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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In the Golden Age of musical movies, Rodgers and Hammerstein took three
looks at the clashes of Eastern and Western cultures: Joshua Logan's
"South Pacific," Henry Koster's "Flower Drum Song" and "The King and
'The King and I' derived from Margaret Landon's fascinating novel 'Anna and the King of Siam.' The film concerns a genteel British governess who, with a son of her own, journeys from England to 19th century Siam (now Thailand) to instruct the king's many children, in the ways of the West...
Upon her arrival in 1862, the uptight widow immediately clashes with the powerful ruler over his refusal to give her 'a brick residence' of her own outside the walls of the palace as had been promised...
As the film progresses, and in a world where women had basically no rights, the 'very difficult' governess learns to temper her outrage at the Siamese court and its treatment of women.. And while she was admiring the king's personality and brilliant mind, she quickly discovered that the major challenge facing her is much more in the education of the volatile king than of his cute family...
Despite his open-mindedness about other cultures, the proud bald king was besieged by both colonial powers and Siamese traditionalists... At least in private, he consults Anna on how to handle the threats against Siam from England, Burma, and France... He turns a deaf ear to her complaints about having to live in the royal palace, and fascinated by science and geography.. he gives 'a puzzlement,' the proper mixture of arrogance, wonder, and confusion...
In this historical account of conflicting cultures and sexual mores, we watch two people of very different backgrounds drawing apart and then together, culminating in that most moving and triumphant of moments, when they dance together for the first time... The image of Anna is swept 'high up' by the king as they whirl across the palace floor... His bare feet seductively touching lightly the edge of her satin gown...
When the king tells Anna that something is not correct with the way they are dancing, and extends his right hand to place it around her waist, it's the climax of a romantic love that never ignites...
This good-hearted story, enriched by some of Rodgers and Hammerstein's most enduring tunes, permits the meeting of two polar cultures explored with wit and humor... It permits us also to enter into the complex mind of a stubborn king, stern and imperious, whose words and whims become the law of Siam..). But the king is graceful, comic and virile... And into the feelings of an intelligent woman equally-stubborn, intrigued, and deeply irritated by a man, that quickly found she was also instructing him in the niceties of dancing and dining...
Brynner is irresistible and seductive, a towering figure as the king... He is blessed with a resonant baritone voice, both for speaking and singing... His stance, fierce, and magnetic eyes (denoting a royal leader who cannot be questioned or denied) have an optimum vision and an inquisitiveness that reflect an agile mind as well as a vulnerable heart... He is humorous without imagining it, particularly when receiving the bows of his adorable children...
Like Yul Brynner, Kerr radiates charisma, and the two work well together... From their first meeting to their last tearful parting, the give and take of their relationship provides the performance its emotional spark...
The supporting cast is also strong...
Rita Moreno is Tuptim's ill-fated lover who criticizes the system of slavery and concubinage and voices her desire to be free; Carlos Rivas carries his role comfortably as her Burmese beau, Lun Tha; Terry Saunders arouses Anna's sympathy for Tuptim by explaining that she and Lun Tha are deeply in love; Martin Benson plays Kralahome, the King's right hand man; Patrick Adiarte brings tears to our eyes and pride to our hearts in his far-seeing strength of character necessary to bring the film to a triumphant finish...
Graced with a rich and singularly beautiful score, and skillfully directed by Walter Lang, 'The King and I' was nominated for nine Academy Awards... It received five, including the Best Actor Award to Brynner... The sets and scenery are gorgeous, and Lang did everything to convey its grandeur... You'll certainly love the impressive procession ("March of the Royal Siamese Children") when the king summons his sixty-seven children to meet their delicate schoolteacher...
Under Lang's direction, 'The King and I' proves to be the best of the Rodgers and Hammerstein adaptations, for reasons that involve East-meets-West flirtation, racism and authoritarianism, pageantry and spectacle, female determination coming up against vanity, civilization against barbarism, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera...
