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.