Play It Again: The King and I

Play It Again: The King and I. By Jess Lomas.

Play It Again is a weekly feature in which classic-film connoisseur Jess Lomas revisits a revered motion picture from the annals of movie history, to see if it holds up … or if it has aged terribly. And yes, it takes its name from a famously misquoted Casablanca line (hey, whatever; it fits!).

“Getting to know you, Getting to know all about you …”

Growing up on a steady diet of Hollywood musicals, my sister and I would sing these two lines from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The King and I over and over again, mainly because we never learnt the rest of the lyrics. As a child, this film was remembered as specific scenes and snippets of songs, and it wasn’t until I was much older that I recognised its brilliance – from the lavish sets and costumes to the elaborate musical numbers. Then there’s the whole whitewashing issue … which we’ll avoid discussing today.

The 1956 film version, directed by Walter Lang (Cheaper by the Dozen, State Fair), is based on the stage musical, which itself was based on the book Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon. The plot for that book came from a story by Anna Leonowens, based on her real life experience teaching the children of King Mongkut of Siam in the early 1860s, although much doubt has been cast over the authenticity of her account.

Telling the story of widowed school teacher Anna (Deborah Kerr) from Wales, who arrives in Bangkok with her son Louis to teach English to King Mongkut’s (Yul Brynner) many children, The King and I is a dated view of the common versus the foreign and the merging of two cultures. A secondary storyline is also followed involving one of the King’s wives and her lover.

The proud, arrogant King is perfectly played by Brynner with his catchphrases, ‘Ha!’ and ‘Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera’ amongst some of cinema’s most memorable. Kerr’s voice was famously dubbed for all of Anna’s songs, as was common at the time, but her performance is both measured and magical.

Ernest Lehman (North by Northwest, West Side Story) penned the screenplay for the film which went on to win five Academy Awards including Best Actor for Yul Brynner. It also earned Oscar nominations for Best Actress in a Leading role – Deborah Kerr, Best Cinematography Colour, Best Director – Walter Lang, and Best Picture.

Discuss: The King and I!

2 Responses to “Play It Again: The King and I”

  1. im 44 and when i was about 10 i watch many golden old movies with my nana edna who rasied me ,we would dance the whole night away and she would teach me the steps and i always loved the clothes and wanted them so bad ,i was lucky to have a great nana who had beauitful old clothes so i wore them up and down the st at newtown i treasured them .when i got older too and great nana had a storke and passed my eveil aunty in law gave to the salvos because i would sneak them out at 14 and wear them down the maroubra beach with brother douglas permission ,what a time in my life to remember movie nights and dress up ,why did i have to grow up .

  2. Just want to say keep up the good work Jess. This is an excellent feature on the blog, and I have tried to re-watch all of your ‘Play it Again’ entries so far. The best part is seeing how some of the great films don’t date at all in terms of look, themes, story and appeal.
    Reader request: maybe a classic Western? What about an early film from the horror/monster genre too like an old Dracula flick?

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