Movie Review: Anna and the King of Siam (1946)
Anna and the King of Siam (1946)
Director: John Cromwell
Cast: Irene Dunne, Rex Harrison, Linda Darnell
Synopsis:In 1862, a young Englishwoman becomes the tutor to the children of the King of Siam.
WARNING! This review contains SPOILERS!
This first screen version of the familiar tale about an English spinster who travels to Siam to teach its King’s children has largely been overshadowed by the better known musical featuring Yul Brynner and, to a lesser extent, by the later Jodie Foster version. It probably works better as a musical, but this version, in which Rex Harrison (The Agony and the Ecstasy) and Irene Dunne (Roberta, The Awful Truth) play the leads, still provides solid entertainment.
Anna and the King of Siam is dominated by Rex Harrison’s overbearing King, and his character is a complex, multi-layered one. He strives to make Siam a modern and progressive nation while simultaneously struggling to relinquish the centuries-old traditions in which his country is mired. Displaying a childlike inquisitiveness and lack of consideration for those around him that is by turns endearing and infuriating to Dunne’s schoolmistress, he nevertheless possesses hidden depths of wisdom and insight. In the face of this force of nature performance from a slant-eyed Harrison – whose Hollywood debut this was – Dunne’s character almost pales into insignificance, even though she enjoys considerably more screen time than her co-star, and Lee J. Cobb (The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing, The Exorcist), who flits in and out of the picture in a role that amounts to interpreter to Dunne of the King’s feelings and motives, is similarly anonymous. In truth, the film edges dangerously close to dullness when Harrison isn’t on the screen, and is immeasurably enlivened by his presence and straight-faced comic touches, such as the serving of napkins at a state dinner and the describing of a particularly plain female guest as an ‘anecdote’.
By the final act, Anna and the King of Siam is coming close to outstaying its welcome and becomes overly-sentimental, with Dunne exchanging meaningful glances with various cast members as the king lies on his deathbed, but overall it’s an enjoyable and entertaining example of the kind of quality product Sam Goldwyn was renowned for producing.
(Reviewed 10th January 2012)