Anna and the King of Siam (1946) Poster

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A Nation Kept Free From Colonialism
bkoganbing27 July 2008
Anyone who is thinking of watching Anna And The King Of Siam thinking he will just see The King And I without the Rodgers&Hammerstein music is in for quite a surprise. Quite a bit had to be toned down from this dramatic version in order to make it more lighthearted and good subject matter for a musical.

I can't believe the number of folks who miss the point of Anna And The King Of Siam in just dismissing it as typical western racism. Yes it's there, but the real story of Siam later Thailand is how it missed being colonized by the west. In that regard the story is like Japan.

King Mongkut who ruled from 1851 to 1868 and played by Rex Harrison in his first role in a Hollywood film, was a man who's sole ambition was to keep his country away from colonial hands. But he also knew that the west had far outstripped the east in material progress if not culturally. His challenge was to learn from the west without being taken over by them.

Toward that end he did import among other things Anna Leonowens, shortened to Owens in this film and played by Irene Dunne. Her job was to educate the royal children, most especially the Crown Prince Chulalongkorn who would rule Siam as Mongkut's successor. How much and what kind of personal relationship she developed with the King is part true and part from the fertile mind of Margaret Landon who wrote the book this and The King and I were based on.

Today when you visit Thailand they will tell you up front about how proud they are that they were never colonized by a western power, a singular achievement in the 19th century. They did give up chunks of territory, to the French in Indo-China, to the British in Burma and Malaya, but Siam was kept in being. Ironically enough when it was conquered it was by another Eastern power, Japan in World War II. Thailand most people forget because of that was an Axis power nation, quite unwillingly, but they had little choice in yielding to a nation that learned the lessons Mongkut and Chulalongkorn learned far better.

Giving good performances in the supporting cast are Linda Darnell, Lee J. Cobb, and Gale Sondergaard. Darnell's character as Tuptim, current favorite of the king has far more bite to it and she's not a nice girl who the western schoolteacher is trying to help on the path to true love. Cobb's role as the chief minister, the Kralahome is far more expanded in this than The King And I. And Gale Sondergaard as Lady Thiang, mother of the crown prince is touching as the mother who really does live for her son as she's got nothing else really in the world. She was nominated for Best Supporting Actress in 1946, but lost to Anne Baxter in The Razor's Edge.

It's also ironic that while any number of folks might decry the racism shown by whites in Anna And The King Of Siam, at the same time they're also revolted by the position of women in Siam, being not above household furniture. Irene Dunne's character is hardly a Victorian feminist, but just the contrast to the other females in the cast forces here to become one. But that was their culture and still is in many areas of modern Thailand.

The highly acclaimed remake of this story that starred Jodie Foster and Chow Yun Fat in 1999 tells far more of the real story. It's good to compare the two. The differences in both versions tell a lot more about us as a society than even about 19th century Siam.
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Elegantly produced,superbly acted.Ij
dmsorge8 February 2003
In reading the comments about "Anna and the King of Siam,"I was especially drawn to the harsh political commentaries by your reviewers.When I was saw the film in the summer of 1946,the war was over only eleven months,and I was feeling generally upbeat.Consequently,watching this film,I felt upbeat about it,too.I thought then,and I still do(seeing it on tv),that it was a beautifully produced picture.One thing I noted at the time of its release,was that movie reviewers universally criticized Twentieth Century-Fox for not filming it in Technicolor.(Fox didn't repeat their mistake in their musical production with Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr.)Their 1946 film garnered the Oscars for black and white cinematography, and black and white art direction, and interior decoration.(Costume design nominations didn't arrive until 1948--"Hamlet,"b&w,and "Joan of Arc,"color,won).If costume design had been a factor in 1946, I'm dead sure "Anna and the King of Siam" would have been a shoo-in.The musical version in 1956 did get the prize.Irene Dunne had a spate of fine film from 1936 to 1948,and this was leader among them.I can't imagine another actor living in 1946 playing the king.(Mr.Brynner appeared on the scene in the stage production around 1950.After that,he went to Hollywood).Gale Sondergaard received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.John Cromwell's direction was as artful as his work with "Since You Went Away."in 1944.For this film:A rating of A.
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Not historically accurate, but well produced film worth watching
vincentlynch-moonoi23 January 2013
Warning: Spoilers
I lived in Thailand for a couple of years and had visited many long summers before that, so this movie was of interest to me. I had read quite a bit about Anna Leonowens and her stint as teacher of King Mongkut's children, including Prince Chulalongkorn, who eventually became Thailand's greatest king. It is true that Anna was a teacher of the royal children, but the idea that she had any influence over the king is preposterous, and that is the conclusion of British historians. I should also point out that while the history of Anna is highly fictionalized, some of the history of Siam as represented here is somewhat accurate. Although many of the events pictured here are totally fictitious, at least this version of the story (as compared to the musical) seems somewhat more believable. There are some things I found a bit difficult to swallow -- like that the King would not know how to eat soup. The Thais have several wonderful soups, but perhaps they came to be after this period; I don't know. And, although I don't know what the habits were back then, Thais don't usually use chopsticks. The real problem here, from the point of view of the Thais, is that (particularly during the first half of the film), Anna is so condescending to the King. Think about it -- commoner versus King in any country.

