The King and I

The King and I

Movie: The King and I
Director: Walter Lang
Produced by: 20th Century Fox
Released By: Fathom, TCM, 20th Century Fox
MPAA Rating: G

The King and I, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein’s 1951 Broadway musical hit, was based on Margaret Landon’s book Anna and the King of Siam. Since 20th-Century-Fox had made a film version of the Landon book in 1946, that studio had first dibs on the movie adaptation of The King and I. Deborah Kerr plays English widow Anna Leonowens, who comes to Siam in the 1860s 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 multilayered relationship. Through Anna, the King learns the refineries and responsibilities of “modern” western civilization, Anna 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. In general, The King and I tends to be somewhat stagey, with the notable exception of the matchless “Small House of Uncle Thomas” ballet, which utilizes the Cinemascope 55 format to best advantage. Most of the Broadway version’s best songs are retained. None of the omissions are particularly regrettable, save for Anna’s solo “Shall I Tell You What I Think of You?” This feisty attack on the King’s chauvinism was specially written to suit the talents of Gertrude Lawrence, who played Anna in the original production, the song was cut from the film because it made Deborah Kerr seem “too bitchy”. When all is said and done, the principal attraction of The King and I is Yul Brynner, in the role that made him a star and with which he will forever be identified.

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