still provide easy enjoyment for a modern audience who want light, clever comedy and pretty, accessible songs.

Still very good stuff, though not quite as good as I remembered. That's probably because I played a whole lot of pit orchestras in the intervening years and became a bit jaded.

A young man apprenticed to a pirate must decide between duty to his apprenticeship and duty to his conscience. Falling in love with a beautiful maiden clouds his decision.

By: kgrimes-6
What a delightful combination of classic musical comedy with fine performances. This film version of the Broadway production proves that Linda Ronstadt can do almost anything musically. (I wish she'd do more Gilbert and Sullivan.) While Kevin Kline is not a favorite, Rex Smith is charming. Angela Lansbury plays a role very different from Jessica Fletcher and shows great understanding of British musical comedy.

While it is enough just to enjoy the film, the viewer might also want to think about the commentary on duty, the pull between the ethics of obedience to duty and the morality of obedience to conscience.

A much lighter version of this material is available in The Pirate Movie, starring Kristy McNichol. Mad About You, with Helen Hunt and Paul Reiser, used the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta as the basis for a delightful episode, and certainly the naming of Jamie and Paul's daughter Mabel was a nod to the play.

Take Heart .... Take Mine

By: mstomaso
I fell in love with Linda Ronstadt the first time I saw this film in 1983. I also fell in love with Angela Lansbury and, perhaps even Kevin Kline.

This fantastical, comedic, interpretation of the wonderful Gilbert and Sullivan musical updates the music, the humor, and performance, while actually enhancing the theatrical quality of the original play and leaving the plot, characters, and script largely intact.

The film feels like an exciting, quite silly, and very fun play seen from the best possible angles on an elaborate but very stagy set. The actors intentionally overact - as if their most subtle movements must be seen by an audience in a three story balcony. The music is also somewhat overblown, but absolutely wonderful. Did I mention Linda Ronstadt? Her vocal performance is frankly unbelievable! She might not be much of an actress, but acting talent was really not required for the role of Maybelle.

The story is about Frederick (Rex Smith), a young man who has just left his indenture under the flamboyant, somewhat unsuccessful and soft-hearted 'Pirate King' (Kline) and his band of fairly inoffensive ruffians. Vowing to slay his beloved friend to atone for the sins he probably did not commit during his indenture, Frederick leaves his doomed friends and comes ashore, only to fall immediately in love with Maybelle, but the pirates are only a few steps behind him.

The entire story is told with very minimal dialog and a lot of great music, slapstick, and camp. The voices are cast perfectly, and Kline's physical performance is nothing short of amazing.

What can I say? I've just watched 'Pirates' again after a hiatus of about 18 years, and the old magic came back immediately. I love this film, and heartily recommend it to all. Not everybody will feel as I do, but I can't even attempt objectivity in reviewing this film.

Enjoy!

Best/funniest movie of all time

By: mammabrock
I agree with bariman171, I saw this rendition of Pirates of Penzance at the young age of 4. I fell in love with it at the first viewing and it continues to be my favorite movie at the age of 28. This movie was my first introduction to Kevin Kline and he remains favorite actor.

Even though this is a total spoof on the original opera (which I also find wonderful) I took it very seriously at the age of 4. This movie got me through many sick days at home from school. This movie to me is 'comfort food' and I recommend it to anyone with a sense of humor. My son is only four months old and he already enjoys the soundtrack that is on my ipod, he even sings along.

Nice Starter Kit

By: miknnik
If you don't know anything about The Pirates of Penzance by Gilbert & Sullivan and are hesitant to watch it because of the "classic" and "operetta" labeling, please let me clarify a few things. First of all, The Pirates is not your typical opera--a traditional opera consists of singing and recitatives (G&S call them 'chants' in the Pirates libretto). This operetta is more like a hybrid of an opera and a singspiel, which is more audience-friendly and has singing and regular dialogs as you find in The Magic Flute. And the movie version of the Pirates has a lot of Broadway flavor to it. Better still, since the Pirates libretto is in English, you can easily follow the story without the subtitles. And if you think this is only an old, stuffy story penned by a couple of prim and proper Brits in the late 19th century, you are sadly--or, in this case, hilariously--mistaken.