Knowing that in advance, I was interested in seeing how realistic the film was in other matters, and to my surprise, I have to give it fairly high marks. While I am not fluent in Thai, I speak a little, and I easily recognized many phrases that were spoken relatively accurately. The representations of exterior and interior architecture are reasonably realistic, with an occasional exception. The representation of the exteriors of the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Keow (the royal temple) are quite good. Art work is rather authentic...for example as related to the Thai Ramakien.

Of course, King Mongkut would never have acted the way Rex Harrison acts here, although Mongkut was a rather unattractive man and something about Harrison's face does remind me of Mongkut. Early on there is a mention of "sin", a concept that is not really recognized in Thailand. It's too bad more of the Siamese in the film were not at least Asian.

I was particularly interested in Anna's reaction to the first house she was offered. Even today if she saw how many poor Thais live, she would be appalled at the conditions. Clearly, considering the era, she was expecting far too much.

In terms of acting, this film is extremely well done. Irene Dunne as Anna is superb. Yes, we know many of these things didn't happen, but Dunne makes them seem reasonable. Rex Harrison is excellent as the King. Again, we know the King wouldn't have behaved in those ways, but nevertheless, it's a very good performance, and I believe it was Harrison's first in an American film.

Two actors that usually don't impress me were quite good here. Lee J. Cobb seems an odd choice to play the King's closest adviser, but he does it very well (and his spoken Thai was well-coached). And, Gale Sondergaard, who all too often played villainous women, is quite good here as one of King Mongkut's wives (and the mother of Prince Chulalongkorn).

The latter portions of the film are interesting. One tragedy -- Anna's son dies. Which he did not in real life, and the company he founded can still be seen in Bangkok. And one last inaccuracy: King Mongkut died from malaria contracted when he went upcountry to view a total eclipse (astronomy was a passion); Prince Chulalongkorn also contracted malaria on the trip and nearly died himself...which is not at all depicted in the film. On the other hand, long after Anna left Siam, the real King Chulalongkorn traveled to Europe and really did visit Anna. So obviously there was a real teacher/student relationship of respect between the two.

The film is so well done that I'd be tempted to give it a rare 8 rating, but due to the historical inadequacies, I'll give it a 7.

I should mention the documentary about the real Anna Leonowens on the 20th Century Fox DVD of the film. It's too "pro" the story of Anna. A number of British historians have debunked much of Anna's story, but this documentary interviews her relatives...hardly unbiased. Other parts of it are realistic, particularly her fabrication of her early life. Take it with a grain of salt, but it's an interesting documentary.
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Fine Adaption of Classic
Mitch-3811 July 2000
Very enjoyable tale of Governess teaching Siam Ruler's children, then butting heads with the deified king over issues of culture and custom.

Irene Dunne and Rex Harrison star, and they work well together, from the frosty start, to the begrudging respect into the romantic overtones that develop. Their chemistry is the key to holding the film together - and it works. The sets are marvelous, and the supporting cast (Gale Sondergaard, Lee J. Cobb -I said Lee J. Cobb!] et al) are quite good.

There's been much ado about comparing this movie with THE KING AND I. Margaret Langdon did not write a musical about her experiences there, she wrote a book. Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote the musical, based on the book. The two are certainly two different entities, and should be based on their singular merits and faults. It's about as silly as trying to link REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE and GREASE!

Yes, Anna's character is a tad dowdy, if not prudish; yet these are values from the 1860's, not Woodstock in the 1960's. It's really not fair to judge the characters motivations by our present standards or perceptions of morality. True, it would have been better to cast an Asian actor as Mongkut, yet these were not the realities of 1940's Hollywood; and we well know this.

