Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Monday, 5 March 2012

We are Siamese if you please ...

ANNA AND THE KING OF SIAM from 1946, directed by John Cromwell, is a rarity indeed - I have never seen it crop up anywhere here; we are of course familiar with the musical version, Fox's 1956 gaudy Scope and colour extravaganza from Oscar & Hammerstein's hit show, where Deborah Kerr as Mrs Anna and Yul Brynner as The King both excel.

As I like Irene Dunne, Rex Harrison and Linda Darnell (see labels) this is a treat indeed, if rather long - and a lot more realistic in its own way. Its a long time since I saw the musical but I don't think Tuptim goes up in flames in it ... This was the first version of the very well known story of the English governess who travelled to Siam to be teacher of the king’s many children. In this version she is called Anna Owens. The film is an opportunity for a strong performance by the likeable Irene Dunne, popular in many films since the 1930s (SHOWBOAT, THE AWFUL TRUTH, MY FAVOURITE WIFE and I must still see her in I REMEMBER MAMA from 1948, her last film of note). It also brought British actor Rex Harrison, to the American screen after his successful career in Britain (MAJOR BARBARA, BLITHE SPIRIT etc); he appeared in a number of films in Hollywood including THE GHOST AND MRS MUIR, THE FOXES OF HARROW and UNFAITHFULLY YOURS (reviewed here, see labels) before that scandal and his great era in the 50s (Kay Kendall label). Linda Darnell had emerged at 20th Century Fox as a star and appears as Tuptim; Lee J. Cobb was also beginning his career and Gale Sondegaard was nominated for an Oscar for best supporting actress for her performance as Lady Tiang. In fact, the film won Oscars for best set decoration and best black and white cinematography. Odd though now see westerners playing orientals (as per recent review of Katharine Hepburn in DRAGON SEED).

The film offers a portrait of an assured British woman who came to Siam with her young son in order to be an teacher and has to open her eyes to an alien culture. The King of Siam also wanted to open Siam to a broader world culture but was trapped in many of his traditions. Audiences are more familiar with this story from Rodgers’ and Hammerstein’s musical – with many popular songs. In 1999 there was a further version, ANNA AND THE KING, with Jodie Foster playing Anna and Hong Kong actor, Chow Yung Fat as the king, but I wasn't interested enough to see it at the time. This original version is certainly fascinating now - Dunne is as pleasing as ever, and Harrison certainly matches Brynner in making the King an individual. Her son is killed in a fall from a horse here, but not if memory serves me right in the musical version.

The 1956 musical was one of my early childhood movie-going pleasures - we loved Debroah and those huge crinolines and all that exotic decor and of course Brynner as King - Dunne sports similar huge dresses here; and there is of course that colonial subtext of the wise woman from the West if not taming, then humanising the strange court of the oriental monarch with all his wives, children and those scheming courtiers ... "Whistle a happy tune" indeed!. Dunne like in my earlier posts on her and those other 30s ladies recently re-discovered (Margaret Sullavan, Norma Shearer, Loretta Young) continues to please - and the King suits the imperious often not very likeable Rex perfectly! Linda too is another under-rated '40s lady whom we now like a lot ...


  1. Your right about Tuptim's end in the King & I, it's a much lighter film and her punishment is not fatal. It was while filming this scene that there was some sort of malfunction and Linda Darnell was slightly burned which lead to a lifelong fear of fire, one that she spoke of frequently in interviews, a sad irony since she would perish in one years later.
    Irene Dunne was likable on screen but according to Judy Lewis's bio of her life as Loretta Young & Clark Gable's secret daughter Irene was a cold, standoffish and rigidly devout woman off screen much like her best friend Loretta.

  2. I love how Loretta was the perfect young star of the 1930s - try to see her in MIDNIGHT MARY, one of the 9 she made in 1933 and she was the ideal depression waif in films like MAN'S CASTLE with her lover Spencer Tracy - before she became an iron butterly and got religion and became less interesting in the 40s.

    I like Dunne a lot now, I never saw THE AWFUL TRUTH until a few years ago, where she is totally delightful and adorable with Cary Grant.

    Darnell's fear of fire is like Natalie Wood's well documented fear of water ...

  3. I have seen Midnight Mary and it and she are quite good, still trying to catch Man's Castle but she was very saucy in Employees Entrance although nothing compared to Alice White's character who was VERY free with her company.
    Apparently during that period of her private life Loretta, while still claiming to be pious, had hot pants and bestowed her favors to many including the married Spencer Tracy as well as Gable.
    She did ossify into a much less interesting actress as the years passed, Orson Welles managed to draw an interesting performance from her in The Stranger but that was an exception. Don't even get me started on her Oscar winner "The Farmer's Daughter". Ugh! I did love the TV version of that however with the divine and tragic Inger Stevens.

  4. I remember Inger Stevens from a few movies in that late 50s era, THE BUCCANEER with Brynner and Heston was on here a while ago, another I enjoyed back then. I liked EMPLOYEE'S ENTRANCE recently as per my review (at Loretta label).