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Customer Review

114 of 129 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the Greatest Musicals of All Time!, June 12, 2004
This review is from: The King and I (DVD)
Rodgers and Hammerstein's THE KING AND I (1956) is a wonderous movie musical, an incredible adaption of the Broadway musical that premiered on stage in 1951 (and has been performed tens of thousands of times since). It tells a timeless story about tradition vs. modernity, Eastern vs. Western culture and men vs. women. This story was first written as the first-hand account of Anna Leonowens' experiences in Siam in the mid-19th Century, where she had been hired by King Mongkut to teach his many children, in his hopes to push Siam into the modern age. This account was first adapted for the big screen as ANNA AND THE KING OF SIAM (1946); unseen by me, it has been highly regarded in its own right, and starred Irene Dunne and Rex Harrison. THE KING AND I stars Deborah Kerr (last name pronounced "Carr") and Yul Brynner. Deborah Kerr completely embodies the strong-willed but emotionally fragile young widow Anna Leonowens; she makes Anna into a character with whom we identify and sympathize. We side with her in all disputes, from demanding that she be given her own house in which to stay as part of the original deal, to calling King Mongkut to task for enforcing double-standard sexual laws that were outdated and demeaning to women even at that time. As the equally strong-willed King Mongkut, Yul Brynner commands the screen in every scene he's in. You simply cannot look away. His King Mongkut is someone who wants to change Siam for the better, yet struggles to cling to many of the same traditions that he slowly begins to realize is partly responsible *for* holding Siam back. His heartbreak by film's end is emotionally gut-wrenching, and never fails to bring me to tears. The Russian-born, half-Mongolian Yul Brynner makes you believe he is a Siamese King; his performance is so brilliant that his transformation into this character appears to be almost effortless. And, of course, it won him a very well-deserved Oscar for Best Actor. Deborah Kerr gives a wide-ranged performance that spans all emotions throughout the course of this film. She was deservedly nominated for Best Actress, but unfortunately didn't win.
This film would have given us enough meat to chew on just in the complex relationship between our two principals alone. However, it is not content with just doing that for us. It gives us two spellbinding subplots, one of the forbidden love between Tuptim (a virtually unrecognizable Rita Moreno, in a truly marvelous performance) one of King Mongkut's many wives, and Lun Tha (Carlos Rivas), and the visit by the British Ambassador Sir John Hay (Alan Mowbray) whom King Mongkut wants to impress with how civilized he, and the Kingdom of Siam, is. Also, the "play within the play"; namely, the hypnotic Siamese theater performance of Harriet Beecher Stowe's epic American tale of oppression and cruelty UNCLE TOM'S CABIN, is just so incredible that words fail me as how else to describe it. Anna's young son Louis (Rex Thompson) provides us with an effective sounding-board onto whom Anna reveals the kind of feelings about the situation that she cannot express to the King.
Unfortunately, this or any other Western film treatment of this truly fascinating story continues to be banned in Thailand today, namely they feel that King Mongkut, whom I understand was one of their most beloved monarchs, is portrayed as a barbarian. I have two beefs with that sentiment: 1) King Mongkut is most decidedly *not* portrayed as a barbarian in this treatment (or in the 1999 non-musical ANNA AND THE KING, which is quite a brilliant film in its own right)---rather, he is shown to be a deeply conflicted man who agonizes at the prospect of losing centuries-old Siamese traditions, even as he expresses himself as one who wants to help his country modernize; 2) If they want to get the story right in their eyes, then where is the *Thai* version of the story?
Controversies aside, this is just a splendid, gorgeous film. It has great period costumes, in both Eastern and Western traditions. It has a huge, ornate set used for the Palace. It has great music ("Getting To Know You" and "Shall We Dance" are my two favorites). And it has incredible acting from all involved, especially Brynner, Kerr and Moreno (who should have been at least nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her sensitive and delicate protrayal of Tuptim). It is a joy to revisit every now & then. Parents, please do your children a favor and *keep them away* from the HORRENDOUS 1999 animated version, insultingly called THE KING AND I. That simpleminded, stereotype-laden, lamebrained version is a complete insult to anyone of decent intelligence. Just show your kids the 1956 original; it is the only version they will ever need to see!
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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jan 7, 2012 6:49:45 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 8, 2012 5:53:30 AM PST
M Howe says:
Excellent first rate review IMHO. Completely agree with everything you wrote. Plot synopsis is well transcribed. Quite right to acknowledge the costume designers, until this sharp DVD transfer I never appreciated the sewn-on sequin/studs on the kings black shirt in the earlier scenes (I just thought it was gold polka dot print). Very colourful array of costumes & set design. I presume the telecine transfer has undergone some restoration techniques. The picture is displayed "letter-boxed" even on 16:9 screens because it retains its original Cinemascope 55 anamorphic ratio.

