Friday, June 10, 2016

The King & I (1956)

"The King & I"

Director: Walter Lang

Notable Cast:

The King of Siam- Yul Brynner (RIP 1985)
Anna- Deborah Kerr (RIP 2007)
Anna (singing)- Marni Nixon
Tuptim -Rita Moreno

Composers: Richard Rodgers (music) and Oscar Hammerstein III (lyrics)

Awards & Nominations:
OSCAR- Best Actor- Yul Brynner
OSCAR- Best Art Direction
OSCAR- Best Costume Design
OSCAR- Best Sound Recording
OSCAR- Best Original Score- Alfred Newman and Ken Darby
nomination- OSCAR- Best Picture [lost to "Around the World in 80 Days"]
nomination- OSCAR- Best Actress- Deborah Kerr [lost of Ingrid Bergman from "Anastasia"]

nomination- OSCAR- Best Director- Walter Lang
nomination- OSCAR- Best [Color] Cinematography
Golden Globe- Best Actress- Deborah Kerr
Golden Globe- Best Picture (Comedy/Musical)
nomination- Golden Globe- Best Actor- Yul Brynner [lost to Cantinflas from "Around the World in 80 Days"]

nomination- Golden Globe- Best Film Promoting International Understanding


Other than convenience and having no better options, I think I wanted to see this movie mainly for Yul Brynner :shrug: not that I know a lot about him. I just remember these past couple years seeing some of "The Ten Commandments" and how good he was at being the bad guy.
And there's the fact Daniel Dae Kim is now playing the lead role on Broadway. I wasn't a fan of "Lost," but he's been amazing in "Insurgent" and "Allegient" as the leader of the Candor faction. By pure coincidence, earlier that day, my mom and I saw a Q & A with him in a magazine at the dentist office. And in a way, it was sorta lucky that I read that because there was a mild spoiler about "The King & I."
Had I not known that, it might have been an emotional ending for me.

This is only my second Rodgers & Hammerstein musical. The previous was "Oklahoma!" which I took part in during my 10th grade year of high school. [I auditioned for Ado Annie and was most likely all wrong for the part- zero boyfriend experience]


Reading the info on the TV guide, I thought this movie might be another "Sound of Music" [ironically another Rodgers & Hammerstein musical- I'd only seen the Carrie Underwood version on NBC, which I enjoyed].
A musical about a governess who travels to a new place to take care of the children of a stoic, stubborn, single father in a position of power.

Major three differences off the bat:
* The King of Siam, while powerful, stubborn and strict, appears to love his children. The VanTrapp patriarch prefers to keep them in line like soldiers and upholds strict regiments.
* The King of Siam isn't without a wife. In fact, he has several and he has children with women he isn't married to.
* There's roughly five minutes where the Oscar-winning score is performed as the children appear to greet their father and meet Anna for the first time... I assumed there were only 7 and quickly lost count.

Basically, Anna is a schoolchildren from England who receives an invitation from the King to teach his children English and give them school lessons.
It appears at first that she's the only person with the courage to stand up to him and she doesn't obey all of his orders. For whatever reason, I was reminded of "50 Shades of Grey" because Anastasia Steele was the first submissive Christian Grey had that didn't always give into his demands- sexual or otherwise. It might not be the best example (especially since she does give into him more than standing her ground), but it's interesting to see the impact one woman can have on a man. Especially when this impact changes them or at least makes them a better person.
And Anna does give into one of the King's demands- she is never to sit higher than him. They make a whole scene about this while the King dictates to her a letter he wants to write to Abraham Lincoln.

For the record, the King does say he has 106 children and has five more on the way.
I couldn't help but say "he's certainly prolific."

The first half of the movie is about Anna getting used to her new life, teaching the children lessons about the world, history, literature and music. And The King is perplexed by her and asks himself the hard questions. He invited her because he wants to become a more modern king. He wants Siam to become more knowledgeable of the scientific realm.

Then in the second half, he learns of the perception other countries have of him. Namely, the word "barbarian" gets under his skin and he wants Anna to help him change that. So she helps arrange a banquet for some ambassadors from England, which involves a dinner table with golden cutlery (apparently the men from England are not "scientific enough" to handle chopsticks, so the King insists on golden silverware), formal European dresses for the women (complete with hoop skirts, yet incomplete in one way that's kinda hilarious) and a staged performance of "Uncle Tom's Cabin."