Overall, we watch cinema to be entertained and escape, and ANNA AND THE KING OF SIAM provide more than ample reward for the viewer, in that regard.
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BETTER than the KING and I
Enrique Sanchez20 December 2000
Summary: BETTER than the King and I This has always been my favorite version of this story. Why? Not just because it was done first (1946); that is, before the King and I (Play-1951; Film-1956), does it make it better. Not because the original story was a drama rather a lively Broadway musical. Not even because the story was written by a woman about a woman and not about a man as was shifted later by Brynner. The performances by Irene Dunne, Rex Harrison, the production values, the direction are all done at such a fine intimate level. The true nuance of the hardship that Anna went through in her dealings with this imperial king is felt throughout. The musical never depicts this which such finely-wrought detail and care. With our 21st century sensibilities we might think that there is something goofy about Rex's performance. Does anyone really know what life was in 19th Century Siam? I believe this even after reading about the difficulty Harrison had with the depiction of this role. There is nothing Charlie Chan-ish about this performance. The strictness and order of the Asian mindset does create a cultural chasm at times for us in the West. The Asian languages are structured differently than our Western languages. The use of articles is almost non-existent, therefore the sometimes stilted manner of vocal delivery may sound staccato. The Asian vocal chords are sometimes different from Western vocal chords. There exists a predominance of higher pitched voices. And so what of it? Was the King and I more real than this movie? The only thing that can be said about Brynner is that he is physically more imposing than Harrison and Brynner has a rather slight Mongolian aspect to him which brings more authenticity to his appearance. Finally and besides my objections above, ANNA AND THE KING OF SIAM is movie full of heart and compassion. Each turn of events is handled with care and not given a Hollywood finish and sheen. ANNA is recommended hands down. The finale, though some jaded observers would dismiss as formulaic, is indeed a grand and quiet moment not to be missed.
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Touching film
atlasmb24 March 2013
I grew up with the story and the music of the musical, The King and I, in our household. It is a wonderful production. It would be a mistake to compare that musical to Anna and the King of Siam. They are of different genres. This story is taken from the writings of the real Anna and they provide a glimpse into nineteenth century times, when changes in world politics and communications produced stresses that would alter the map and the future of the world.

I found the acting in this movie wonderful. Rex Harrison, in his first American production, really brings the complexities of the Siamese king to life. He is a man torn between the traditions of the past and the necessities of change, which he embraces with open arms, even if his mind, from habit, is partially closed. Comparing his performance to that in My Fair Lady allows one to really see how he used his voice effectively in portraying the king.

One must give credit to those who took this narrative and later produced the musical, amending the story to create a vehicle more suitable to music and humor. But Anna and the King of Siam deserves kudos as a believable story that evokes real feelings for its characters. You may need a few hankies.
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Strong Performances highlight Film Classic
peacham17 November 1999
Too many people who have seen "the King and I" before viewing this film have unjustly compared it unfavorably to the musical. You can't compare Sir Rex and Mr. Brynner as the King. the performances are so different. Harrison gives a wonderfully cruel yet compassionate performance. he is a slyer, more intellectual Monkut than Brynner was. His scenes with Irene Dunne bubble with chemistry. Dunne is every inch the Anna that Deborah Kerr was and gets a scene that was removed from the remake. The performance she gives after the death of her son was stunning!

I recommend this film over the musical for sheer consistency of style. Sir Rex and Ms. Dunne are wonderful together and the entire film its a gem fro start to finish.
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A good role for Irene Dunne
jlanders1323 May 2001
"Anna And The King Of Siam" is the original, non-musical, version of what was later re-made with Deborah Kerr and Yul Brenner as "The King And I". This is one of the few Irene Dunne originals that is not better than the remake. Irene Dunne was a highly original and intelligent woman and had few equals either before the camera or in her private life.

In fact, if you consider all of Irene Dunne's original movies that have been remade into newer versions with the same name: such as "Back Street" 1932 or "Magnificent Obsession" 1935 or "Showboat" 1936 or "Age of Innocence" 1934 - or under a different title: such as "An Affair To Remember" which was a remake of "Love Affair" 1939 or "Something's Got To Give" which was essentially the same plot as "My Favorite Wife" 1940 - it amazes me that she was nominated six times for best actress and NEVER WON!

Usually, her original versions are much better than the remakes. Anna and the King of Siam would have been had the remake not included such a lovely musical score and been so beautifully filmed in color.
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The king and Anna
jotix10016 May 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Based on the memoirs of Anna Leonowens, an English woman that went to Siam as a teacher to the royal family of the then King Mongkut, gave way to Margaret Landon's novel that served as the setting for the 1946 Twentieth Century production. It was 1862 when the action occurs. The kingdom of Siam is breaking from its splendor into what became the modern Thailand. It must have been a quite a cultural shock for an educated woman facing an exotic land she knew nothing about.

The original film was directed by John Cromwell who gave the material a lavish treatment. Talbot Jennings and Sally Benson adapted Ms. Landon's book into a film that even by today's standards can stand against the other versions of the novel. Of course, the Rogers and Hammerstein's musical "The King and I" was a glossy account of what had been achieved in a film with less. Who can forget Yul Brynner in the role? Comparisons do not take into account what was achieved by Mr. Cromwell.

Irene Dunne was always a reliable actress that gave excellent portrayals of whatever she was asked to play. It is a pleasure watching her in the role of the woman that had the resolute spirit to stand for what she believed, even if she had to speak her mind to a king. Rex Harrison's king, while not as strong, still shows an actor that knew how to convince us he was that strange individual, cruel, as well as generous. The combination of Ms. Dunne and Mr. Harrison paid off well.

The great Lee J. Cobb shows up in a supporting role. We had trouble placing him with the dark looks he was given for his part. Linda Darnell is Lady Tuptim, the girl that goes from being a favorite to being rejected by the king. Gale Sondergaard appears as the disgraced wife that only wants to have the crown prince learn from Anna.

