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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The King and I is a musical directed by Walter Lang.It stars Deborah
Kerr,Yul Brynner,Rita Moreno,Martin Benson and Terry Saunders.The
screenplay comes from the story written by Anna Leonowens, who became
school teacher to the children of King Mongkut of Siam in the early
1860s.The screenplay by Ernest Lehman is adapted on the Richard Rodgers
and Oscar Hammerstein II musical which was based in turn on the book
Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon.
English widow Anna Leonowens comes to Siam in the 1860's to tutor the many wives and children of the country's progressive King. The culture clash between Anna and the King is but one aspect of their multi-layered relationship. Through her, the King learns the refineries and responsibilities of "modern" western civilization.She meanwhile comes to realize how important it is for an Oriental ruler to maintain his pride and to uphold the customs of his people. After a successful evening entertaining foreign dignitaries, Anna and the King celebrate with an energetic dance, but this is cut short by a bitter quarrel over the cruel punishment of the King's new Burmese wife Tuptim, who has dared to fall in love with someone else. Despite the many rifts between them, Anna and the monarch come to respect and love one another. When the King dies, Anna agrees to stay on to offer help and advice to the new ruler of Siam, young Prince Chulalongkhorn.
The movie boasts a career-making performance from Yul Brynner, repeating his stage triumph as the titular monarch and proving to moviegoers that bald can be beautiful. It's Brynner's proud king that provides the fulcrum to the plot, and it's Brynner himself, with his piercing gaze and graceful physicality, that demands our attention.While Deborah Kerr is superb as Anna.Also,it has a the composers insert a superb score, echoing Asian motifs, as well as a bouquet of lovely songs including "Hello, Young Lovers," "Shall We Dance," and two ensemble pieces for Anna and the royal children such as "Getting to Know You" and "I Whistle a Happy Tune".Overall,it was a big-costumed and classic musical.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I am a big fan of R&H, the musical genre has unfortunately faded away but
there exists the corpus of their work that are among the best ever created.
This is Yul Bryner's signature role and deservedly so. Deborah Kerr's
counterpoint to his King is rather less than equal. That's OK though since
another performance like Yul's on the same screen would have been
overpowering. A brief but important note on the hurt feelings of the Thai
peoples: In 2002 I can't imagine anyone seeing this movie from 1956 and
believing it represents truth. But I would encourage them to tell the actual
facts of their beloved king at every opportunity. Perhaps then the movie
will act as a jumping off point for expanded knowledge of Thai history.
Taking the movie at face value (a period piece musical) it does work most of the time. But this film is important for another reason: just seven years later, R&H did "The Sound of Music" wherein a red-headed, English speaking actress portrays the role of a governess with a mind of her own to a large house full of the children of a very stern man. Sound familiar? Same picture different cast...almost. Point is Hammerstein would not have much of a stretch to change a palace to a large villa or a King into a Captain. Not that this is bad...perhaps they just gravitated to certain stories fit for musical treatment. This is one of R&H's best. As far as the tunes go I'm guessing audiences were humming "Shall We Dance?" as they left the theaters in 1956. I wouldn't know...I weren't borned yet! The subplot of the young lovers with a pre-"West-Side Story" Rita Moreno is a tad weak. And without too much of a spoiler WARNING......PLOT REVEALED!!... there is not the classic happy ending seen in a lot of musicals. I think the main plot or the main idea, if you will, is a metaphor: out with the old, in with the new. The issue of slavery comes up several times in the film. The time is 1860's or so and slavery is an issue in the USA and in active practice in SIAM (Thailand). Perhaps R&H were adding a little social consciousness to this film on the eve of the civil rights movement. Take a look at their films. Without being heavy-handed they addressed a range of social themes in their work. Or maybe their works are rich enough to support multiple interpretations at many levels. I give this a top 5 in R&H's work and a top 10 in all musicals. When you see it, try to imagine yourself in 1956, otherwise you'll come away less than satisfied. But Yul is perfect........
Lots of gorgeous scenery, beautiful Oriental women, great props and colorful clothes, sterling performances, and interesting dialogue and songs makes this one of the most lively musicals I've seen to date. Yul was perfect as the arrogant, deluded King; I loved his crisp gestures and butchery of the English language. He was most amusing. I bet this one would be great on stage.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The wonderful performance of Yul Brynner is definitely the high point
of this film adaption of Rodgers and Hammerstein's play. The production
is very impressive, with a fully fleshed out technicolor Siam
practically bursting out of the screen. Deborah Kerr's costumes alone
are just about worth the price of admission. The only thing bringing
the film down somewhat is the fact that the film occasionally feels
patronizing towards Asian culture and the sometimes deliberately
infantile lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein, excellent in some places as far
as characterization but in other places again seeming to reinforce the
film's patronizing attitude towards its characters (and audience?).
