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Why It's Essential: Anna and the King of Siam ('46)

Before there was the colorful musical classic The King and I (1956), there was Anna and the King of Siam (1946). A more thoughtful and dramatic depiction of the engaging story based on actual events, Anna and the King of Siam was the first film adaptation of the real-life adventures of Anna Leonowens, the British widow hired in 1862 to teach English to the numerous wives, concubines and children of Mongkut, the King of Siam (now known as Thailand).

In this gorgeous black and white production from Twentieth Century-Fox, Irene Dunne stars as Anna, who travels with her young son Louis (Richard Lyon) to the exotic land of Siam as a means to earn her own income in the wake of her husband's death. Almost immediately she finds herself at odds with the vainglorious King, played by Rex Harrison in his first Hollywood film role, and his Prime Minister Kralahome (Lee J. Cobb). Wanting desperately to be perceived as a forward thinking ruler, the King asks for Anna's help in learning the ways of western culture while she simultaneously struggles to adapt to her new surroundings and the King's imperious attitude. Gradually, the two work towards a mutual understanding and affection as she wins his respect and becomes a trusted advisor and friend.


Director: John Cromwell
Writer: Talbot Jennings, Sally Benson
Based on the book Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon
Producers: Darryl F. Zanuck, Louis Lighton
Cinematography: Arthur Miller
Art Direction: Lyle Wheeler, William Darling
Editing: Harmon Jones
Costumes: Bonnie Cashin
Music Composer: Bernard Herrmann
Make Up: Ben Nye

Cast: Irene Dunne (Anna Owens), Rex Harrison (The King), Linda Darnell (Tuptim), Lee J. Cobb (Kralahome), Gale Sondergaard (Lady Thiang), Mikhail Rasumny (Alak), Dennis Hoey (Sir Edward Ramsay), Tito Renaldo (Prince, as a man), Richard Lyon (Louis Owens), William Edmunds (Moonshee)

B and W - 126 min.


Anna and the King of Siam was the first cinematic adaptation of the true account of Anna Leonowens' experiences in Siam, which she recounted in two popular books published in 1870 and 1872. People couldn't get enough of Anna's story, which gained renewed interest when author Margaret Landon published a romanticized version of her story in the 1944 book Anna and the King of Siam. This film was also a precursor to the classic stage and film musical The King and I. It is a story so beloved that it has never been forgotten, having been remade and reimagined time and again over the years in film and stage versions around the world.

This film is one of Twentieth Century-Fox's most handsome black-and-white productions. Featuring lavish and detailed eye-popping sets recreating imperial Siam, Anna and the King of Siam won Academy Awards for Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction.

Anna and the King of Siam marked the Hollywood film debut of legendary actor Rex Harrison. He had been building a distinguished career in British stage and film roles, but until Anna, he had never appeared in a U.S. film production. With a freshly signed contract with Twentieth Century-Fox, Harrison began his American film career with the colorful and unforgettable role of The King, which kick-started his long career in Hollywood and put him on the radar of American audiences.

This film was a huge hit with audiences and critics alike. It was nominated for a total of five Academy Awards, and took home two. Its level of excellence helped set the standard for all versions of the story that followed on stage and screen.

by Andrea Passafiume

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