Anna and the King of Siam (1946): Oscar Nominee Stars Irene Dunne and Rex Harrison

Based on Margaret Landon’s book about the life of Anna Leonowens, the Victorian British governess in the royal household of Thailand, Anna and the King of Siam was a popular, skillful film, directed by John Cromwell, and starring Irene Dunne and Rex Harrison in the lead roles.

This extremely well acted film tells the story of Anna, a British tutor and young widow who travels to Siam in 1862 with her young son.

A classic tale of culture collision, Anna and the King of Siam contrasts a powerful, savage, even primitive king, who covets the modernization of Western culture while at the same time insisting on maintaining his country’s old traditions and customs.

Irene Dunne, then at the height of her career, is wonderful as the educator who is both repelled and attracted by the King and his wayward ways.

Like most Hollywood movies of the era about minorities, all the Asian roles are cast with western actors, such as Linda Darnell as Tuptim, a member of the King’s harem who tragically falls in love with another man, and Lee J. Cobb, as the Siamese prime minister, Kralaholme.

Gale Sondergaard, who plays Lady Thiang, the King’s first wife now relegated to the periphery of the palace, was blacklisted and forced into retirement during Senator McCarthy’s witch-hunting.

This straight, black-and-white version was nominated for five Oscars, winning two.

An accomplished British actor Rex Harrison made in this picture his Hollywood debut. He would, of course, become most famous for the stage and screen version of “My Fair Lady.

Under the fluent helm of John Cromwell, one of Hollywood’s underestimated directors, perhaps because he specialized in melodramas and women’s pictures, Anna and the King of Siam boasts excellent production values, especially cinematography (by Arthur Miller) and
music (by Bernard Herrmann).

The tale was made into a very popular Broadway musical and then Oscar-winning film, in 1956, starring Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr, though many of the themes and characters of the 1946 were either eliminated or changed.

Stay away from Jody Foster’s version, Anna and the King, in 1995.

Oscar Nominations: 5

Screenplay: Sally Benson, Talbot Jennings
Supporting Actress: Gale Sondergaard
Cinematography (b/w): Arthur Miller
Interior Decoration (b/w): Lyle Wheeler, William darling art direction; Thomas Little and Frank Hughes, set decoration
Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture: Bernard Herrmann.

Oscar Awards: 2

Cinematography
Interior Decoration

Oscar Context

This was the last of Arthur Miller’s three Oscars.

The winner of the Supporting Actress Oscar was Anne Baxter for the melodrama, “The

Razor’s Edge.”   Robert E. Sherwood won the Screenplay Oscar and Hugo Friedlander the Scoring Oscar for William Wyler’s “The Best Years of Our lives.