Brynner's performance ranks among the very best in the history of musical film. It's important that we do not see him sing or dance right away, and in fact he waits until some of the film's final scenes to actually bust out on the dance floor. When he and Kerr go into "Shall We Dance?" and he is practically sprinting around the dance floor barefoot, I'm sure many in the audience literally drop their jaws. In general, we can say that Brynner's performance managed to capture both the menace, dignity, and authority of the King, while at the same time he was able to wring buckets of humor from the premise of the King's attitudes about women and society in general without compromising that dignity. That alone is a great achievement, but Brynner also manages to give the character great warmth and charm, making him a very appealing character to the audience and almost making us feel that his many transgressions are just minor details in his overall makeup. Simply astounding work.
Kerr is decent, actually quite good through most of the film until it comes to the point where she has to be completely angry at the King (because he would not let one of his wives escape with her lover). Then it seems like the work she's done to give this character equal dignity (and almost equal authority) with Brynner's King seems to collapse and we're left with the impression that she's a bit silly, especially as she tells the Prime Minister (Carlos Rivas) "I wish I had never come to Siam!" and runs off crying. We have the same problem here dramatically speaking, though to a lesser extent, that we have in "South Pacific" when Nellie decides she can't love the frenchman because he has native children. This doesn't have those racial problems, but it's equally unconvincing really as a dramatic stimulus, making us feel that the primary character has somehow failed to learn what we the audience have learned just through watching them go through their travails! I also feel that the ending in general was a bit rushed. We have Anna going off in a pout crying, and then in the very next scene not only is she leaving Siam but we hear the King of Siam is dying. All very abrupt and feels a bit forced, as if the King had to go onto his deathbed just to wrap the film up.
As far as the humor in the King's character, although I admire the way Brynner was able to pull off all these elements, there were times when I personally felt uncomfortable to laugh at the King... something I did not feel when I saw this film as a young child in the early 80s. I guess you can say I'm more "racially conscious", but it seemed to me that they were at times encouraging the audience to laugh at the King and even at his court simply because of how "backward" they were. For instance here we have a King who seems to have a good command of English but who mispronounces a word or skips a word in the sentence if it will make the crowd in America laugh. Not that I think the King should have spoken like an English professor, but I'm convinced that there were moments where I and most modern audiences would cringe where the film's and play's creators would have wanted us to laugh.
I didn't want these comments to pass without giving notice and praise to the "Little House of Uncle Thomas" vignette designed by Jerome Robbins I presume and which also shows some really amazing camera work. The effects here are very cinematic but it's done in such a way that you can believe that the things you're seeing could actually have been done in the 1860s when the film was set. Really excellent work on that portion of the film.
Hammerstein's lyrics do not in my opinion rise to the level of Rodgers' music. The patter songs that Brynner does like "A Puzzlement" are wonderful, but there are just too many songs on here that feel like an imposition of warm family vibes on the story. That's Hammerstein's MO: create supremely dramatic situations and surround them with songs that wouldn't be out of place in a nursery school. Things like "Hello, Young Lovers", "Getting to Know You" and "I Whistle a Happy Tune" make this musicals fan wish for the days of Rodgers and Hart when Rodgers' music could be funny without being so darn clean and family friendly. "Something Wonderful" is a technically superb song that is completely un-memorable, an example of where Rodgers tried to imitate Kern's style to suit Hammerstein's ambitions. But the duo do make it up to us somewhat with the superb "Shall We Dance" and Rodgers' solo contributions like "March of the Siamese Children".
All in all, this is a very solid musical entertainment. Because of Brynner's performance it is a true classic for all the ages. There is enough good here overall to outweigh the bad. This is one that people will be talking about many years after we are all gone. But it's not a perfect film.
Director Walter Lang does his best to ruin what may be Rodgers &
Hammerstein's strongest stage musical, but he's no match for the
He directs with a stodgy, anonymous style -- why actually move your camera around a set when you can root it to the floor as if it's a potted plant? With the exception of Yul Bryner and Deborah Kerr, he elicits performances from his cast that would be at home in a cheesy sword-and-sandal Biblical epic. And the film has that overblown, garish visual design too common to big films from this time period, that manages to look both cheap and expensive at the same time, as if all the sets are made out of brightly colored plexiglass.
But, and this is a big "but," this musical tells a beautiful story about cultural tolerance that remains intact in the film, and the movie offers the strong performances of Bryner and Kerr, both perfectly cast in their roles. "Carousel" may have given audiences the most sophisticated R&H score, but for me, the music in "The King and I" remains the most glorious. Too bad the adapted film score severely truncates its stage counterpart: many songs are missing entirely, and almost all of those left are shortened versions.
