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THE KING AND I ($25) is a wonderful example of the lavish, overproduced musicals that came from Hollywood, when it was still profitable to turn a big Broadway musical into a movie. When one watches a movie musical such as THE KING AND I, it is easy to become enthralled in the glamour and the spectacle of old Hollywood. THE KING AND I also makes one morn the loss of this particular art form, since many of the greatest film classics of all time were musicals. THE KING AND I is an important film, not only because it is screen adaptation of one of Rogers and Hammerstein's most popular musicals, but because it allows on to experience Yul Brynner in his best known role. Brynner originally portrayed the King of Siam on the Broadway stage, and decades after the role had earned him an Academy Award for Best Actor, Brynner continued to mesmerize audiences in a number of stage revivals of THE KING AND I.

Rogers and Hammerstein based their musical THE KING AND I upon Margaret Landon's ANNA AND THE KING OF SIAM, made into an earlier film starring Rex Harrison. Set in the 1860's, the story of THE KING AND I follows Anna Leonowens (Deborah Kerr), an English widow who travels with her son to the orient to accept the position of school teacher to the royal court of Siam. Being an intelligent and somewhat modern Englishwoman, Anna immediately finds herself butting heads with Siam's stubborn monarch (Brynner). Not only is the King stubborn, he also proves to be something of a paradox. The King is rooted in centuries old traditions, yet he wants to bring his country into the nineteenth century.

At first, Anna and the Siamese King try to change each other’s perspective, yet over the course of time, the two develop a fond friendship and mutual respect. In addition to Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr, the cast of THE KING AND I also includes Rita Moreno, Martin Benson, Terry Saunders, Rex Thompson, Carlos Rivas, Patrick Adiarte, Alan Mowbray and Geoffrey Toone. As I said above, THE KING AND I is a lavish musical that is a treat for the eyes as well as the ears. Production values are absolutely tremendous, both the costumes and the settings feature the kind of sumptuous detail that one only sees in an old Hollywood musical. The marvelous score to THE KING AND I, features such classic Rogers and Hammerstein songs as "Getting To Know You," "I Whistle A Happy Tune," "Hello Young Lovers" and "Shall We Dance?"

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has made THE KING AND I available on DVD in a THX certified wide screen presentation, which sadly does not include the 16:9 anamorphic component. Despite the omission THE KING AND I looks as good as it will every look in unenhanced NTSC video. The film is properly framed at 2.55:1, which is extreme for a Letterboxed image and another reason that the lack of the anamorphic enhancement is tragic. Considering its extreme aspect ratio, THE KING AND I is the kind of wide screen movie that screams to be presented on a 16:9 display. Originally filmed in CinemaScope 55, THE KING AND I looks far better than other movies shot in standard 35mm CinemaScope. This larger format allows for a striking, highly detailed image, from which this transfer greatly benefits. Color reproduction on this is superior to anything that ever came out of the DeLuxe labs in 1956. Saturation is quite good and flesh tones are very natural. There are a couple of color related anomalies, but they never become distracting. Contrast is very good, although the black level isn't always as dark as it should be. There are no problems with either chroma noise of compression artifacts on this smartly authored DVD.

The film's soundtrack has been re-mixed into Dolby Digital 5.1 with rather pleasing results. This track retains the flavor of the big stereo mixes that were part of 1950's cinema. Unlike today's mixes that localize dialogue in the center channel, this mix allows dialogue to pan across all three front channels, depending upon the positions of actors on the screen. There are limitations in 1950's recording technology that prevent this soundtrack from having the liveliness or frequency response of a new film, yet the music and songs as they are still sound delightful. English stereo and French monaural soundtracks are provided on the DVD, in addition to English and Spanish subtitles.

The interactive menus are somewhat animated and contain music. Through the menus one can access the standard scene and language selection features, plus a theatrical trailer, Movietone newsreels and a sing along for three of the film’s songs.




DVD reviews are Copyright 1999 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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