Having read most of the comments on this picture, I was astonished to see
how little understood this classic musical is. Yes, it takes place in 19th
century Siam, but it is a fairy tale Siam in the same sense as the fairy
tale Paris in An American in Paris. It is not supposed to be a true
representation of Asian life. Wake up, Folks! Its a Hollywood adaptation
of a Broadway musical! Let's leave the realism to Phat and
This picture, with its infectious score and dynamic performances, is one of the best of its genre. Who can fail to see the sexual tension between the two leads? Who can not marvel at the entrance of the royal children (check out Brynner's different reaction to each child). How can one not applaud the fantastic House of Uncle Thomas performance at the diplomatic dinner. How can your heart not reel to Shall We Dance?
This is old-line Hollywood at its very best, and may be the last truly great musical. Check your historical, racial, and PC hats at the door and don't miss it!
I originally saw THE KING AND I at the Roxy Theatre in New York when I was
ten years old. My grandmother took me after a day trip to the Statue of
Liberty, and I was expecting to see one of my favorites, Jan Clayton, the
star of LASSIE, in the starring role.
When the movie unfolded I was enraptured by the beautiful redhead playing the lead and realized it wasn't Miss Clayton (whom I later learned had played in the road version of the show, and kids that age don't really know the difference). I went out into the theatre lobby and looked at the ornate program, which listed Mrs. Anna as Deborah Kerr.
What an impression this woman has had on my life over the years from the retelling of the classic tale of the British woman who comes to Siam to teach the king's children. It is superb, not only musically, but from a story standpoint holds up as the best of the Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals. It is essentially a women's lib story, which makes it as relevant today as it was fifty years ago when it premiered on Broadway.
The fiery, but compassionate Mrs. Anna who is at first turned off by the king and then charmed by him, and who little by little changes him from a near-despot to a man who can grow.
The subplots are fanciful, but lovely and, in the ballet of Uncle Tom, as performed by Tuptim draw a direct analogy to the unpleasant lives endured by Siamese slaves, in particular women. It does so with majesty and intelligence, no less so than Arthur Miller did in "The Crucible," contrasting the Salem Witch Trials with the awful McCarthy political witchhunts on Capitol Hill.
It is an extraordinary achievement, and it is shocking that it did not even make the top 100 AFI films a year ago. It is continually fresh and alive, and every time there is a festival or re-release it does well. Indeed, a few years ago it was shown on a huge screen at The Hollywood Bowl, with orchestral accompaniment, and it was a smash again.
My only regret is that Deborah Kerr (six times nominated for an Oscar) was not gifted with an Academy Award along with her co-star Yul Brynner.
It is a film that should be seen for generations to come.
"The King and I" was a personal triumph for Yul Brynner and Gertrude
Lawrence when the musical made its debut on Broadway. The king of the
story seemed to be tailor-made for Mr. Brynner, who made it his
signature role and returned with it to the musical theater, again and
As captured in film, directed by Walter Lang, "The King and I" is quite a splendid showcase for Mr. Brynner. Since Ms. Lawrence was not chosen to repeat the role of Anna that she created on the stage, her substitute was Deborah Kerr, an immensely talented actress who was a delight in any of the films she graced with her talent and charm.
As a spectacle, this movie is full of exotic colors of what Hollywood thought Siam would look like in the years where the story takes place. The film works as well because of the charismatic performance of Yul Brynner and the terrific chemistry he and Ms. Kerr projected in the film.
All the elements of a Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical are in place. The music serves the story being told. "The King and I" will charm its viewers because of the amazing impact Yul Brynner made in it.
In the 1860's Mrs Anna Owens was appointed by the King of Siam as the
teacher of his children. He wanted to give them (and himself) a "modern"
education, to impress visiting dignitaries with how up-to-date he was, so
that they would accept him as a world leader, like them. He thought it
be a simple communication of knowledge and understanding, like someone
learning a new set of jargon.
This naive and misguided motive, seeking to impress without really wanting modernity, produced a clash of cultures. Fortunately for all of us (and especially for the film industry) Anna kept a scrupulous and detailed diary of the whole affair. It was made into a film starring Rex Harrison, which was rather more historically accurate than this musical version, and was a very appealing film in many ways.
This film, however, has become legendary. Although it is based on the principle "Never let historical facts get in the way of a great musical", that doesn't matter at all, because it is a truly great and deeply moving romantic musical film. For example, has there ever been a more loving love-song than "Something Wonderful", which the king's number one wife sings in explanation of her devotion to him? I seriously doubt it! It's one of the best-written songs of all time, and could only have been written by someone who truly understood love!
