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This visual and musical masterpiece features Yul Brynner's Academy Awardr winning performance, an inforgettable Rodgers and Hammersteinr score, and brilliant choreography by Jerome Robbins. It tells the true story of an Englishwoman, Anna Leonowens Deborah Kerr, who comes o Siam as schoolteacher to the royal court in the 1860's. Though she soon finds herself at odds with the stubborn monarch Brynner, over time, Anna and the King stop trying to change each other and begin to understand one another.
The third Rodgers & Hammerstein Broadway hit to go before the cameras, The King and I boasts a career-making performance from Yul Brynner, repeating his stage triumph as the titular monarch and proving to moviegoers that bald can be beautiful. It's Brynner's proud king that provides the fulcrum to the plot, and it's Brynner himself, with his piercing gaze and graceful physicality, that demands our attention.
The story line, adapted from an earlier, nonmusical stage hit, follows widowed English teacher Anna Leonowens Deborah Kerr to her new posting as tutor to the Siamese king's formidable mob of children. The collision of East and West affords its winning mixture of drama and humor, and the warm friendship that grows between the king and the patrician teacher provides a poignant, unfulfilled romance between the two wary protagonists. Into this framework, the composers insert a superb score, echoing Asian motifs, as well as a bouquet of lovely songs including "Hello, Young Lovers," "Shall We Dance," and two ensemble pieces for Anna and the royal children "Getting to Know You" and "I Whistle a Happy Tune" that suggest prototypes for Rodgers & Hammerstein's later hit, The Sound of Music.
For this 1956 production, 20th Century Fox lavished stereophonic sound, widescreen cinematography, intricate production design, and stunning sets. Technically, this newly mastered THX version is the best-looking and -sounding King yet to hit video, but in its full-frame, pan-and- scan version the formatting downsizes far too much of the splendor, losing some sharpness to the imagery. For viewing on all but the smallest screens, the widescreen edition is vastly superior. But, in either version, the glorious music is reason enough to hit "play." --Sam Sutherland