The Emperor’s New Clothes

This absolutely brilliant film considers Hans Christian Andersen’s story first as the surface reflection of the chimera of the age, such as (for instance) “virtual reality.” It next ponders the natural reflex, when one has taken eggs for money, to cry “outstanding” upon the deal. Finally, it goes deep into the psyche to reach the point where the blinkered mind projects itself upon the scrim of its own imaginings, for want of direct knowledge.

Really, it does. And then, for sheer fireworks, it adds a brilliant variation of opposing views, the Prime Minister (Clive Revill) being convinced the invisible diamond cloth is blue, the Duke (Julian Joy Chagrin) that it is red. Neither can see it, but each identifies it with the color of his own garments for want of anything better, lest he stand convicted as “unfit for his office or unforgivably stupid,” per the tailor’s specifications.

The Emperor never wears the same garment twice, this is a point of pride with him and among his people. The fatal flaw in this otherwise irreproachable system is the Emperor’s boredom, he craves “originality.” Why must pants be two-legged, why not five?

The Royal Fashion Show of French, Russian and Japanese haute couture repels him, it’s the same as last year (Sid Caesar as the Emperor converses with each representative in doubletalk). The tailor (Robert Morse) and his nephew (Jason Carter) barely escape execution among other thieves and swindlers when the engagement of lovely Princess Gilda (Lysette Anthony) and imbecilic Prince Nino (Danny Segev) is announced, and all the condemned are pardoned. Immediately they sell a panacea in the town square (the main ingredient is ground unicorn horn).

The songs are charming and to the point, from “Clothes Make the Man” to “Is This a Love Song?” The performances and the direction coincide perfectly with the tale in all its profundity and a lot of jokes. The bored Princess offers the tailors a handful of invisible diamonds if they’ll take her away with them, the Emperor complains of his wardrobe, “do you know how much time I spend changing my socks?”