The cinematography is by Arthur Miller who produced vivid images of a phony Siam appear real. Bernard Hermann's musical score works well in the picture. John Cromwell directed with style and got excellent results from the large cast. See the film for what it is and do not compare it with what came out later. This was the original!
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A more realistic version of The King and I
jjnxn-111 May 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Solid drama that was the genesis for The King and I is much darker in tone than the later musical. Rex Harrison and Irene Dunne do well by their characters and Lee J. Cobb is appropriately brusk as the king's right hand man. Gale Sondergaad is compassionate and regal as the number one wife. Linda Darnell perfectly haughty and full of youthful pride as the tragic Tuptim. Her fate is quite different than the one meet by Rita Moreno in the musical. This is the picture during which she was slightly burned during filming leading to her lifelong fear of fire, a sad irony since that was to be her end. A very good film but if you enter into viewing it expecting a similar experience to the Yul Brynner/Deborah Kerr picture you're in for quite a shock.
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Rather Stoic First Stab at recanting Madame Leonowen's travels to the Orient
Warning: Spoilers
"Anna and the King of Siam" 1946 is the first big screen adaptation to borrow from the personal journals and public account of British school teacher, Anna Leonowens and her experiences in the far East. After the death of her beloved husband, Anna (Irene Dunne) departed England in 1862 with her young son in tow to become the educator of the King of Siam's many children. However, upon arrival, Anna discovers that King Mongkut (Rex Harrison) is very much a renaissance man trapped in heritage thinking. He refuses to acknowledge Anna's request for a house, expects that she will bow and grovel as his servant, and demands, above all else that the protocol of suppliant be strictly observed. The headstrong Anna, of course, disagrees.

And although their initial meeting is marred by a considerable clash of wills, eventually the two begin to recognize a genuine affection and respect for one another. He, in marvel of her forthright nature in the face of his wielding totalitarianism, realizes his way may not always be right. She, in absence of having a man to love, discovers a fallible side beneath the king's rather gruff façade. Together these two launch a formidable quest to bring western culture and change to the seemingly backward status of Siam. However, the revolution will neither be easy nor straight forward.

Director, John Cromwell does his very best to ensure an integrity in what are essentially cardboard caricatures of people who perhaps defy any three-dimensional understanding. In point of fact, Anna Leonowens probably overestimated her influence on the country and its monarch in her journals. Hence, the whole tale is thrown off balance by a very traditionalist and imperialist perspective that reduces Mongkut to parody from the start. As a Siamese king, Rex Harrison is hardly ideally cast – yet he manages to make much of the shortcoming, transforming what might otherwise have been a very dismal characterization into a challenging bit of reflection. Irene Dunne is an effervescent Anna – though in her, one sees perhaps too much of the screwball heiress a la Cary Grant in "The Awful Truth" and less of the stalwart schoolmarm that was, in fact, the real Anna Leonowens.

Fox's Studio Line transfer on "Anna and The King of Siam" is impressive, if flawed. Though dirt, scratches and grain are kept to a bare minimum, there are still occasions riddled throughout, where the gray scale falters. Blacks are sometimes black, sometimes deep gray. Whites can be clean, but most often appear slightly speckled. Contrast levels vary throughout. There's some speculation as to whether dupe negatives were used for certain scenes. There is a genuine loss of fine details in certain scenes. The audio is mono but nicely balanced. The only extras are an audio commentary and a Biography Special on the real Anna Leonowens.
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A very fine movie
richard-178713 April 2013
Like other reviewers on here, I knew the musical The King and I, which I have always enjoyed, before I finally saw this movie. And, as others have said, they are two different things, each with their own merits.

What I enjoyed most about this very fine movie was the particularly fine performance of Irene Dunne. I've seen her in other movies where she delivers a nuanced and understated performance, which is true of this movie as well, and in spades. There are times when just watching how she plays various emotions across her face is fascinating by itself. Other times she lets us see hints of emotions that her character then suppresses. Harrison is good as the King, though he plays him with broader strokes, as the script calls him to do. Anna is a complex individual, however, and Dunne does full justice to all its complexity.


I just watched this movie again tonight, and I was struck, again, by Dunne's fine, understated performance, but also by the intelligence of the script and the pacing. The main characters are all three-dimensional, in an era when it would have been easy to do caricatures of the Siamese characters. Things move along at an unhurried pace, but it is never too slow.

It's really one very fine movie.


And now I've watched it yet again on TCM, and my admiration for this movie only grows. I still stick by everything I've written in the past. Another thing that struck me on this latest watching was the very intelligent discussion of the importance of the rule of law. I have no idea if that exists in the book on which this movie was based. But this movie makes repeated and intelligent argument emphasizing that arbitrary rule by personal whim is not acceptable in the modern world. It must have struck particular chords in the immediate post-World War II world into which it was released.
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The best version of them all!
abcj-217 March 2013
I watched this film because I'm such a fan of Irene Dunne, particularly in her light-hearted romantic and screwball comedies. There are some amusing situations, but this is ultimately a drama and certainly not a lavish musical. It still, to me, is the best version of them all.

