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The King and I(1956)
Schoolteacher and widow Anna Leonowens travels to Siam to teach its King's children. During the course of her stay, she enlightens the King as to changing times and helps him reassess his relationship to one of his several wives.
For more about The King and I and the The King and I Blu-ray release, see the The King and I Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on May 11, 2014 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Director: Walter Lang
Writers: Ernest Lehman, Oscar Hammerstein II
Starring: Yul Brynner, Deborah Kerr, Rita Moreno, Terry Saunders, Martin Benson, Rex Thompson
» See full cast & crew
The King and I Blu-ray Review
It's blu(e), all right.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, May 11, 2014
Note: This film is currently available only as part of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Collection.
Most theater geeks and fans of Glee could probably correctly pair Strouse with Adams, Bock with Harnick, Adler with Ross, Kander with Ebb, and Maltby with Shire, but even the relatively unwashed masses would have no problem recognizing the vaunted partnership of Rodgers and Hammerstein. These two titans of the Broadway musical achieved their renown though a combination of both incredibly artistry, providing the Great American Songbook with untold treasures from their musicals, and fairly rare business acumen, which preserved their creative control over their properties but, due at least in part to their role as producers as well as composer-lyricist-librettist, above the title billing which is usually reserved for the acting talent. Rodgers and Hammerstein had each had their own individual successes prior to teaming with each other, Rodgers most notably with Lorenz Hart and Hammerstein with Jerome Kern, but together they seemed almost ideally suited to remaking the American musical in their own sophisticated yet homespun combined images. From the 1943 premiere of Oklahoma! on Broadway through 1960's stage version of The Sound of Music, Rodgers and Hammerstein enjoyed an almost unparalleled string of successes (despite occasional lackluster outings like Allegro or Pipe Dream), with several of their shows still acclaimed as unmatched masterpieces to this day. Because Rodgers and Hammerstein were so hands on in the curating of their properties, it actually took over a decade for the first of their immense hits to even make it to the screen, but 1955 proved to be a stellar year for the team on the silver screen, with not just that show, Oklahoma!, appearing in not one but two formats (and versions), but their follow up Broadway smash Carousel also lighting up the screen with some of the same cast as Oklahoma!. The Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals are all models of expert plotting and precise characterizations, and they all benefit from the somewhat sardonic but mellifluous genius of Richard Rodgers, one which acted as a sort of slightly bittersweet gin to Oscar Hammerstein's effervescent tonic.
Robert Wise entered the annals of Rodgers and Hammerstein history with his epochal film version of The Sound of Music, but his follow up film, the unfairly pilloried Star!, also had a Rodgers and Hammerstein connection, implied though it may have been. Many unworldly folks who probably came to Star! expecting another Sound of Music-esque experience were probably thrown for a loop with Star!'s recounting of the life of a star who was probably completely unknown to many in the audience. Gertrude Lawrence? Who's she? Eyes may have finally lit up had Star! proceeded far enough into the Lawrence saga to deal with her Broadway appearance in The King and I. Had Star! detailed that (final) era in Lawrence's long career, at least some bewildered folks might have been able to say something like, "Oh! So she was Deborah Kerr on Broadway!" The King and I was one of Rodgers and Hammerstein's few "star vehicles", fashioned expressly for Lawrence after the actress had secured the stage rights to Anna and the King of Siam. While the original version may have been written for Lawrence, it was Lawrence's co- star, one Yul Brynner, who ultimately came to be associated with the vehicle so inimitably that it's sometimes hard to remember any other roles the actor essayed.
There's little doubt that Rodgers and Hammerstein took a cue or two from South Pacific as they attempted to recast Anna Leonowens' reminiscences, which had been fashioned into an historical novel by Margaret Landon in 1944, becoming Anna and the King of Siam with Rex Harrison as the charming but tyrannical ruler in 1946. Once again, there are utilizations of an exotic foreign land which colors Rodgers' always expressive music, and once again a secondary couple is fighting to overcome a forbidden love. But in the central roles of Anna (Deborah Kerr in the film) and the King (Yul Brynner, of course), Oscar Hammerstein's book strayed from formula by not having an out and out romance between the two. Instead, they're more like BFFs, occasionally exploding at each other in anger, but trusting and ultimately loving (if only platonically) each other in a very rich and rewarding way. Rodgers and Hammerstein weren't above cribbing from each other again a few years later in The Sound of Music, another piece which has a prim but spunky female arriving as a teacher to a brood of children under the imperious thumb of a martinet father. In that case, the pair at least let the central couple find romantic happiness with each other.
