Monday, July 12, 2010

Summer: The King and I, Oklahoma!, Carousel

"THE KING AND I" (Walter Lang; 1956)

Rodgers and Hammerstein's classic stage production based on the autobiography of Anna Leonowens, a English woman who taught and cared for the children of 19th century King Mongkut of Siam, is a pure and endlessly glamorous - albeit shallow - musical production.

Deborah Kerr doesn't lend her singing voice to the film as she knocks heads with the King (Yul Brynner) and his stubborn Eastern philosophies, and ultimately The King and I ('56) feels airy, prudent and hackneyed in places.

It's the elaborate sets and the luscious widescreen CinemaScope 55 photography that carry us through, but for a better, tighter and far less accessorized film, see Frank Capra's The Bitter Tea of General Yen ('33). [C+]

"OKLAHOMA!" (Fred Zinneman; 1955)

Like The King and I, Oklahoma! is a lavish, sweetened production with abundant musical diversions and a thinly-layered plot that's, more so than ever, almost motionless.

Essentially a 145-minute romance full of youthful ignorance, petty griping and indecision, Oklahoma! centers around a cattle driver (Gordan MacRae) and his courting of a young farm girl played by Shirley Jones, in her screen debut.

He has stiff competition from a ruthless, persistent and piggish farmhand played by Rod Steiger, and both the play and the film additionally concern themselves with a secondary love triangle and an extraneous yet admirable dream sequence at the midway point, but the overall effect of the film is adorably tedious. [C+]

"CAROUSEL" (Henry King; 1956)

Perhaps the most socially-conscious and thematically dreary Rodgers and Hammerstein work, Carousel is a unique achievement charting the life of a tough carousel barker and his turbulent, abusive and short-lived marriage to a sweet, angelic mill worker.

Very much a redemptive story and one of heartbreak, loss and longing, the film uses a unique framing device for telling its story as it begins in purgatory and proceeds to tell its story almost entirely in flashback.

The musical numbers are mostly solemn and a bit stagnant, but the admittedly soapy ending does have a touch of elegance, class and atonement. [B-]

1 comment:

  1. My appreciation for The King & I is probably residual love from childhood. I do love Kerr hair, though I remember Brynner being grating at times.

    I've never seen the others, particularly Carousel which I avoided. The plot seems so very numbered, though some of the songs are delightful (are songs like Mr. Snow, When the Children Are Asleep in this version?)