This film hits hard right out of the gate with Anna and her son caught in a situation that neither quite expect. Rex Harrison plays the King surprisingly well despite not looking as exotic as Yul Brenner or as truly authentic as Yun-Fat Chow. Dunne's determination and caring for her son spur her on and make her brave and strong in an understated fashion as the film progresses. The main characters repartee is a delight to witness. Their chemistry is just right, and they do not have the luxury of lavish musical numbers to draw them together. One just knows they have a great respect for each other from very fine acting.

I will say that I found this version the most emotionally charged of the three motion pictures, yet it is not a Peyton Place melodrama. Maybe that's why I love it so. It's so well-made in every aspect that it really packs that emotional punch for me. I didn't even recognize the usually very recognizable Lee J. Cobb and somehow missed his name in the credits the first time.

I think this is about as fine an epic drama about forbidden romance and opposing cultures as I've seen. I give most of that credit to the wonderful performances of the leads and the incredibly adept script. It entertains, tugs at your heartstrings, and doesn't disappoint. I highly recommend it as the best version of them all:)
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Anna and the King, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera ***
edwagreen20 June 2009
Irene Dunne and Rex Harrison gave compelling performances in the 1946 film. The trouble is that the film is much too talky.

Sociologists would have a field day with this one with Harrison, as the ruler of Siam, who realizes that the country needs to change to modern thinking but is unable to do this and acts barbaric in the way he dealt with an unfaithful Linda Darnell and her priest friend.

At least, the remake with Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner broke up the talking with fine musical interludes. Ironically, Dunne, who could sing very well, was not cast in the 1956 production probably because she was aging.(8 years after this she was campaigning for Goldwater.)

Surprisingly, Dunne and Harrison both failed to receive Oscar nominations and the picture was ignored by the academy as well. The one surprising nomination was by Gale Sondergaard in the supporting category for her portrayal of the much ignored wife of Harrison. As interesting as her performance was, Sondergaard was no match for the winner that year-Anne Baxter, totally brilliant in "The Razor's Edge." In the 1956 film Sondergaard's part was totally written out.

As Harrison's adviser, Lee J. Cobb was excellent

Obviously, the ending in the '46 film was far more serious and sad. Dunne sure knew how to let those tears flow in the same vein as Katharine Hepburn. Wonder if Hepburn were considered for the part of Anna Owens?
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Anna and the King of Siam
Coxer996 June 1999
At times pleasant, but mostly so-so version of the true exploits of English governess Margaret Langdon. There are many positives; perfect costuming and art direction, which the latter was awarded an Oscar. Cinematography also won the top honor and is quite lavish and well timed. As for the performances; Harrison's king doesn't have the grace, timing and presence of Yul Brynner's later screen king. While Dunne is a fine actress, she seems too warped into the melodramatic, while missing the lightness of the character and of the relationship she shares with the king. She has moments where she is quite close to having her down, but she holds herself back. The problems with the film are not major and it is quite lovely to look at. Sumptuous sets and exceptional photography carry us through, though director Cromwell suffered from the same problems as Dunne; the film lacked a sense of fun and light heartedness. This is not a horrible film, but it's taken a bit too seriously.
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Another "side note:"
Greg Couture29 April 2003
Other comments on this production are very interestingly expressed and I won't add any specific criticism, positive or negative, here. But one thing struck me when I saw this on a TV broadcast years ago, and that was the eerie presaging of the lovely Linda Darnell's death in 1965, as the result of an accidental house fire. In this film, playing the ill-fated Tuptim, she is burned at the stake (something that was not reenacted in "The King and I" about putting a kibosh on any pleasure to be derived from Rodgers & Hammerstein's musical reimagining of this story!) Earlier in "Hangover Square"(1945) her dead body is disposed of by being carried to the top and dumped as a Guy Fawkes Day bonfire is being torched. And later in "Forever Amber"(1947) she narrowly escapes being burned to death in the London mansion of her despised husband, the Earl of Radcliffe, during the Great Fire that consumed huge portions of that city during the reign of Charles II. Talk about CREEPY! Linda's star had suffered a long decline nearly twenty years after this film premiered, but her tragic departure was something that shocked and saddened her many fans.
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Very good, especially for the acting
TheLittleSongbird27 November 2016
Personally am of the opinion that the 1956 musical 'The King and I' is the better film. That has always been a favourite of mine, and not just one of the best film versions of a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical but also one of the best film musicals. The production values, music and Yul Brynner are especially good.