The King and I is anchored and elevated by the towering (and Oscar winning) performance of Yul Brynner as the King. He's irrational, volatile and exasperating—but also quite unabashedly lovable quite a bit of the time. Brynner pulls it all off with magisterial grace and some actual humor (his facial expressions as he's introducing his legion of kids—he's a bigamist— to Anna are priceless). Kerr plays Anna like a hopeless romantic, something that tends to offer the film a kind of ironic subtext, since it's obvious Anna is never going to have, nor would probably want, a formal love relationship with the King. (It's notable that Brynner's star had risen precipitously between the Broadway and film versions of this property. Brynner won the "Featured Actor", i.e. Supporting Actor, Tony Award for his role, but by the time the film came out, he was nominated for, and won, the Best Actor Academy Award.)
Aside from some not particularly convincing miniature shots which are meant to evoke the out of doors in Siam, The King and I is probably the most resolutely studio bound of any of the Rodgers and Hammerstein film musicals, but in this particular case, it works to the film's benefit. The huge sumptuous hall of the King's palace is an extremely eye popping set, and even the supposed "gardens" where Tuptim (a radiant Rita Moreno) and Lun Tha (Carlos Rivas) meet have a more realistic appearance than a similarly studio manufactured tree lined lane in Carousel.
The King and I Blu-ray, Video Quality
It's not easy being—blue? Or even brown, one might add. In one of the bigger disappointments in the new Rodgers and Hammerstein Collection, the sumptuous cinematography of The King and I has either not aged well or was mishandled at some point in its migration to high definition, for the color timing on this release is extremely variable and in its worst moments highly problematical. To be fair, a lot of The King and I looks pretty good from a palette perspective, if never totally inviting. Presented in 2.55:1 and 1080p (via the AVC codec), the problems are easiest to spot with regard to flesh tones, which morph almost second by second in some scenes from a ruddy brown to an oddly splotchy blue color. Look for example at Kerr's face in the opening of "Hello, Young Lovers" (beginning at around 25:15) and it's completely easy to spot the color space transition from cool to warm and back again, sometimes within mere seconds of each other. Later, when Kerr and Brynner are spread out on the floor of the King's immense palace (starting at around 1:14:55), Brynner's face looks okay (if a little brown), while just the left side of Kerr's visage is covered with a huge blue splotch. During many of these sections, blacks are tinged with a slightly purplish hue which makes them look like oil slicks. Other parts of the presentation skew more expectedly toward the brown end of the spectrum, with rusty looking reds and pasty flesh tones. However, this is a moment by moment situation with this transfer, and at times parts of The King and I look really good, if only for a little while. It's a real shame and keeps this high definition presentation from ever attaining more than (at best) an average overall appearance. Some may feel 3 stars is a bit too lenient, but I base this on the fact that at least some of the film looks rather nice, if never absolutely perfect.
The King and I Blu-ray, Audio Quality
As weirdly variable and problematic as the video is in The King and I, the audio is often resoundingly successful courtesy of its DTS-HD Master Audio 4.0 presentation. The stirring faux Orientalism of some of Rodgers' music (notably "The March of the Siamese Children"), as well as the colorful orchestrations gracing the film, come through spectacularly clearly, with beautiful delineation of interior lines and enough breathing room in the mix to hear inside some of the glorious Rodgers harmonies. Singing and dialogue are both imparted cleanly and clearly. As with some of the other 4.0 renderings of CinemaScope features, there's some really excellent directionality when various performers speak from corners of the frame.
The King and I Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
All of the supplements from the 50th Anniversary DVD set have been ported over to this Blu-ray release:
The King and I Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The King and I for all its stagebound artificiality remains one of the more consistently entertaining Rodgers and Hammerstein film adaptations, no doubt due to the incredible chemistry between Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr. Graced with impeccable production and costume design, the film is opulent but also appealingly intimate. Unfortunately, there are some troubling issues with the video quality here, issues that keep Leon Shamroy's Oscar nominated cinematography from ever popping the way it should. This is in some ways the most disappointing transfer in the new Rodgers and Hammerstein boxed set in terms of video quality, but the audio and supplements are outstanding.
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