The King and I (1956 film)

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The King and I
Original movie poster for the film The King and I.jpg
Theatrical release poster by Tom Chantrell
Directed by Walter Lang
Produced by Charles Brackett
Written by Ernest Lehman
Based on The King and I
by Oscar Hammerstein II
Starring Deborah Kerr
Yul Brynner
Rita Moreno
Maureen Hingert
Martin Benson
Rex Thompson
Music by Richard Rodgers
Cinematography Leon Shamroy
Edited by Robert L. Simpson
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release dates
  • June 28, 1956 (1956-06-28)
Running time
133 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $4.55 million[2]
Box office $21.3 million[3]

The King and I is a 1956 American musical film made by 20th Century Fox, directed by Walter Lang and produced by Charles Brackett and Darryl F. Zanuck. The screenplay by Ernest Lehman is based on the Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II musical The King and I, based in turn on the novel Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon. That novel in turn was based on memoirs written by Anna Leonowens, who became school teacher to the children of King Mongkut of Siam in the early 1860s. Leonowens' stories were autobiographical, although various elements of them have been called into question.[4] The film stars Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner.

The film was a critical and commercial success, and was nominated for nine Academy Awards, winning five, including Best Actor for Brynner.

Another film adaptation of the same musical, the animated film The King and I, was released in 1999.


Strong-willed, widowed schoolteacher Anna Leonowens arrives in Bangkok from Wales with her young son Louis after being summoned to tutor the many children of King Mongkut. The two are introduced to the intimidating Kralahome, King Mongkut's confidante and Siam's prime minister. The Kralahome explains he has come to escort them to the Royal Palace where they will live – a violation of Anna's contract, which calls for them to live in a separate house outside the walls of the palace. Despite her threat to leave, Anna reluctantly disembarks with Louis and the Kralahome.

Once inside the Royal Palace, Anna demands to see King Mongkut and is allowed by the Kralahome to enter the Throne Room. A pleased Mongkut ignores her objections as he introduces her to his numerous wives – who include head wife Lady Thiang and a graceful girl from Burma named Tuptim. King Mongkut then presents the fifteen children she will tutor, aside from the other sixty-seven - among them his eldest son and heir Prince Chulalongkorn. Anna agrees to stay and tutor the King's children, prompting formality to break down. Later that night, Lady Thiang and the other wives assist Anna in unpacking, and when an old photograph of her late husband Tom is discovered, the wives start to deride the unhappy Tuptim because she is in love with another man named Lun Tha, the same man who brought her to Siam.

Anna refuses to give up on the house and teaches the children about the virtues of home life to King Mongkut's irritation, who contemplates how he craves truth and wonders why the world has become so complicated with different cultures saying different things. Meanwhile, Anna starts to form a relationship with the children as getting to know people is her favorite thing to teach. The lesson, however, creates disorder when the children refuse to believe in the existence of snow, which they have never seen. The King enters a chaotic schoolroom and, upon noticing Tuptim has a copy of the novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, engages in a slightly heated conversation with Anna about slavery – an institution embraced by all his people.

That night, Anna is summoned to the King's private chambers where he says that after reading the Bible, he believes that the world was not created in six days, but after many centuries. The King disregards her explanation and orders her to take a letter to President Abraham Lincoln, in which he will send male elephants to America to help with the Civil War, forcing her to sit on the floor due to an ancient custom that no one's head should be higher than his. She is left to finish the letter herself when she tries to explain that the elephants will not last long if only male elephants are sent. Anna goes outside, only to come across Lun Tha and learn that he has been meeting Tuptim in secret. He asks her to arrange a rendezvous and she refuses out of fear but eventually relents after remembering her past with her husband. The lovers meet under the cover of darkness and Lun Tha promises he will one day return to Siam and they will escape together.

The next day, King Mongkut becomes troubled by reports of spreading British imperialism and bursts into the schoolroom after hearing Anna's pupils persist in singing "Home Sweet Home." Anna stands her ground, threatening to leave Siam despite pleas from the children. King Mongkut asserts that Anna is his servant only to see her repudiate the term and leave the room. Lady Thiang visits Anna later that night and explains Mongkut is apprehensive over rumors that the British regard him as a barbaric leader, intending to turn Siam into a protectorate. Anna is shocked by the accusations but is reluctant to give him advice after their argument. Lady Thiang convinces her that the King is deserving of support and convinces Anna to go to the King. Anna learns the King is also anxious for reconciliation and learns that the British are sending an envoy to evaluate the situation in Bangkok. Upon learning that the envoy consists of Ambassador Sir John Hay and her old lover Sir Edward Ramsay, Anna persuades the King to receive them in European style by hosting a banquet with European food and music – after which it is announced that the envoy is arriving in one week. The King promises to give Anna a house of her own in return for her help.