'Anna and the King of Siam', a somewhat truer and more realistic account of the story, is still a very good film though, if just lacking 'The King and I's energy' and occasionally taking itself too seriously. Richard Lyon is a bit bland as Anna's son. Criticisms of 'Anna and the King of Siam' actually for me are few, and are not that major, only being occasional problems.

It is especially good for the acting. Irene Dunne was born for Anna, portraying the role with touching sincerity and dignity. Her chemistry with Rex Harrison has a believable amount of tension and grows convincingly. Harrison on paper seemed a major miscast, and occasionally he overdoes it in some of his mannerisms which are reminiscent of something like Charlie Chan, but actually on the whole it is performance of great authority and complexity.

They are supported by a supporting cast that are more than up to their level. Gale Sondergaard gives a very moving performance, and Lee J. Cobb is commanding in the more expanded role of the Kralahome. Linda Darnell gives Tuptin spunk and emotion, never falling into passiveness.

Visually, 'Anna and the King of Siam' is pretty exquisite, with Arthur Miller's marvellous cinematography and the lavish and evocative sets deservedly winning Oscars. Bernard Hermann's music score is a good fit and a strong score in its own right, if not iconic status like 'Psycho' or 'Vertigo'.

Scripting is literate and provokes thought, while the story is sensitively and movingly told with the conflict very convincing. John Cronwell's direction, apart from the odd lack of liveliness, is solid.

Overall, a very good film especially for the acting. 8/10 Bethany Cox
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A little history, biography, culture and fiction
SimonJack20 April 2016
Warning: Spoilers
This movie is based on a book by Margaret Landon in 1944. "Anna and the King of Siam" was a best-selling novel based on a true story. The story is much more interesting and intriguing than the movie can portray. And the true story within the story is more fascinating yet. So, how much of the movie is fact, and how much fiction? First, the film and then the background. The main characters are real, and played well. I don't hold with those who argue that a person of one race can't play a role of another race. That's part of what theater and acting are about. Sure, it's nice and best if one can find the talent and qualified actors to play various ethnic roles. But it's not necessary. And, I don't nitpick actors who don't look a part, or who's accents aren't perfect – unless they are quite terrible to the point of distraction.

Rex Harrison does an excellent job as Mongkut, the king Siam. Lee J. Cobb is very good as Kralahome, his prime minister. He is probably the least believable as Siamese, and that's because his distinct voice, build and persona are so well known. But his acting, and broken English (as one might expect of a Siamese), are very good. Gale Sondergaard is so good in her role as Lady Thiang that she looks and sounds Siamese. Linda Darnell is almost as convincing as Tuptim.

Now the background. Margaret Landon was an American missionary who served with her husband in Siam from 1927-1937. She taught here three children along with Siamese in a mission school in Trang. She studied and read all about the country. She learned about Anna Leonowens who had been a governess to the Siamese royal family in the 19th century. After Landon's family returned to the U.S. in 1937, she wrote the book about Anna. It was a best-seller in 1944, and 20th Century Fox made this movie in 1946. A decade later, her book also would become the source for the Fox musical, "The King and I." But how much of the book is true? And how much is the film true to the book, and the real life story? I didn't read the book so I can't comment on it. Another book about Anna came out in 2008 that gave a somewhat different background. "Bombay Anna" was written by Susan Morgan. It claims to tell "the real story and the remarkable adventures of the 'King and I' governess." A New York Times review of that book on Oct. 20, 2008, called Anna Leonowens a con woman. "On disembarking in Singapore as a young widow in 1859, this gifted con woman subtracted three years from her age, relocated her birthplace from Bombay to Wales, forgot her mother's Indian parentage, promoted her father from private to major and changed her husband from a clerk to an army officer." Leonowens was educated and knew languages – Hindi, Marathi, Persian and Sanskrit, and she could mimic a genteel English accent. She was Anglo-Indian and born Nov 6, 1831, in India. In 1849, she married an Irish clerk, Thomas Leon Owens. The two surnames later were merged. The couple spent several years in Australia where a daughter and son were born. First was Avis in 1854, and then Louis in 1856. In 1859, Thomas died of a stroke in Malaysia where he managed a hotel. Then Anna moved with here children to Singapore, where she revised her background to fit in among the expatriate British colony there.

King Mongkut of Siam was born in 1804. He became a Buddhist monk and read and studied much. He helped establish a monastery that became the intellectual center of Siam. Mongkut became king in 1851 and reigned until his death in 1868. In 1861, he asked his agent in Singapore to find an English governess for his children. Leonowens got the job and arrived in Bangkok in 1862. She sent daughter Avis to England to school and taught Thomas along with the royal household. She later sent Thomas to England to finish his schooling, and after five years she left Siam for the United Sates. She later moved to Montreal, Canada, to be near her daughter, and she died there in 1915 at age 84.