It was interesting to mention the controversial stir which to this day rubs with Thailand which I'd also like to touch upon.
Of course, this rendition is a screenplay adaptation of Margaret Landons novel which itself is an adaptation of Anna Leonowen's diaries, so here we have a 3rd hand account before studio editorial decisions. My personal research is to understand that the real Mongkut was NOT a harsh disciplinarian or ruthless despot. Information in current circulation suggests that Leonowens' accounts of Siamese court life were greatly exaggerated so herein lies the root of the harm yet multiplied. Fox did endeavour to re-write the script to improve the presentation of the King but had left too much "spice" to satisfy the Thais. I notice that Mongkuts name is carefully avoided.
Let's hope nowadays that the Thai nation have noted that Hollywood films are an inaccurate learning source for historical representation but are often overdramatised for entertainment purposes. Throughout the film I take the soft view toward the king & the end is emotionally charged. It's worth remembering that the film is popular for the musical and theatrical merits of Rogers & Hammerstein before factual content.

I've enjoyed reading some of your other reviews, by & large this is a film review. As a suggestion (not a criticism) for those who happen to know the film already, a DVD or Blu Ray review could mention packaged extras such as commentaries, language options, angle or aspect ratio options, bonus features, running times, restoration info, audio selection. For example, my disc is from a 6-disc Rodgers & Hammerstein boxed set issued by 20th Century Fox in 2006. One of the fantastic features of this DVD is the ability to play the original orchestra score in isolation from the vocals (in stereo only). This allows you to marvel at the brilliant performance of the 20th Century Fox Orchestra conducted by the great Alfred Newman & focus on hearing the writing detailed by the 4 orchestrators involved. I still consider this a superbly engineered music sound recording made by Vinton Vernon of any era.

Posted on Jan 22, 2012 9:17:14 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 22, 2012 9:18:36 AM PST
The Thai have two enormous objections to this whole "King and I" thing. (a) The story is simply not true, just a fantasy of an English spinster (b) By Thai standards, the Thai King is quite definitely shown as a barbarian. Just think: the head of state, the head of culture and religion, being filmed jumping around "like a monkey" WITH HIS SHIRT OFF.

Westerners may think that the Thai King is just a colorful relic of the past, but they could not be more mistaken. The current King, Bhumipol the Great, managed to continue the tradition of his ancestors (who avoided colonization) by avoiding the disasters of Communism which overcame Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. He remains a moral force to be reckoned with, and he is definitely no laughing matter for the Thai people.

Posted on May 19, 2013 8:45:28 AM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Aug 18, 2014 7:08:25 AM PDT]

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 17, 2014 8:46:45 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 17, 2014 9:12:19 PM PDT
You have no idea what you are talking about Richard. Not a clue. I am an industry professional and almost everything you are saying is incorrect sorry. If I had the time I would gladly straighten out your misinformation on letterbox and pan and scan, but it would take me forever. I am a film projectionist who has screened every process you can name, including the original Todd-AO. I'm sure you mean well however. Just for starters, letterbox refers to a film that has black bars top and botton on your widescreen televisons. This does NOT mean you are seeing less of the original image. You are seeing ALL of it. ALL of it, OK? None of the image is artificially stretched or cropped. It is just how you would see it in the cinema. 4-3 films should appear with black bars on both sides. Most modern televisions give you the option to stretch that image, but if you do, obviously you lose the top and bottom of the original picture. All televisions today enable you to see every film made in the original aspect ratio. Most people still don't understand that you can achieve this by pressing your the aspect ratio button on the handset. Pan and scan was done in the televison studios, and is now rarely if ever done, thank God. The King and I, is now available on Bluray by the way. And it is in the Anamorphic, 19-9, letterbox format, which means you are seeing the original Cinemascope 55 image EXACTLY as it was seen in the cinema. No cropping, nothing trimmed off, nothing compromised. Over and out.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 18, 2014 6:38:31 AM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Aug 18, 2014 7:06:08 AM PDT]

Posted on Sep 1, 2014 10:12:52 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 2, 2014 7:20:39 PM PDT
Diotima says:
"The King and I" is a film version of the Broadway musical which played for three years from March 1951 to March 1954. The musical was devised for Gertrude Lawrence based on Margaret Landon's novel which, in turn, was based on two books written by Anna Leonowens - the second of which was pure fantasy designed to cash-in on the success of the first.

For the real Anna Leonowens read "Bombay Anna" by Susan Morgan. She wasn't English. She was an Anglo-Indian married to an Irish sergeant in India. She moved to Western Australia (where two of her children were born in Perth) and then Penang where her husband died of apoplexy. She moved on to Singapore with her daughter, Avis, and son, Louis, where she promoted herself to become the widow of Major Thomas Leonowens. She passed herself off as being Welsh. She worked as a governess for the young children of British officers. In 1861 she was contracted by King Mongkut's agent in Singapore to become governess of the king's children. Her daughter was packed-off to school in England. Her contract with the king of Siam paid the equivalent of a professor's salary. She was the guest of the prime minister for about a month until she moved into a new house near - but not in - the Grand Palace in Bangkok. The king didn't die during her sojourn in Siam. She left Siam on a six-month leave of absence and arrived in England (for the very first time) in 1867. She moved on to Ireland where, through her in-laws, her son was placed in a boarding school. Anna and her daughter landed at the port of New York in 1868. The pair moved to Germany where they lived in Kassel from 1888 to 1893 and Leipzig until 1901 and then moved on to Montreal where Avis died of food poisoning aged forty-seven.

In the film "Anna and the King of Siam", starring Irene Dunne and Rex Harrison, Anna's son dies as a result of a riding accident. In reality Louis Leonowens returned to Siam where he spent most of his adult life but died in London due to the 1919 flu epidemic aged fifty-two.
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