The Pirates has some of the zaniest characters who keep you howling with laughter. These pirates are too tenderhearted to prey on the weak and get maudlin when they meet an orphan, real or alleged. The Major-General tells you he knows so much about almost everything imaginable, and yet, he's generally clueless as to his surroundings. The policemen are a bunch of scaredy cats, or a pride of cowardly lions, who may faint with fright if you say "boo!" Yes, the entire premise is absurd, but the Joseph Papp production takes this absurdity to a higher level.

Pirate King a la Joseph Papp looks great on the outside: tall, dark and handsome with a rakish mustache; agile and athletic. Too bad that he has the attention span and dexterity of a hyperactive preschooler. You don't want to let him loose with a pair of scissors, let alone with a sword. Pretty Mabel is in love with young Frederick--and her own voice. Once she starts singing, even Frederick, an apprentice pirate, becomes a second fiddle. The cops may lack in courage and confidence facing criminals, but they sure can dance up a storm and rival Ziegfeld girls. And, in the With Cat-like Tread number, the producer hammers the glaring (in the Pirates, nothing is subtle) discrepancy between the libretto and the music with the sound of a cannon at the end, in the 1812 overture fashion.

Yes, I get a real kick out of watching this movie. So, you may ask why I give it only 7.5 out of 10. One of the reasons is that someone in the production decided to pare down some of the songs. Let's see, they took out some parts of I Am The Very Model of A Modern Major General, Oh Men of Dark and Dismal Fate (Orphan Boy song), Paradox song, to name a few. A short chorus by the pirates, We Triumph Now, is totally eliminated. Pray Observe the Magnanimity, which is the last chorus of Act I, is moved up and out of place, and the last scene with Ruth (Frederick's former nursery maid) at the end of Act I is gone. Hello? The Pirates is an operetta. Feel free to add more songs and scenes (which they did), but please don't take out the songs that are in the original libretto. Another reason for demerit is that the movie lacks spontaneity and raw energy of a live performance. Stage veterans like George Rose (Major General), Kevin Kline (Pirate King), Tony Azito (Police Sergeant) feed on the audience's laughter, and their characters truly come alive on-stage.

Some people don't like the recording of the live performance (also produced by Joseph Papp) at Delacorte Theater in New York on DVD, and I can see why. The sound quality is uneven, the camera work is erratic. There are many what-were-they-thinking moments--like a shot of George Rose, where he sings his solo number and you see the dancing feet (and the feet only) of the policemen in the background. But the problem of the DVD version is purely technical, in the audio/visual department. As far as the acting goes, it is exhilarating and dazzling. If you have seen the movie and know it forward and backward but haven't seen this live performance, you don't know what you're missing. Compared to the boisterous rendition of With Cat-like Tread on-stage, the same scene in the movie looks well-choreographed but flat. The DVD version is faithful to the original script almost to a T--it has all the songs G&S wrote for the Pirates and some extra ones (which you also find in the movie).

In my opinion, the movie and the theater versions of the Pirates are companion pieces; one makes up for the other's deficiencies. But, if you haven't seen either one, I recommend the movie first because of the aforementioned problems of the DVD. Think of it as a starter kit. If you like the movie, I guarantee you, you're gonna LOVE the theater version.

Good Show, Good Show!

By: bariman171
I first saw this incarnation of Gilbert and Sullivan's "Pirates of Penzance" at the age of 10, but just recently saw it again when my school decided to perform it for our annual spring musical. At the age of 18, I expected that I would find it immature after having liked it at 10. Needless to say, I was wrong. This is a wonderful adaptation of a great operetta, and becomes even better with the experience of performing it.

Fans of Kevin Kline rejoice! He plays the perfect "Pirate King," the silly leader of a band of pirates who seem to be completely incompetent, if only at piracy. He delivers his lines with precision and, along with David Hatton (Samuel), adds a much needed low bass-baritone to Rex Smith(Frederic) and the rest of the pirates' tenor in the pirate tunes.

