Hank Mikado (Kevin Scott) is on an aeroplane over Japan currently being bored to death by the passenger sitting next to him, an American called Charlie Hotfleisch (Stubby Kaye) - and it's not only Hank growing tired of the tourist's boorish stories, as his voice carries to infuriate the other passengers as well. Finally he stops talking and invites Hank to tell him of his time in the Far East, which he does, but he could well be making it all up as he launches into a tale of how he was in the U.S. Army stationed overseas, along with two Brits, Mike (Mike Winters) and Bernie (Bernie Winters)...
After that, if you can work out what the hell is supposed to be going on then you're probably making too much of an effort to get involved with its thrown together plotting. Reputedly the idea for this came to its director Michael Winner when he found out the copyright on Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta The Mikado was about to expire, so he rushed this modern (for 1963) version into production. There are songs lifted from that celebrated work included here, but the rest is so changed as to be almost unrecognisable apart from its setting in Japan, making for a curious experience indeed.
Curious, or just plain awful might be a more accurate way of describing it, with the attempts to live up to the cool in its title stretching only as far as hiring a few then-popular comics to launch themselves manfully at Winner's script. That script, although meant to be amusing, does not feature one decent joke and when even Tommy Cooper cannot secure you a laugh then you know you're in trouble. It might not be such a surprise to learn that Mike and Bernie Winters ("Oh God, there's two of them!" as one Glaswegian heckler famously exclaimed) do nothing with third-rate material, but the more promising Frankie Howerd is in this too, and he fails to work any magic either.
For some reason Gilbert and Sullivan have kept a low profile on the big screen, aside from that odd instance where The Pirates of Penzance was adapted by Hollywood twice in the space of a year during the early eighties, neither to much acclaim. This could be testament to the essentially theatrical nature of their work, although here Winner certainly does his best to retain that air by having his cast cavort in front of some of the cheapest cardboard sets that ever graced the screen. Contrary to popular opinion, he did direct some enjoyable films, in the first half of his career anyway, but The Cool Mikado was assuredly not one of them.
About an hour and a quarter of this is about an hour and a quarter too much, what with its humour that would struggle to raise a giggle from five-year-olds, an unneccessary amount of tone-deaf singing, and only the dancing of Lionel Blair (who speaks in a cod-Japanese accent) to enliven the static set-ups. The impression was that this was written over a weekend, and filmed over half that time, with the cast looking embarrassed far too often, as if all too aware that their quips were plummetting to the ground without so much as a grunt of recognition from their intended audience. In fact, so dementedly poor does this become that the sight of Howerd struggling through routines that wouldn't pass muster in a village panto becomes almost surreal, as if you've stumbled across footage of these performers trying to escape their nightmares. That is not necessarily a recommendation, however.