Starring Yul Brynner in the part he seemed born to play, this is a fine if slightly stage-bound example of the 1950s Hollywood musical spectacular.
Deborah Kerr is an English schoolteacher who journeys to Siam with her son, Thompson. She has been hired by the king (Brynner) to teach his many children about the world outside their kingdom. Arrogant and chauvinistic, the King is very comfortable as the unchallenged ruler of his land. Kerr
herself is a very strong woman, and it isn't long before the two are at odds, mainly because Brynner is stunned by her unwillingness to bend to his every whim. In a series of vignettes, Kerr is shown teaching the children, dealing with problems within the household (one of which involves
persuading Brynner to let Moreno, one of his wives, leave because she loves another), and verbally sparring with the king. Eventually, Kerr wins Brynner's respect and his love.
Even without the music, this well-written story would be a splendid entertainment. But it's the music, that wonderful score written by Rodgers and Hammerstein, that makes this movie as beloved as it is. Kerr's voice was looped by that most ubiquitous of song loopers, Marni Nixon (wife of music
composer Ernest Gold), who did the singing for, among others, Audrey Hepburn in MY FAIR LADY and Natalie Wood in WEST SIDE STORY. Brynner, of course, is marvelous in the role of the supreme ruler who slowly comes to realize he's behind the times. He won an Oscar for his portrayal, and continued to
do the play on the stage. At the time of his death in 1985, he had played the king in more than 4,000 performances. The screenplay by Ernest Lehman, who went on to write the adaptation of Rogers and Hammerstein's THE SOUND OF MUSIC, is faithful to the play, and even improves on it somewhat.
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