The late Tony Azito(Police Sergeant)'s performance is literally unbelievable, as he looks more like a man made out of rubber rather than flesh and bone.

I would recommend this to anyone, especially die hard Gilbert and Sullivan fans.

A great film, but beware!

By: cspschofield
Gilbert and Sullivan titles, like Shakespeare, are far too easy to do badly. They can fall into 'traditional' ruts that rapidly drain all the life out of them. This is why THIS Pirates of Penzance is such a treat. The production team obviously recognized that the whole story is absurd, and so they had fun with it. They took their work seriously, but not (the kiss of death) pompously. The result is wonderful.

HOWEVER: be warned that there IS a DVD of Pirates of Penzance with ALMOST the same cast. It was filmed/taped on Broadway as part of an archival project while the production that inspired the movie was on stage. IT IS SIMPLY AWFUL!

It may well serve its original purpose as a reference for professionals, but the camera work is so bad as to be almost unwatchable. It totally spoils what looks like it may well have been a charming production - at least I assume it was; it inspired a wonderful film, but you just can't tell from the DVD.

a mega hit in Oz

By: ptb-8
God knows what affected the nation's sense of humor and sensibility here in Australia, but this production was a gigantic hit in 1983 and this film played for months on end breaking records in cinemas across Australia. Middle aged women went to see it dozens of times and it became the auntie and nieces repeat movie visit of the year. And 1983 was a terrible year for Oz cinemas with a video boom happening. PIRATES even was remade here with Kristy Mc Nichol and Christopher Atkins, such was the fever! and on top of that it was revived on stage and toured Nationwide at least 3 times into the 90s. Then of course we went on to make PRISCILLA and MURIEL and STRICTLY BALLROOM and all the rest of the musical campery Oz is known for. Women could just not get enough of Rex Smith and Kevin Kline. They just went crazy. Such is Australia.

A fabulous G&S production

By: pam-120
The four main characters in the movie, Frederic (Rex Smith), Mabel (Linda Rondstadt), The Pirate King (Kevin Kline) and Ruth (Angela Lansbury) make this Gilbert and Sullivan production come alive with modern enthusiasm and a clever contemporary feel. It has been said that you either "get" Gilbert and Sullivan or you don't. This movie helps us "get it." It appeals to the youngest and the oldest of viewers, and everyone in between. This Joe Papp version is a very hip presentation, with sexy characters and rock stars who can sing the tough vocal music with the best of them. Children will be giggling through the romps and singing the tunes at dinner. Productions like these will make Gilbert and Sullivan live on through generations, and much like Shakespeare, the productions will change but never get old.

Gilbert and Sullivan still have a strong and legitimate appeal

By: L. Denis Brown
History records that Gilbert and Sullivan were personally often at odds when producing their great comic operettas - no doubt that, if they are still monitoring this, they are surprised to find both their humour and their music - despite its limitations in both time and location - still has a great appeal to audiences throughout much of the world. The music of course is timeless, but music too evolves and many people today have no appreciation of the types of lyrics which G & S exploited so shamelessly. Perhaps the remarkable thing is the wide and continuing appeal of so many of their works. This film is a movie version of a 100th anniversary Broadway stage production of this operetta in New York. A review of previous comments show, not unexpectedly, that it has been adored by numerous G. & S. fans; but that its appeal to those who are not in this category is much more limited. They also make it clear that this is a very fine production; and it would be a serious omission if I did not re-emphasise it is almost a classical example of the way in which a major stage production should be presented on film, both to retain the best of the original production and to as fully as possible exploit the more fluid form of presentation that is possible on the screen.

