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USA 1956
Directed by
Walter Lang
133 minutes
Rated G

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

The King And I

Russian-born Yul Brynner won an Academy Award for his performance as the King of Siam, a role he had already played in the Broadway run of this Rodgers and Hammerstein musical that was in turn derived from a book by Margaret Landon and a 1946 movie, both entitled Anna And The King Of Siam.

As befits a musical play the storyline is quite simple and with such a long-running time and the shift in global values (then exotic Thailand is now one of the top destinations for European and American tourists, not always for the best of reasons) it can feel a little ponderous at times. The Gilbert and Sullivan-ish depiction of caricatural Asiatics is hard to overlook whilst the use of non-Asians to play them (Rita Moreno, who plays Tuptim was Puerto Rican, and Martin Benson, who plays Kralahome. was British and there is not a single Asian in the entire main cast) is so completely wrong by today's standards.

On the upside, however, the broader themes, which include cultural tolerance and a respect for intellectual curiosity are commendable for their day, the film looks gorgeous, with Jerome Robbins' interpretation of "The Small House Of Uncle Thomas" standing out, and the score features memorable songs such as "Getting To Know You", "Shall We Dance?" and "Hello Young Lovers". With her singing voice dubbed by backstage stalwart, Marni Nixon, Deborah Kerr is the perfect choice to play the strong-willed school-marm and she holds her own against Bynner's scene-chewing emoting.

Although Walter Lang's direction is consistently uninspired, sticking close to the theatrical staging and theatre-goer's perspective, 20th Century Fox lavished its resources on the production and it is no surprise that the film also won Oscars for art direction, costume design and scoring.




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