On the night of the banquet, Sir Edward reminisces with Anna about old times in an attempt to bring her back to British society. The King however walks in on them dancing and irritably reminds them that dancing is for after dinner. After impressing the guests with his intellectual observations, the King presents Tuptim's version of Uncle Tom's Cabin – which is presented as a traditional Siamese ballet. However, the King and the Kralahome are not impressed as the play involves the issue of slavery and shows the slaveholding King dead after drowning in the river. By the time Sir John calls for the play's author, Tuptim has left the room to run away with Lun Tha.

After the guests have departed, Anna talks with the King and is presented with one of his rings in appreciation of her efforts. He then explains he is not pleased with Tuptim and reveals she is missing. Anna however parries his inquiry by explaining she is unhappy because she is just another woman in his eyes. The King retorts that men are entitled to a plentitude of wives although women must remain faithful. Anna explains the reality of one man loving only one woman and recalls her first dance before teaching the King how to dance the polka, but the touching moment is shattered when the Kralahome bursts into the room with news that Tuptim has been captured. For her dishonor, the King prepares to whip her despite Anna's pleas. She implies that he is a barbarian with no heart and that she will stay to watch the King's actions. The King then crumples, puts his hand over his heart and runs out of the room. The Kralahome blames Anna for ruining him and now he can never be the king he was before. Tuptim meanwhile is led away in tears when she learns that Lun Tha is dead, his body discovered in the river. This causes Anna to return the ring, sever all ties as a governess and leave on the next boat from Siam.

On the night of her departure, Anna is prepared to leave Siam with Louis when Lady Thiang says that the King is dying. He refuses to eat or sleep, isolating himself from everyone since the night of the banquet. Lady Thiang gives Anna an unfinished letter from the King that states his deep gratitude and respect for her, despite his harsh differences with her. This prompts her to go to his bedside in tears moments before their ship departs for Britain. The King gives Anna his ring, insisting that she wear it as she has always spoken the truth to him, persuading her and Louis to stay. King Mongkut then passes his title to Prince Chulalongkorn, who then issues a proclamation that brings an end to slavery and states that all subjects will no longer bow down to him. Satisfied that he is leaving his kingdom in capable hands, the King quietly dies with only Anna and the Kralahome noticing.


Royal Children (ensemble)

Voice only[edit]

Three actors in the film had their singing voices dubbed by other people. The dubbed voices belonged to:

  • Marni Nixon - Anna (for which she was paid $420[5])
  • Leona Gordon - Tuptim
  • Rueben Fuentes - Lun Tha

Musical numbers[edit]

  • Overture – Played by the 20th Century-Fox Orchestra
  • I Whistle a Happy Tune – Sung by Deborah Kerr (dubbed by Marni Nixon) and Rex Thompson
  • The March of the Siamese Children – Played by the 20th Century-Fox Orchestra
  • Hello, Young Lovers – Sung by Deborah Kerr (dubbed by Marni Nixon)
  • A Puzzlement – Sung by Yul Brynner
  • Getting to Know You – Sung by Deborah Kerr (dubbed by Marni Nixon) and Chorus
  • We Kiss in a Shadow – Sung by Carlos Rivas (dubbed by Reuben Fuentes) and Rita Moreno (dubbed by Leona Gordon)
  • Something Wonderful – Sung by Terry Saunders
  • Finale, Act I – Sung by Yul Brynner and Chorus
  • Entr'acte – Played by the 20th Century-Fox Orchestra
  • The Small House of Uncle Thomas (Ballet) – Narrated by Rita Moreno, Sung and Danced by Chorus and Dancers
  • Song of the King – Sung by Yul Brynner
  • Shall We Dance? – Sung and Danced by Deborah Kerr (dubbed by Marni Nixon) and Yul Brynner
  • Finale (Something Wonderful) – Sung by Chorus


