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The King and I Movie Review

kerr deborah film brynner

1956 – Walter Lang –

The classic film rendition of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway hit is based on both a book by Margaret Landon and a movie Anna and the King of Siam. The story follows a widowed Victorian English woman (Deborah Kerr) who goes to Thailand in the 1860s to become governess to the many children of the King of Siam (Yul Brynner). While Mrs. Anna loves the children, she clashes immediately with the strong-willed king—who is entranced by both the ways of the West and a woman strong enough to stand up to him.

Choreographed by Jerome Robbins, the film is deliberately stagey, but the staginess is part of the charm: stair steps of identically dressed royal children presented in parade to Mrs. Anna and the King, a familiar yet foreign ballet of Uncle Tom's Cabin, and the spectacular sweep of hoop skirts in a land of bare feet. There is such energy in the film; Yul Brynner's “A Puzzlement” number is a delight. When Anna and the King finally meet physically in “Shall We Dance,” the result is one of the finest dance scenes in a Hollywood musical. Some Broadway conventions, however, like the tragic subplot of Tuptim (Rita Moreno, singing voice assisted by Leona Gordon) and LunTha (Carlos Rivas, singing voice by Reuben Fuentes), translate rather woodenly to the screen. The King's death of a broken heart as the Crown Prince assumes the new role stretches the viewer's credulity, but the emotional impact is still strong. Brynner became a legend with the role, and the screen offers ample evidence of his dynamic charisma.

This film represents one of the first dubbing jobs for singer Marni Nixon, who had been a former messenger at MGM. Here Nixon's singing replaces the voice of Deborah Kerr on all of her high notes (according to John Eastman in his book Retakes) and for the entire song “Hello, Young Lovers.” Nixon went on to sing the film parts of Maria in West Side Story and, most famously, Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady. Robert Wise gave Nixon her few seconds of on-screen time when he cast her as one of the singing nuns in The Sound of Music.

Songs: “Shall We Dance,” “Getting To Know You,” “Hello, Young Lovers,” “We Kiss in a Shadow,” “I Whistle a Happy Tune,” “March of the Siamese Children,” “I Have Dreamed” “A Puzzlement,” “Something Wonderful,” “The Small House of Uncle Thomas,” and “Song of the King.”

Cast: Deborah Kerr (Anna Leonowens), Yul Brynner (King Mongkut of Siam), Rita Moreno (Tuptim), Martin Benson (Kralahome), Terry Saunders (Lady Thiang), Rex Thompson (Louis Leonowens), Carlos Rivas (Lun Tha), Patrick Adiarte (Prince Chulalongkorn), Alan Mowbray (British Ambassador), Geoffrey Toone (Ramsey), Charles Irvin (Captain Orton), Robert Baras (Keeper of the Dogs), Marion Jim (Simon Legree), Michicko Iseri (Angel in Ballet), William Yip (High Priest) Screenwriter: Margaret Landon, Ernest Lehman Cinematographer: Leon Shamroy Composer: Richard Rogers, Ken Darby, Alfred Newman Producer: Charles Brackett for Twentieth Century Fox Running Time: 133 minutes Format: VHS, LV Awards: Academy Awards 1957: Actor (Yul Brynner), Art Direction/Set Decoration (Color), Costume Design (Color), Sound, Scoring of a Musical; Nominations: Actress (Deborah Kerr), Color Cinematography, Director (Walter Lang), Picture; Golden Globe Awards 1957: Actress—Musical/Comedy (Deborah Kerr), Film—Musical/Comedy Box Office: $8.5M.

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