To your reviewer who reports fears about wearing out her taped version, I would recommend doing what I have done and converting this to a VCD disk that she can play, almost for ever, on her DVD player. It is, I believe, a great film; and my wife and I have also viewed it repeatedly whenever we have been a little "blue", we never fail to feel cheered up afterwards. However we recognise that most members of the contemporary generation would not respond in this way, and that our appreciation will not even be understood by them. We remain thankful that minority tastes can still be satisfied without infringing on the perogatives of the majority, and that in the process of doing so the film will be seen by many who initially have little sympathy with the production, but who find that - as with so many of us in the older generation - they have come to appreciate both its music and its humour.

Gilbert and Sullivan still have a strong and legitimate appeal

By: bbhlthph
History records that Gilbert and Sullivan were personally often at odds when producing their great comic operettas - no doubt that, if they are still monitoring this, they are surprised to find both their humour and their music - despite its limitations in both time and location - still has a great appeal to audiences throughout much of the world. The music of course is timeless, but music too evolves and many people today have no appreciation of the types of lyrics which G & S exploited so shamelessly. Perhaps the remarkable thing is the wide and continuing appeal of so many of their works. This film is a movie version of a 100th anniversary Broadway stage production of this operetta in New York. A review of previous comments show, not unexpectedly, that it has been adored by numerous G. & S. fans; but that its appeal to those who are not in this category is much more limited. They also make it clear that this is a very fine production; and it would be a serious omission if I did not re-emphasise it is almost a classical example of the way in which a major stage production should be presented on film, both to retain the best of the original production and to as fully as possible exploit the more fluid form of presentation that is possible on the screen.

To your reviewer who reports fears about wearing out her taped version, I would recommend doing what I have done and converting this to a VCD disk that she can play, almost for ever, on her DVD player. It is, I believe, a great film; and my wife and I have also viewed it repeatedly whenever we have been a little "blue", we never fail to feel cheered up afterwards. However we recognise that most members of the contemporary generation would not respond in this way, and that our appreciation will not even be understood by them. We remain thankful that minority tastes can still be satisfied without infringing on the perogatives of the majority, and that in the process of doing so the film will be seen by many who initially have little sympathy with the production, but who find that - as with so many of us in the older generation - they have come to appreciate both its music and its humour.

Worthy staging of G&S's best operetta

By: backseat-2
I recently had the task, for a organization's class, to assemble various performances of the Gilbert & Sullivan operetta "The Pirates of Penzance". This has always been my favorite G&S work, and I have heard many live performances, plus I have played the Pirate King in a revue type staging of the work.

I recall seeing the Kevin Kline version many years ago, and did not recall the details. Obtaining a copy to view for my project, I was very impressed with the wit and overall quality of the performances. There are a few small issues, such as the fudging of Linda Ronstadt's and Rex Smith's vocal parts (It is clear, whenever Smith sings, that lots of electronic enhancement is being used to bring his voice into the same universe with the other more capable singers, but still he has right delivery and it works well; for Ronstadt, she does very well, but for "Poor Wandering One" her part has been transposed down a bit, probably so that she can manage the highest notes), and the overdubbing of a couple other performer's singing by better singers, but overall the dancing and singing is as good as any I have seen.

The staging is deliberately campy, somewhere between traditional stagecraft and a movie set, and it adds extra charm to the proceedings. There has been some carping about Angela Lansbury's singing, but what she does is in line with the requirements of the role, and is in fact typical of other performances of Ruth's character (I recall the director, during casting of the performance I was in, saying of Ruth, "we don't need a GOOD singer, only a FUNNY singer).

A quick review of the offerings of Pirates on Amazon reveals that the only DVD version of this cast is taken from an outdoor staging in New York (and without Lansbury). It is one of the mysteries of DVD releases that the film version does not exist on on DVD; it certainly one of the best.

great players all....

By: trevillian
the late actor who plays the Major-General and the late Tony Azito who is the captain of the constables, were just part of this great cast, this is a great tribute to two men who died so tragically. Can't think of a better venue to showcase all of these actors/actresses and singers all.

Exactly, why wasn't this movie a hit?