Happily, the "Small House of Uncle Thomas" ballet sequence remains in the film and retains the original Jerome Robbins choreography as it appeared on stage. It may just be the most memorable musical number ever conceived for stage or screen.
This film isn't the best possible screen adaptation of a nearly perfect stage show, but thanks to Bryner and Kerr, and of course R&H, it'll do.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
First I suppose I should declare an interest: I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Larry Hart fan and though I understood the reasons why Dick Rodgers finally decided to call time on Larry and throw in his lot with Oscar I've never really forgiven him. There's a paper waiting to be written on why the Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway musicals - or at least the first four - seem so lacklustre when transferred to the screen - and, YES, I know that lots of posters claim to love them and even claim Classic status for them on these very Boards and all I can say is they're easily pleased. It's undeniable that Dick Rodgers only had to sit down at a keyboard to pour out glorious melodies but sure as shooting Oscar would schmaltz them to high cholesterol level. Actually that's incorrect because unlike Larry Hart, who would set a melody by Rodgers, Oscar wrote his schmaltzy frustrated-poet lyrics first and then Dick would set them so we have to conclude that Dick was incapable of writing a banal melody even when faced with banal lyrics. I've seen all the film adaptation with the exception of The Sound Of Music which I've made a point of avoiding as I avoid all formulaic movies - though I had a lot of fun imagining the story conferences: Let's see, singing nuns, that'll give us the Catholics; young kids, there's your family audience; Nazis, that'll draw the action buffs, but SAY, do you think we could work in a part for Lassie that way we've pretty much covered ALL the bases - and on balance I guess I'd say Carousel was the best of a bad bunch. This time around they begin by omitting I Have Dreamed, a strong ballad then assembling a cast who contrive to give the impression they're performing in different movies, God knows who came up with Martin Benson - a veteran of dozens of British Z movies and Short Ends king - for a major supporting role. Deborah Kerr's take on winsomeness is akin to being held hostage in the Hershey plant and force fed. One poster made the bizarre claim that Deborah Kerr was 'substituted' for Gertie Lawrence who created the role on Broadway whilst the truth is, of course, that Gertie died in harness a short way into the run.The score is the usual competent stuff we've come to expect from the duo but there's the constant feeling that something's missing. Oh, yes, Larry Hart.
Disappointing musical version of Margaret Landon's "Anna and the King of Siam", itself filmed in 1946 with Irene Dunne and Rex Harrison, has Deborah Kerr cast as a widowed schoolteacher and mother who travels from England to Siam in 1862 to accept job as tutor to the King's many children--and perhaps teach the Royal One a thing or two in the process! Stagy picture begins well, but quickly loses energy and focus. Yul Brynner, reprising his stage triumph as the King, is a commanding presence, but is used--per the concocted story--as a buffoon. Kerr keeps her cool dignity and fares better, despite having to lip-synch to Marni Nixon's vocals. Perhaps having already played this part to death, Brynner looks like he had nothing leftover for the screen translation except bombast. Second-half, with Anna and the moppets staging a musical version of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" is quite ridiculous, and the Rodgers and Hammerstein songs are mostly lumbering. Brynner won a Best Actor Oscar, but it is feisty Kerr who keeps this bauble above water. Overlong, heavy, and 'old-fashioned' in the worst sense of the term. ** from ****
After many years I watched this again. If you compare it to the stage musical there are a few significant cuts to the score. For the film I think it makes it work better; some thing onstage don't translate well to film which is much more realistic. As much as I love this work, it did feel as it was about 10 minutes too long. Does anyone ever mention that The King's death is probably a suicide? It happens quite shortly after the ambassador's visit. The astonishing thing this time was the production. The last time I saw this movie was on a print that was so washed out, everything looked orange. This time it was glorious and I came to realize that the production was not much different from the stage. Everything was an obvious set. For me it made the film much more powerful. The Small Cabin of Uncle Thomas was so much better than I remembered it. There is tremendous restraint and sensitivity in this work. The choreography is very specific in purpose. The songs are gentle in their range except for "Something Wonderful." When we finally get to "Shall We Dance" the sexually chemistry between Brynner and Deborah Kerr is hot!. Of course this is Brynner's movie. With a role like that, how could it not be. But Kerr's seriousness grounds everything. Could any other actress of the 1950s have done this role so beautifully? I doubt it. You will laugh a lot, hum along even more and even shed a few tears. What more could anyone want?
"The King and I" is a lavish musical filmed by Twentieth Century Fox in
1956. It was made just 10 years after Fox made "Anna and the King of
Siam." Both films were based on the novel by Margaret Landon. The first
film was truer to the book, and closer to history.