So, how much of the movie is true to history? Well, Anna didn't stay into old age when the king died. He was older than she and he died in 1868. In the U.S. she wrote her memoirs and was successful as a teacher and traveling on the lecture circuit. Her son, Louis, did not die from an accident in Siam. Mongkut did write to a U.S. president and offer elephants. But it wasn't Abraham Lincoln, it was James Buchanan (1857-1861), and it was before Anna arrived in Bangkok. Mongkut was a progressive leader who ensured liberal education for his sons. After his death, they began many of his reforms. There is much more about Siam, Mongkut, Anna and others that room doesn't allow to tell here.

In one scene, Mongkut has summoned Anna in the middle of the night. He questions the Bible story of creation. Anna says "Your majesty, the Bible was not written by men of science. It was written by men of faith. It was their explanation of the miracle of creation, which is just as great a miracle whether it took six days or many centuries. I think science does not contradict the Bible. It has only made us more aware of how great the miracle was."
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The Yul Brynner version is better.
otter19 March 1999
Anna Owens and King Mongkut were real people, this is basically a true story. Both this film, the play on which it was based, and the fabulous musical "The King And I" (haven't seen the new cartoon version) are very similar versions of the same story. They suffer from some of the same flaws: White men in yellowface as the king, a weak story (always a danger with reality), and an unmitigated dose of racist colonial arrogance, but in "The King and I" the flaws are mitigated by fabulous performances and some terrific musical numbers.

The biggest problem with this film is Rex Harrison's performance as King Mongkut. He's a wonderful actor, and tries very hard to put feeling into the role, but he trips himself up with a lot of dreadful Charlie Chan mannerisms. (You can read the story of how he came to give such a bad performace in the entertaining autobiography of his second wife (out of 6) Lili Palmer, "Change Lobsters and Dance". This was his first Hollywood film, when he was offered a role in a major film he had jumped at the chance. He hoped for a career breakthrough that would make him an international star, not just an English leading man. So, he accepted the rather improbable casting, and sailed for America. When he got there, and the starting date got closer and closer, he realized to his horror that he had absolutely no idea of what to do with the part. Worse, neither did the director, he had been counting on Harrison. AS the start date approached Harrison was truly truly desperate, and willing to take advice from any corner, and of any quality. When his Elsa Schreiber, wife's German drama teacher, gave him suggestions like using a voice that's `...staccato and high-pitched, a bit like birds twittering.' and a laugh `almost inaudible, and convulsive'. He seems to have taken her advice to the letter, from a woman who knew no more about Thailand than he did.)

The other thing that I can't stand about this film is that when you see this story played straight (no song and dance) you get a painfully large dose of British colonial arrogance and racism. The British Empire was at its peak then, and wanted to annex Siam (Thailand). Mongkut was desperate to avoid this fate, and tried to modernize his country in self-defense, Mrs. Owens being part of the program. She was brought in to give the king's children a "modern" education, and became an adviser to the King himself. There's something sad about watching this grade school teacher meddling in the affairs of nations. Even if she is a likeable and sensible woman, she never rises above her time and class, she shares a bit of the King's enemies arrogance. It's even sadder that her advice was needed, it's made painfully clear that the men who ran the British Empire and threatened Siam wouldn't dream of treating the intellegent monarch of an ancient kingdom as anything but a grubby little native unless he knew which fork to use.

Other than those two huge flaws, it's not a bad movie, it's regarded as a classic by some. Irene Dunne gives a charming performance as always, and the supporting players are all more convincing than Harrison (even all the other white folks). The photography is effective, there is much more of a sense of The Mysterious East than in the later version, it actually seems hot, exotic, and foreign.

But the Yul Brynner version of "The King and I" is an infinitely better way to waste two hours (haven't seen the cartoon). Yul Brynner isn't any more Asiatic than Harrison, but he's so utterly fabulous that who cares. He deserved the oscar he got, I've never seen an actor be more imperious, physical, and just plain sexy (oooohh). And fun, and exotic, and thrillingly butch. The musical numbers are enchanting, and serve to cover a lot of weaknesses in the plot and dilute the racist arrogance that's still there. Dunne is charming in this film, but Deborah Kerr is even more so.

So basically, "The King and I" is grand fun, while this version is more of a melodrama with much more obvious flaws. I look forward to the Jodie Foster/Chow Yun Fat remake. A nineties version might explore some of the racial and cultural issues that the makers of this film ignored.
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Can't Say It's Been a Pleasure to Meet You…
jzappa4 November 2011
From the very start, we follow this story of civilization's collision of traditions from the point of view of a visiting English widow. From the very first scene, she is significantly stunned and incensed at the feudal mores of Siam when she disembarks there in 1862 to educate the king's clan of children, and mulishly declines to grovel before him and proceeds to spend several years in hot-cold teetering with him. This is actually a moving and ultimately very poignant story not because of its interest in the discord between the Imperialist Victorian ideology with the autocratic regime of Siam's King, though it does produce a handful of interesting, even funny scenes. It's because of the interpersonal attachments, deteriorations and healing of wounds by the extraordinarily moving triage of performances by Irene Dunne, Rex Harrison and Lee J. Cobb.

