“I cannot promise that it will ever be easy for you.”
Anna and the King of Siam is one of the few of Irene Dunne’s films that was remade at a later date. Dunne was in the 1930s musical version of Showboat, she was in Love Affair which An Affair to Remember is based off of. Most people probably only know the musical version of Anna and the King of Siam called The King and I starring Yul Brenner and Deborah Kerr. This is one of the many reasons why I find remakes not good or completely unfair. Dunne is a classic actress that not many people know and it is mostly because several of her films were remade.
The year is 1862 when much of the Far East was becoming open to the Western world. A young English widow named Anna Owens (Dunne) has traveled to Siam to be teacher to the king’s children. As soon as she steps off the boat things do not go smoothly with her. The prime minister Kralahome keeps giving her the run around by constantly correcting her and telling her she will have to be patient in meeting the king. Anna’s biggest problem is where she and her son Louis will live. She was promised her own house but the king changed his mind and wants her to live in the palace. Anna refuses to live in the palace she wants her own place that she can take care of and to go to once she is done with teaching. Eventually the king gives in and gives Anna her own very nice place away from the palace.
After some time Anna finally gets to meet King Mongkut (Rex Harrison). He is a nice intelligent eccentric man. Mongkut has sixty-seven children (holy shit!) and quite a number of wives. He wants Anna to teach all of his children and his wives to speak English. Mongkut is very open to western ideas, in his library he has several English books on various subjects. He wants his country to progress and be modern. He feels that his children should also be part of the progression.
As time goes on Anna learns to love living in Siam and being in Mongkut’s company even though he can be very demanding. He calls her in the middle of the night just to ask her questions such as her opinion on an Old Testament story or foreign governments. Louis becomes friends with Mongkut’s oldest son and child and Anna becomes close with the son’s mother. The son so wants his father’s attention and to learn and to be noticed. The mother asks Anna to pay some attention to him and listen to what he has to say to which Anna is more than willing to do so.
One of the king’s newest women Tuptim (Linda Darnell) was caught running away from the palace with another man and was sentenced to death. Anna defends the girl saying that she was young and deserves a second chance. No one will listen to her not even Mongkut. Upset over Tuptim’s death Anna decides to leave Siam and find work elsewhere. Before Anna can leave tragedy strikes. She tells Mongkut that she wants to stay now that she needs to be around the children to make her happy again. Anna winds up staying on for many years.
I like the story. I like seeing how Anna and Mongkut teach other things and how to be better people (or that is what I got out of it). I really enjoyed the friendly relationship they had. Anna was a great character because she never really backed down to Mongkut like other people did, she never coward when he came around. She told Kalahome that she would bow but not to the ground like everyone else did because it was not proper for her to do with her dress. Mongkut in a way likes that Anna is not like the other people in his life. Even though she is a woman he looks to her as an equal which is probably why he was always asking her opinion on things.
Irene Dunne was wonderful. I have seen several of her films and I am starting to see the woman never gave a bad performance ever, some of her characters may have been dull but her performances are always incredible. Dunne was perfect for this role because she was always such a lady. Sure she played some comedy but she constantly had this poise to her, she may have been funny but you still respected her characters. I loved her scenes when Mongkut would call her in the middle of the night or just when she was getting into bed after a long day she was so funny and you just felt bad for her. What I really liked seeing Dunne act out was Anna’s toughness. As I said Anna did not back down she chose what she wanted to follow but kept her own western customs. But also again this comes down to Dunne’s acting because you can really believe her no matter what type of woman she plays she was just that good.
Rex Harrison as King Mongkut was excellent. Besides this film I have only ever seen Harrison in Sidewalks of London with Vivien Leigh which was a great film and he was great in it. I enjoyed his chemistry with Irene Dunne. I really think Harrison did a great job with playing the king who wants to be respected and somewhat feared but also had this good natured understanding side.
The rest of the cast was excellent too. Linda Darnell had the perfect look for the new younger woman in the king’s life but she was bratty and not satisfied. Gale Sonnergard as the king’s first wife was amazing. She was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress but lost to Anne Baxter for The Razor’s Edge.Anna and the King of Siam is a very good film. It is a little long but in the end for the performances and the story it is worth sitting through. Anna and the King of Siam was very well made and very heartfelt