Yul Bryner is superb as King Mongkut. The role made him a star. Deborah Kerr is excellent as Anna Leonowens. Rita Morena is very good as Tuptim, and Martin Benson plays his part well. More about the real characters below. The rest of the supporting case are fine, including the many children. This movie had three hit songs from Rodgers and Hammerstein: "Hello, Young Lovers," "I Whistle a Happy Tune," and "Getting to Know You." Marni Nixon is uncredited but sang the songs that were dubbed for Kerr's singing.
The best part of this film is the play the children put on for the royal dinner guests. Based on "Uncle Tom's Cabin," they call it "The Small House of Uncle Thomas." Adult performers were used in this beautiful dance and pantomime sequence. Jerome Robbins directed and choreographed the scene for the original stage play as well as for the film. He also staged all the dance and musical numbers in the movie.
While this is a very entertaining musical, when I watched it again after many years, it seemed to have an agenda. It seems to scold Siam for its backward culture and "barbaric" customs of the mid-19th century. The film isn't discreet in its praise of America as the bastion of freedom and progress. It is so overt in its flag-waving that it almost detracts from the music and movie. I found that funny because in the U.S. of 1862, only white males could vote, and we still had slavery. And when the film came out, the U.S. was still years away from the Civil Right Act of 1964.
One expects Hollywood to change, revise or adapt stories for films. But it sometimes goes too far. When a movies goes beyond entertainment, and begins to preach and promote, should it not portray historical matters accurately? Well, "The King and I" departs some from the book and much from historical facts and accuracy. Some examples follow.
Margaret Landon's novel came out in 1938 and was a huge success. She based it on a story she heard when she and her husband served as missionaries in Thailand from 1927-37.
Anna Leonowens was an Anglo-Indian author, teacher and speaker. She was born Nov. 6, 1832, in India. Her mother was from India and her father, Thomas Edwards, was a sergeant in a British engineer regiment. Anna hid her true background for most of her adult life. In 1849, she married Thomas Leon Owens, who worked as a clerk. He later merged his last two names to Leonowens. Anna knew several languages and opened schools or taught wherever they lived.
From 1853 to 1857, the couple lived in Australia. They lost two children in infancy. A daughter, Avis, was born in 1854, and Louis was born in 1856. In April 1857, the family moved to Penang, Malaysia, and in early May 1859, Thomas died of apoplexy. Anna was left impoverished, with two young children. So, she move to Singapore where she created her new background.
The New York Times of Oct. 10, 2008, called Anna a "con woman," but not derisively, in a review of the latest book about her. "Bombay Anna The Real Story and Remarkable Adventures of 'The King and I' Governess," was written by Susan Morgan. "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." Anna opened a school for children of British officers. She built a solid reputation as an educator and was accepted in British society. Then, in 1861, King Mongkut asked his agent in Singapore to find an English governess to teach his children. And that's how Anna Leonowens wound up in Siam. She was there five years and taught the king's many children, as well as the adults in the royal household.
King Mongkut was born in 1804. He was 58 when Anna arrived in Bangkok and he died six years later, in 1868, at age 64. But Mongkut did not become king until 1851. Before that, he was a Buddhist monk. He was an accomplished scholar and abbot of a Bangkok monastery, which he made into a center of intellectual discourse. It included the study of western languages and science and was open to American and French Christian missionaries as well. Mongkut is known for opening his country to Western influence and initiating reforms and modern development. This was years before Anna Leonowens went to Siam.
In the 1946 movie, Kralahome, the prime minister, is much more accurately portrayed than in the 1956 musical. Kralahome had been a monk, scholar and friend of Mongkut before he became king. Kralahome shared the king's hopes and dreams for reforms and changes. In this musical, he is against change and favors ancient practices. That's a clear revision of history. Kralahome helped Mongkut enact treaties in 1855 with Great Britain and America. Again, this was well before Anna arrived in Siam.
In both films, Mongkut is shown writing a letter to President Abraham Lincoln in which he offers him elephants. Mongkut did write a president with such an offer, but it was James Buchanan who served 1857-61. And that, too, was before Anna arrived in Siam.
I personally feel The King and I is a fantastic piece of Cinema History. I found it amazing how the Studio uses simple tricks with Props, Perspective Shots and painted Backdrops to make the Palace look opulent and Grand. The extremely well written and catchy Songs stood their ground even without great Vocals. The Casting was absolutely brilliant! In a Role that seemed to be written only for Yul Brynner who showed his incredible ability to go from a joyful smile, to the Kings menacing frown within moments was absolutely superb and the coupling with Deborah Kerr despite her seemingly trying to out-act Yul in most scenes worked well. The Siamese version of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" showed just how much thought went into this Movie etc, etc, etc
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