Following the phenomenal success of their stage musicals, it was inevitable that the work of Rodgers and Hammerstein would be taken up by Hollywood. Oklahoma! had revolutionised American musical theatre but it would be over a decade before Rodgers and Hammerstein were convinced that the show could be transferred successfully to the screen using a new cinematic process called 70mm Todd-AO (named after its inventor, Michael Todd). So began a series of large scale movie musicals, shot in a plethora of new formats. Twenthieth Century Fox, who developed the 35mm CinemaScope process, came up with their own large-format film system to meet the challenge of 70mm. Like its 35mm counterpart, CinemaScope 55 used an anamorphic lens to achieve a wider picture from a large-format (55mm) negative. The results were stunning, as demonstrated in this lavish production of The King and I.
Legend has it that it was Gertrude Lawrence’s suggestion that Margaret Landon’s novel Anna and the King of Siam would make a fabulous musical which prompted Rodgers and Hammerstein to produce their spectacular show. Although somewhat stage-bound, the film has a better script than the musical, thanks to writer Ernest Lehman’s adaptation. It also has the advantage of Deborah Kerr in the role of Anna, the fiery but compassionate English schoolteacher who journeys to 19th century Siam (now Thailand) to teach the children of its arrogant and chauvinistic king. Kerr’s singing voice had to be dubbed (by Marni Nixon), but that was a price worth paying for her dramatic skills. She had to be good playing opposite Yul Brynner, who made the role of the king his very own and won an Oscar recreating his Broadway role. The film’s other great asset is Leon Shamroy’s glorious cinematography. U.S.A., 1956. Colour. CinemaScope 55. 70mm print. Stereo sound. 133 mins.