Naturally, Anna and the King test each other multiple times and she threatens to quit twice. And each time she winds up changing her mind.
[Yikes- the "50 Shades" comparisons won't leave my mind- the only difference was that Anna and the King never got romantically involved. As far as the film adaptation goes, anyway. I don't know anything about the real story other than the truth about the ending and the fact several liberties were taken by Hollywood and by the real Anna].

There's also a subplot about a girl "gifted" to the King and her love affair with the man who brought her there. It factors into the second time Anna almost leaves Siam.

The Music & Songs:

In case it wasn't clear early (name-dropping Rodgers & Hammerstein), this is a musical. My dad came in during the second half and he left after the third song that came on.

It got very song-heavy between the 30 and 60 minute mark. Three songs in a row.
The first being about Anna's husband who recently died (I missed the first 10 minutes so I don't know the extent of that).
The second is the King's solo- "Is a Puzzlement"- where he questions things he grew up knowing and whether or not those things are still so. I realize it's supposed to be a serious number, but when it got to the third verse I started laughing and asking how it is possible- for so many people to live in this huge palace, yet NOBODY is around to witness this? Anyone who knew the King, at minimum, would say it was out of character for him.
The third "Getting to Know You" is one of the highlights, but it got me thinking- other than the heir to the throne, we don't really learn anyone's names.

Kudos to Yul Brynner for doing his own singing- although this wasn't his first musical experience. He was cast for this movie mainly because he had previous experience. And he went on to win a Tony for this role on Broadway.

And again, Marni Nixon is the unsung hero... perhaps the most ironic unsung hero of all time because she does the singing for Eliza Doolittle and Maria from "West Side Story."
Singing for big musicals and not getting her due for it until decades after the fact.
Of course, in this case, she sings for Anna.

"Shall We Dance" for me was the biggest sing & dance highlight of the movie. Just a joy to watch.

Other comments:

I went through the cast list trying to figure out what other names to include. I don't think many of the actors had well established careers after this movie, so I didn't know who else to include.
But I knew the name Rita Moreno looked familiar. She plays Anita in "West Side Story" so it's interesting to see her in a different role.

Hollywood has been getting a lot of flack these past several years over "white-washing." Casting white actors in movies that take place in the Middle East or Asia. Emma Stone being cast as a native Hawaiian in "Aloha" was another example.
I want to say that this was back when they got it right... they didn't. Not according to the IMDb messageboards anyway.

Between this and "The Ten Commandments," I thought Yul Brynner was at least of the right ethnicity to play the part... he's Russian.
That certainly explains lately. Namely, his commanding presence on screen. And early on, I thought that there was no way he didn't win an Oscar for this. I quickly looked it up and breathed a huge sigh of relief. He really did become this character and he showed all his complexities so well.
Not to mention he does look good with his shirt open. Apparently he buffed up a lot while filming "The Ten Commandments" so he wouldn't pale in comparison to Charlton Heston. So his physique here is easily the result of that because he filmed this immediately after that movie.

The King is a strong and intelligent ruler, but he had some moments that sounded less than intelligent. Which isn't entirely his fault. You live in such a small country in the 1860's, you're not going to know everything as much as you'd like to think otherwise.
He asked Anna how Abraham Lincoln intends to win his war (aka the American Civil War) if he doesn't have elephants. And later he dictates a letter saying he wants to send him a pair of elephants that will breed him an army. I just found that kind of a hilarious.
Then there was his groaning about Moses in The Bible (oh, the irony!).

But he made one interesting point in asking how one person can write one thing on a certain topic, another writing another and how both of them can accepted as truth. This doesn't just apply to literature (The Bible in this case) but media in general. It makes you think... and at the same time, it makes me wish we could get the straight news instead of everyone having their own slant and biases.
November cannot come soon enough...

Other than "Shall we Dance," my favorite part of the "Uncle Tom's Cabin" show. Granted, it's not completely accurate in storytelling, culture or historically... but for however long it lasted, I marveled and I think I even stopped breathing. The visuals were fantastic, the music was gripping and intense... just an amazing piece of filmmaking. If they haven't already made shows like this available to the public, they should.

Songs aside, the musical score was definitely Oscar-worthy. And the costumes and art direction... wow. This was Hollywood in its heyday for sure.

One final note of interest: Yul Brynner insisted on Deborah Kerr being cast as Anna. Apparently he'd seen her stage work and was really impressed with her.
I think it's really cool when actors suggest casting choices that work out really well. Especially when they come out this good.

1 comment:

Veronica said...

A great movie... I hope you will watch the original Sound of Music with Julie Andrews who by the way does sing all of her music. It is a GREAT CLASSIC.