The simple charm and joyful exuberance of "Getting to Know You", the unforgettable "Hello Young Lovers" which is a message of hope and encouragement to all those who love under difficult circumstances, "Whistle a Happy Tune" which helps when we are frightened and alone, and all the other songs have become famous.
Yul Brynner, who had been a relatively unknown bit-part actor with hair, shaved his head and gave a towering performance for the part, then spent the rest of his life basking in the glory of that one role! Deborah Kerr, who had given so many exquisite performances in so many films, also rose to the occasion in this one. Rita Moreno, who was a pin-up girl as well as one of the world's greatest actresses, is beautiful as the runaway slave.
It's a film that everyone must see at least once, especially now that they've put out a restored version. I've given it 10 out of ten.
Brynner is so strongly identified with this role that it is difficult
to remember him in anything else. He gives his all in this performance,
sometimes way over the top, but it fits with this movie which is in
itself over the top, offering us the Hollywood version of Siam and
introducing 1955 sensibilities to the era of 1862. No matter.
The musical numbers are great and hummable, most done by Marni Nixon, who dubbed for so many in that era of endless musicals and no-voice stars.
People who protest about the insensibility and racial aspect of these musicals (Showboat and South Pacific, etc. also comes to mind)don't get it - that this is a musical, composed about an unenlightened era and is not a documentary and cannot be taken seriously.
The play within the play is truly magical, I could watch it over and over again, it is a perfect little opera.
Deborah Kerr is terrific in this and should have received an Oscar. I felt sorry for the boy who played her son - I think they appeared again together in Tea and Sympathy, but I could be wrong - there was not much to his role, he had to stand around and just be pretty and nod at his mother a lot. Very difficult.
Rita Moreno excelled as usual.
8 out of 10. Not to be missed.
The King and I has been my favorite Rodgers&Hammerstein show for many
years. I love the score and the only real criticism I have of this film
version is that it did not contain the entire score from the Broadway
show. It also did not contain the magical performance of Gertrude
Lawrence in her final role. But that was beyond the scope of 20th
Century Fox and Darryl Zanuck.
The versions of The King and I that we usually see performed give emphasis to the role of the King. As Gertrude Lawrence was dying in 1952 she made a deathbed request that the billing on the show be changed and that Yul Brynner be given top billing instead of whatever female would be replacing Lawrence as Anna Leonowens. That was done and it has remained so ever since.
The role of King Mongkut of Siam became like Dracula was for Bela Lugosi, a part that no matter what else he did, Yul Brynner couldn't escape from. The air of authority he establishes as the King holds you and binds you to every move he makes in the part. I'm told that as good as this screen version is, to see him on stage was the real deal. The critical acclaim he got from the Broadway run no doubt led to him winning an Oscar as Best Actor for 1956.
Standing in for Gertrude Lawrence quite ably is Deborah Kerr who got one of her several nominations for Best Actress for this film. Unfortunately her voice is dubbed by that well known vocal stand-in Marni Nixon as is Rita Moreno as Tuptim and Carlos Rivas as Lun Tha the second romantic leads. The part does call more for an actress than a singer. Gertrude Lawrence was the very best of both.
So many popular standards come from this score, more than any other score Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, II wrote. From philosophical tunes like Getting to Know You and I Whistle a Happy Tune and such romantic ballads as Hello Young Lovers, We Kiss in a Shadow, Something Wonderful and Shall We Dance will be done forever. Somewhere now on planet earth there is some theatrical company doing the King and I and performing these great songs. You can't also forget those that didn't make the cut here like I Have Dreamed and My Lord and Master.
The most interesting song that Dick and Oscar wrote is the solo for the King, A Puzzlement. It's very similar to the Soliliquy in Carousel where the song explains all the character motivations of Billy Bigelow. King Mongkut, a very real historic figure who wanted very much to move his country into the modern era, but his entire upbringing fights against his desire. A Puzzlement is a wonderful number that goes into the problems of governing and not just for monarchies. Listen to Hammerstein's lyrics, they are very much relevant today.
I visited Thailand in 1999 and learned a great deal about the country in those two days. King Mongkut's descendants rule today as constitutional and beloved monarchs. In fact this film which probably did more to encourage tourism to Thailand than anything else is banned in that country. Because it shows the king in what the Thais feel as an irreverent light. It is indeed a puzzlement.
