Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. USA, 1946. Twentieth Century Fox. Screenplay by Talbot Jennings, Sally Benson, based on the biography by Margaret Landon. Cinematography by Arthur C. Miller. Produced by Louis D. Lighton. Music by Bernard Herrmann. Production Design by William S. Darling, Lyle R. Wheeler. Costume Design by Bonnie Cashin. Film Editing by Harmon Jones. Academy Awards 1946. Cannes Film Festival 1946.
It was Gertrude Lawrence who first saw this original filmed adaptation of Margaret Langdon’s same-titled novel and approached Rodgers and Hammerstein with the idea to turn it into a Broadway vehicle for her. I’d say the filmed version of the musical, The King And I with Deborah Kerr, is still my favourite, but don’t dismiss this one, it’s an excellent drama with much to recommend it. Irene Dunne is marvelous as governess Anna Leonowens, who has come to Siam with her young son to teach all manner of subjects to the many children of the powerful King (Rex Harrison). Once there, she finds herself in a personality power struggle that threatens her sense of self but helps her gain a little confidence in her work. There’s a lot more character detail in this version for those who have only been exposed to the musical, and here the tone is decidedly nastier (witness Tuptim’s fate, much gorier in this version). Beautiful, sumptuous sets and costumes and marvelous performances under steady direction.