Something we face when watching old movies is the reflection of ideas and attitudes of a time in our history not very far back at all. And some of these reflections are more socially or institutionally offensive than others, some not at all, some charming. Anna and the King of Siam is a matter of judging datedness against dramatic effectiveness, cultural attitudes against a screenplay based on personal accounts, mainly, beautiful performances against crude, exclusionary portrayals of Asians by actors in yellowface.

Rex Harrison and Lee J. Cobb are given artificially slanted features and deep synthetic tans with make-up as the king of Siam and his deeply loyal and deferential Prime Minister. To modern eyes, this is immediately a difficult thing to accept. But the effectiveness of their characterizations I attribute as a testament to the performances of those two actors, in the face of how difficult it is to accept the mob-connected union boss on the Waterfront in a turban and no pants. And yet by the end, they have made us forget about them as white movie stars and genuinely begin to sympathize with them acutely as two men of cast-iron codes of values that nevertheless their humanity will always challenge.

It's difficult to judge the movie's cultural attitudes against the true elements of the story without reaching outside of the movie itself, what's on the screen. In terms of the four sides of the screen while Anna and the King of Siam plays on it, I see a much more immediate issue with judging the movie's theatrical datedness against its dramatic effectiveness. And either way, it is indeed dramatically effective. This sort of subjective experience is what makes old movies important to preserve: They're going to keep on meaning different things to different people till the end of time.

Now if I'll get to the point, the reason for this film's surprisingly intense poignancy is, as I say, moving characterizations by three great performers. One of them is in every single scene, and that's Irene Dunne, playing Anna the governess from England, who brings her son with her. One of the most palpable, touching things of all I've ever seen this amazing actress do is, after building a character whose cast-iron code of morality and decorum matches both said Siamese white men combined, revealing not merely a maternal instinct, but a maternal need. There comes a point in the story where her need for a son must be supplanted. She and the young boy in the scene are so tender together, only a lack of a pulse could prevent tears.

Dunne, as sublimely classy as she ever was, holds her bonneted head high, displays sharpness with attractive reserve and ultimately releases sore, poignant tears. Her lady is on a plain with some that Greer Garson has played. The dignified and glorious woman, an ever-admired character in cinema and invariably a specific preference for admirers of Irene Dunne, is paid tribute in the customary luxurious way, but not without a raw bone of excruciating humanity and an enormously dramatic transformative arc.
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Good, but flawed
Michael Davies21 February 2007
Since the making of Rogers & Hammerstien's The King and I ten years after this production, it has been difficult not to compare the two, especially as the later glossy cinema-scope musical version is virtually identical in all but the songs. The performance of Rex Harrison is actually rather good for a white man daubed with boot polish on his face, but of all the cast it is Lee J. Cobb (as the Prime Minister to the King) who stands out, so I am not sure why Gale Sondergaard (Tip Tem) was nominated for an Oscar rather than he. The production design and photography is excellent and fully deserves the Oscar awards. There is the usual Americanisation of a British story, thus devaluing its quality. Irene Dunn is an American actress playing an English rose, she tries hard, but she is not Deborah Kerr, and her "son" is totally American, no vestige of an English accent at all! What also spoils the believability of the story (which is loosely based upon exaggerated fact) is English porcelain clearly spelling Honour as Honor! Also, the King's obsession with the American Civil war and Abraham Lincoln is baffling when you consider that this story is set in a time when the divided American States were engrossed fighting amongst themselves, whilst Great Britain was the most powerful nation on earth and the British Empire at its height. The difference between a good film and an excellent film is in the detail, accuracy, respect to race and its believability – this could have been an excellent film had such an English story not been Americanised quite so clumsily.
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racist film
davedave20200124 May 2005
I had to watch this movie for a film class, I suffered the whole time through. I am not Asian but was still greatly offended by this film. The film's basis is racialism, overall minorities (Rex Harrison isn't even Asian!) are depicted in narrow-minded manner. The banning of the film in Thailand illustrates the degree inaccuracy and subjective portrayal of Asians. In addition, there has been critical attention given to Biography of Anna. Many critics argue that Anna added many fictitious events to her story to project herself in a good manner. Some critics of the film and biography have even stated that Anna made up the whole story. An awful film but good for discussion of BioPics as form of meta-narrative fiction rather than a work of non-fiction.
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Humility in Character
walkert872111 April 2015
I have seen the King and I so I was anxious to see this movie: Anna and the King of Siam. I am also a huge Irene Dune fan. However, I am not sure if this movie was made for her sake, the USA sake or just plain the studios! The out right Caucasian supremacy and arrogance of Anna's character is ridiculous! So, a Caucasian woman just walked into another country and just told a king what to do and sashay out of the castle?! I mean really even in the USA at that time period she would NOT have acted that way to the President of the United States! Such disrespect would have never happened. I like her other movies much better or should I say I like the writing better in her other movies.
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