The film has preserved forever one of the great Broadway shows of all time forevermore. Reason enough to see it and whistle its happy tunes.
Though I don't remember the first time I saw the movie it was a movie I grew up on. I grew up on Rodgers and Hammerstein and have loved all (but State Fair) of their movies that I've seen. And I have to say that this movie is their very best and the very best musical ever made. Yul Brynner was great and was very deserving of the best actor Oscar. I love every thing about this movie and it tugs on my heartstrings every time I watch it. Even know I know how it will end a huge lump comes to my throat as my heart sings when he dances with her across the room just wishing that they can be together some how.If a movie can move you like that every time, than it's top notch and The King and I does it best.
Known best as a musical version of 1946 FOX film "Anna and the King of Siam"
starring Irene Dunne and Rex Harrison, "The King and I" often takes a back
seat to "The Sound of Music". Whilst the latter is both my favourite all
time movie and musical, "The King and I" is only second to it. Most of this,
is due in part to the wonderful performances of Deborah Kerr, Yul Brynner
and a delightful supporting cast.
Musical characters have been immortalised by few in the time musicals were fashionable. A few would be Julie Andrews' Maria, Gene Kelly's character from "Singin' in the Rain", Judy Garland's Dorothy and James Cagney's George M. Cohan from the biopic "Yankee Doodle Dandy". Brynner, in his best and most defining role, has forever left his mark on the King, arrogantly fierce, so simple, so desperate, so true.
Although not a singer and well known to be dubbed by Marni Nixon, the 'ghost' favourite of Hollywood musicals, Deborah Kerr gives another beautiful and loved performance as the English governess, with son Louis, travels to 1860s Siam to be tutor to the Royal children. Her performance demanded character, command and charm, and Kerr managed to successfully combine all three in a memorable performance.
But it is the Rodgers and Hammerstein score that tops it all off. The element of the screenplay in the FOX movie adaptions was not always the strongest. Tentative and urging was "Something Wonderful". "I Whistle a Happy Tune", bright, calming and inspirational. "Getting to Know You" sets the mood of happiness, "Hello, Young Lovers" keeps a note of optimism, and the rich, lush score of the overture and throughout the film make it memorable. But it is "Shall We Dance?", a joyful song that I believe to be the best of the lot. Although it is melodiously challenged because of Gertrude Lawrence's low voice range, it is still one of the best of the duo's scores.
Cinemascope, used first in the first of the Rodgers and Hammerstein movies of the year "Carousel", provided opportunities to open up moments in the picture. On a widescreen print, only then can the real grandeur, splendour and colour of the enormous sets and opulence of the movie itself can be fully appreciated.
Despite my love for the musical, since viewing both "Anna and the King of Siam" and the new Jodie Foster, Chow Yun-Fat movie "Anna and the King", the flaws in what was previously believed to be an accurate and true account of Anna Leonowens story, have unfortunately ruined the musical, both in Anna's life and the depiction of the Siamese court. The non-musical versions have been obviously more historically accurate, and the comparison of the three different FOX versions have all been noticably scripted to the fit the time of release.
But I have not yet allowed that to get in the way of enjoying a great musical. With "Anna and the King" as my favourite movie of 1999 of the moment, I hope it won't spoil things further.
Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner lit up the screen with this 1956 great
film as English teacher, Anna, who takes a position as tutor to the
king of Siam's children and along the way finds adventure and love, be
it ever so brief.
A widow, accompanied by her son, around the time of the American Civil War, Anna soon finds cultural differences exist to a great deal between the two societies.
Yul Brynner, as the king, does a magnificent job depicting those differences.
The music and dancing are enchanting though Marnie Nixon sings for Miss Kerr.
Look for brief appearances by Rita Moreno as a young lover caught among the kingdoms social mores.
" Getting to Know You," a lovely tuneful song sets the mood for this charming, romantic, endearing film. Great picture for children as well. Be brave young lovers, so eloquently done, in a masterful production producing yet another Oscar losing nomination for Deborah Kerr. 1956 was a big year for Brynner. Besides this great film, where he received the best actor Oscar, he also appeared in "The Ten Commandments," and "Anastasia."
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