Monday, February 5, 2018

Movie Review: "The King and I" (1956)

Year Nominated: 1957
Director: Walter Lang
Rating: NR
Running Time: 2 hours, 13 minutes
Did It Win?: No.

An English widow moves to Siam to be the governess of the King of Siam's children.

It's extremely hard to go back and look at older movies through modern eyes. We want to tell ourselves the way people acted in the past, particularly from the 20's-50's, is "just how it was back then," that it was acceptable to be what we now as a society are quick to call out as bad behavior. It isn't always the easiest task. "The King and I" is the film adaptation of a Rodgers and Hammerstein's stage musical of the same name, which is based on the novel "Anna and the King of Siam" by Margaret Landon. This novel, in turn, is based on two memoirs written by Anna Leonowens herself. The film is directed by Walter Lang, who had about 60 directorial credits to his name going into this film. It stars Deborah Kerr as Anna Leonowens, an English widow who moves to Siam with her son so she can be the live-in governess to the children of King Mongkut played by, Yul Brynner. She is meant to teach them English and about western customs and traditions, though the way she and the king see the world don't always match and they often butt heads, something the king is not used to at all.

As we have said many times in the past, we are huge fans of musicals. The key to any successful musical, however, is good music. This is something "The King and I" severely lacks. There is only one song in the film we found to be remotely memorable, that being "Getting to Know You." There is only one other tune we consider even modestly entertaining, and that's "Shall We Dance." Beyond these two, the rest of the music is forgettable and sometimes downright intolerable. We will say Yul Brynner has a charismatic screen presence that helps the audience gravitate towards the character of King Mongkut. He is one of the better parts of the movie (despite his clear yellow-face), though he not the absolute best part of the film. That honor goes to an almost surreal reimagining of "Uncle Tom's Cabin," shockingly enough. This play within the movie is done very well and is loaded with some fantastic visuals. "Uncle Tom's Little House," as it's called, does offer a solid allegory of a subplot that runs through the film. In fact, it tells it better than the actual plot of this film. That is probably the biggest downfall of "The King and I." The narrative isn't very strong and it is not very well paced. We just weren't very engaged with the story, which at the end of the day is really about how much better western culture is than that of the far east. In the end, this movie doesn't hold up that well over time.

My Rating: 4/10
BigJ's Rating: 5/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.5/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 96%
Do we recommend this movie: No.

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