The King and I: 50th Anniversary Edition
During the "golden age" of Hollywood musicals, from the post-war 1940s through the mid-1960s, no two figures were more influential than composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II. Of their relentless string of hit movies during the late 1950s, however, only the 1956 film of The King and I came close to matching the cohesive majesty of their defining work, 1954's Oklahoma. Deborah Kerr stars as Anna Leonowens, an English widow hired in the 1860s by the King of Siam (Yul Brynner) to teach his children, his wives and, unofficially, his "all-knowing" self the modern knowledge of the western world. Confident in her liberalized ways, Anna pays only ceremonial deference the kingdom's traditions of polygamy, slavery, and ritualized submission to the King, but she is careful to only gently and respectfully nudge him and his family away from their antiquated system. Less subtle, however, is Tuptim (Rita Moreno), the female "present" delivered from Burma coincident with Anna's arrival. In love with her Burmese countryman Lun Tha (Carlos Rivas), Tuptim resists her bondage by staging an audacious adaptation of Uncle Tom's Cabin during a crucial diplomatic dinner party, winning the admiration of the party's British guests but enraging the humiliated King. In some ways The King and I could be counted as a lesser Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, as the music itself is pleasant, with a few well known standards ("Getting to Know You," "Shall We Dance?," "Hello, Young Lovers"), but is of mostly negligible narrative value. Only the King's odd soliloquy "A Puzzlement" is revelatory, and while the production of "The Small House of Uncle Thomas" is both dazzling eye-candy and a marvelous narrative invention, it harkens back to the pre-Rodgers & Hammerstein formula of revue-style musicals. The film's story, however, is terrific and moving, with Brynner an ace reprising his star-making Broadway role as an intellectually hungry King who reluctantly invites social reforms despite his own resistance to their effects, accepting their virtues while deeply aware of what they portend for his life and traditions. Kerr is also pitch-perfect, headstrong in a land of strange customs, and often on the verge of being both repulsed and seduced by them. The art direction by John De Cuir and Lyle R. Wheeler is simply sublime and won an Oscar, as did Brynner.
Fox's two-disc "50th Anniversary Edition" of The King and I is presented in a glorious anamorphic transfer (2.55:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. The feature includes a commentary with film scholar Richard Barrios and musical theater historian Michael Portantiere. Disc Two features the entire pilot episode of the short-lived non-music 1972 TV series "Anna and the King," with star Samantha Egger playing Anna (opposite Brynner, who would revisit the role of the King repeatedly throughout his career) and also providing commentary in a separate audio track. Also included are the featurettes "Something Wonderful: The Story of The King And I," "The Kings of Broadway," "The King and I Stage Version," "The King of the Big Screen," "A Royal Production," "Restoring Cinescope 55," and vintage stage performances of "Getting To Know You" and "A Puzzlement" performed by Patricia Morison and Yul Brynner, the additional song "Shall I Tell You What I Think Of You," and Movietone newsreels about premieres of The King And I, Yul Brynner's Oscar victory, and the unique star's Australian fan club. Dual-DVD slimline keep-case, or slimcase in Fox's "Rodgers and Hammerstein Collection" box-set.
Gregory P. Dorr
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