The musical was written for Gertrude Lawrence, and her appearance in the film was contractually guaranteed. However, she was diagnosed with cancer while playing the role on Broadway and died during the run. Dinah Shore, a singer as well as an actress, was considered for the role of Anna in the movie. Maureen O'Hara, who had a pleasant soprano voice, was originally cast, but Richard Rodgers did not agree to the casting. It was Yul Brynner who pressed for Deborah Kerr to play the role. Marni Nixon provided Kerr's singing for the film. Nixon and Kerr worked side-by-side in the recording studio for songs which combined speaking and singing. Nixon would also dub Kerr's singing the following year, for the film An Affair to Remember.

Donald Bogle's biography of Dorothy Dandridge claims that Dandridge was offered the role of Tuptim in partial fulfillment of her three-picture contract with 20th Century-Fox, but that Dandridge allowed Otto Preminger (her former director and then-lover) to talk her out of it because it was not the lead role. Rumors also circulated that Dandridge, as an African American, did not want to play a slave. Rita Moreno, who was under contract to Fox, was invited merely for a test, but impressed the producers enough to be selected for the part.[6] Moreno later stated in an interview that France Nuyen was also up for the part, and Moreno believed Nuyen would get it, but since Nuyen was not a contract player with the studio, she was not cast.

Reprising their Broadway stage roles, Saunders played Thiang, Adiarte was Chulalongkorn and Benson was the Kralahome, and dancers Yuriko and de Lappe also reprised their stage roles. Alan Mowbray appeared in the new role of the British Ambassador, while Sir Edward Ramsey (demoted to the Ambassador's aide) was played by Geoffrey Toone.[7][8] The cinematography was by Leon Shamroy, the art direction by John DeCuir and Lyle R. Wheeler and the costume design by Irene Sharaff. The choreography used for the film was the choreography developed by Jerome Robbins for the original stage production.[9]

Three songs from the original stage production were recorded for, and appeared on, the film's soundtrack, but were not filmed and do not appear in the motion picture: "Shall I Tell You What I Think of You?", "I Have Dreamed" and "My Lord and Master".[10] "I Have Dreamed" and another song that was not used in the film, "Western People Funny", survive in the released film only as orchestral underscoring. In the film, the first half of the "Song of the King" was turned into ordinary spoken dialogue, with only some of the words sung, minus the king's opening lyrics, but it survives as it was actually written on the soundtrack album.

A special 50th Anniversary edition was released in 2006, which promised to restore the lost numbers, but it included only the audio for "Shall I Tell You?" This would seem to indicate that no footage exists of these numbers. An off-screen choral reprise of "Something Wonderful" was added to serve as the film's finale; the stage version ends with musical underscoring, but no singing. None of the other reprises of the songs were retained in the film version.

The film was one of the only two films shot in the then-new 55 mm CinemaScope 55 format, the other being Carousel, which was released several months earlier. Although the promotion for the film made much of it being shot in CinemaScope 55, it was only released in the standard 35 mm CinemaScope format, with 4-channel stereo instead of the 6-channel stereo originally promised. CinemaScope 55 was never used or promoted again after this production.

In 1961, it was re-released for the first time in a 70 mm format, under Fox's Grandeur 70 trademark.[11] For this release, the six-channel version of the stereo soundtrack was finally used. In 1966, it was re-released again,[11] this time in Cinemascope, before being sold to television in 1967.


The film was a big success upon release, both critically and financially. Some reviewers did criticize the film due to its changes in dialogue from the Broadway production, as well as the omission of some songs.

The King and I was banned in Thailand, and remains banned, due to its representation of King Mongkut of Siam; as is the case with most other adaptations of Anna and the King.