By: TheNovelist
This movie's great even though it's quite clear that this movie was low budget. Still, why wasn't it a hit? It's wonderful! Linda Ronstadt's Mabel is superb, I wish I could hit those high notes as flawlessly as she does and plus she is so pretty! Who can play the Pirate King as charismatically as Kevin Kline? You just have to love his crazy antics and that voice, oh! It's obvious he has great talent and that Tony Award he won for his portrayal of The Pirate King on Broadway was well-deserved. I wonder if he can still sing and dance... Rex Smith is divine as Frederic; his singing voice is powerful yet has a tender appeal. He is quite talented in his portrayal of a gullible yet loveable Frederic. Angela Lansbury is lovely in her portrayal of the deaf nursemaid and she has such a wonderful voice; it fits the role perfectly. The pirates, the daughters, the policemen, were all wonderful. I especially love the policemen's song-and-dance numbers. Tony Azito's nasal voice and rubber-like movements are perfect as the Sergeant. I have nothing bad to say about this movie, only I wish it were longer and it did not end so soon! See this movie! It's funny, romantic, and has good music.

One of my favorites

By: bekayess
I first saw this film version of THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE in a movie theater in Dayton, OH, the night it premiered. I took a good friend to see it a few nights later, and went back one more time by myself to see it before it disappeared after only one week!!

It is true to the spirit of the original, with modern interpretations which would please G&S immensely. I agree the cast is excellent. I don't have time or space to single them out and discuss my thoughts on each actor, but if you are either a G&S fan, a general musical theatre fan, or fans of anyone in the cast, then I encourage you to rent or buy this wonderful film!!

Magical...simply magical

By: swansong-2
Ah, Gilbert & Sullivan, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways! This movie is pure fantastical enjoyment. The cast is an absolute joy, especially Kevin Kline as the Pirate King. Kline is truly one of the most over-looked and under-appreciated actors of our time. His ability to convey his characters through body language, facial expression, and voice is unparalleled. He is one of my favourite actors, and he plays the Pirate King to the hilt -- what a lark!

The vocal talent in this film adaptation of the stage play is phenomenal! I have never heard a more beautiful, powerful, yet sensitive male voice as Rex Smith's, and Linda Ronstadt is, of course, pretty as a picture as Mabel. Angela Lansbury may not have as fabulous a voice as the rest of the cast, but her characterization of Ruth more than makes up for it. Tony Azito absolutely cracks me up as the Chief of Police, those "undaunted men in blue" make me laugh every time.

The one person that everyone seems to forget, however, is the one whose performance I enjoyed even more than Kline's -- and that's saying something. George Rose as the Major-General is perfect, and I never laughed so hard at an individual character as I did when he was tiptoeing through the tulips with the pirates in close pursuit! What a hoot!

This movie is truly a classic, and it's a shame that it's been so overlooked. I finally managed to tape it off the TV one night, since I've never managed to find it on video (other than for rent), and I've watched it so many times, I may have to re-tape it soon. All of the subtle (and not-so-subtle) G&S jokes are a true joy, and the music is pure magic. If you love musicals, you HAVE to see this movie!!

A Rollicking Band

By: gurghi-2
While still, mysteriously, overlooked by film and film musical lovers alike, "Pirates" is a definite smash and even on repeated viewing continues to delight.

This was a ready-made movie of sorts, a for-the-cameras version of a Broadway production that originated at the NY Shakespeare Festival. The cast is virtually intact but for Ruth, who was played by Estelle Parsons onstage. Considering its roots, the film is remarkably un-stagey.

(It didn't play long in theatres, and took a decade just to come to DVD.)

The libretto for the film, as well as the stage production (from which, unlike the movie, there is a soundtrack available for purchase), features lyrics and songs lifted from other G&S works, which intensify Gilbert's penchant for self-ridicule. As they are licensed for use only by the G&S estate, these supplements make this movie somewhat of a rarity among "Pirates" incarnations.

The players are stellar- yes, Kevin Kline is outstanding, Tony Azito is the other real standout. Outrageous costumes, ludicrous art direction and some hilariously overblown choreography enhance the endearing (and enduring!) silliness of the piece.