Soundtrack album[edit]

The film soundtrack album was first released on Capitol Records. It restored three songs recorded for the film but not included in the final release print: "My Lord and Master", "I Have Dreamed", and "Shall I Tell You What I Think of You?". Added to the original LP and CD releases of the film was a seven-minute overture not heard at the beginning of the film. The album was first issued only in mono in 1956, but, as with the Rodgers and Hammerstein films Oklahoma (1955) and Carousel (1956), the sound on the film had been recorded in what was then state-of-the-art stereo, which made it possible, with the advent of stereo on records, for Capitol to release a stereo version of the soundtrack album in 1958. As with Oklahoma! and Carousel, the record grooves of that time made it necessary for part of the album to be omitted in the stereo version, so half of Getting To Know You was cut in that edition, which included the instrumental section, and the other half of the children singing the other half of the song in the different key of music. All of the songs were arranged by Gus Levene.[12]

The film soundtrack album of The King and I was issued on CD first by Capitol and then by Angel Records. The first two editions of the CD were exact duplicates of the LP, but in 2001, as with the Oklahoma! and Carousel soundtracks, Angel issued a new, expanded edition of the album, which not only featured all the songs (including the ballet "The Small House of Uncle Thomas"), but some of the film's incidental music, as well as the original main title music. The Overture heard on the LP version and on the first two editions of the CD was included as a bonus track.

The soundtrack album was an instant success and continues to be a best seller to this day.

Chart positions[edit]

Chart Year Peak
UK Albums Chart[13] 1956 1
Preceded by
Oklahoma! by Original Soundtrack
Rock 'n' Roll Stage Show by Bill Haley & His Comets
Rock 'N' Roll by Elvis Presley
This Is Sinatra! by Frank Sinatra
This Is Sinatra! by Frank Sinatra
This Is Sinatra! by Frank Sinatra
This Is Sinatra! by Frank Sinatra
Oklahoma! by Original Soundtrack
The Tommy Steele Story by Tommy Steele
Loving You (OST) by Elvis Presley
Pal Joey by Original Soundtrack
UK Albums Chart number-one album
13 October 1956 - 27 October 1956
3 November 1956 – 10 November 1956
17 November 1956 – 2 March 1957
9 March 1957 – 16 March 1957
23 March 1957 – 30 March 1957
6 April 1957 – 27 April 1957
4 May 1957 – 15 June 1957
22 June 1957 – 20 July 1957
10 August 1957 – 31 August 1957
16 November 1957 – 2 February 1958
22 March 1958 – 29 March 1958
Succeeded by
Rock 'n' Roll Stage Show by Bill Haley & His Comets
Rock 'N' Roll by Elvis Presley
High Society by Original Soundtrack
This Is Sinatra! by Frank Sinatra
This Is Sinatra! by Frank Sinatra
This Is Sinatra! by Frank Sinatra
Love Is the Thing by Nat King Cole
The Tommy Steele Story by Tommy Steele
The Tommy Steele Story by Tommy Steele
Pal Joey by Original Soundtrack
Pal Joey by Original Soundtrack

Awards and nominations[edit]

Academy Awards[edit]

The film was nominated for nine Academy Awards and won five.[14][15]



Golden Globe Awards[edit]



  • Best Film Promoting International Understanding
  • Best Motion Picture Actor – Comedy/Musical – Yul Brynner

American Film Institute[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "THE KING AND I (U)". British Board of Film Classification. 1956-10-07. Retrieved 2014-05-09. 
  2. ^ Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p249
  3. ^ Box Office Information for The King and I. The Numbers. Retrieved MArch 4, 2013.
  4. ^ Susan Morgan, Bombay Anna: The Real Story and Remarkable Adventures of the King and I Governess (University of California Press, 2008)
  5. ^ Secret Voices of Hollywood. BBC4 3 Jan 2014
  6. ^ Carlos Rivas (interview). The King and I: 50th Anniversary Edition DVD, disc 2 special features, 2006.
  7. ^ Hischak, p. 151
  8. ^ "The King and I (1956): Production credits", The New York Times. Retrieved February 23, 2011
  9. ^ The Fusion of Dance Cultures: An examination of Jerome Robbins' choreography for 'The King and I', Stephanie Prugh, Ballet-Dance Magazine, 2012
  10. ^ Crowther, Bosley (29 June 1956). "Screen: 'The King and I'". The New York Times. [dead link]
  11. ^ a b
  12. ^ Ornish, Natalie (1 September 2011). Pioneer Jewish Texans. Texas A&M University Press. p. 232. ISBN 978-1-60344-433-0. 
  13. ^ "Chart Stats – Original Soundtrack – The King And I". Retrieved 8 May 2011. 
  14. ^ "The 29th Academy Awards (1957) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-08-21. 
  15. ^ "NY Times: The King and I". NY Times. Retrieved 2008-12-22. 


External links[edit]