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The King And I Review


Essential
The popular pick for the best Rodgers and Hammerstein musical is probably The Sound of Music, but I'm throwing in for The King and I. Yul Brynner is not the kind of character you usually think of when you look at R&H musicals. Usually the hero is some country bumpkin with an all-American face and a plaid shirt. Brenner doesn't wear plaid here. He doesn't wear a shirt at all, in fact. The story is a timeless classic: An English teacher (Deborah Kerr, equally stellar) takes a job in Siam, teaching to the King's (Brynner) many many children. Naturally, she teaches the King a thing or two, as well, who immediately takes a liking to her use of the phrase "et cetera, et cetera, et cetera," which becomes the film's best running joke.

In addition to witty, rat-a-tat dialogue and a fun plot that also touches on social issues of the day, the film is a visual spectacle, too. The songs are of course classic, and the sequence wherein a Siamese version of Uncle Tom's Cabin is presented as a play is an amazing work of art. Though it runs well into two hours long, the film is never tiresome, even when Kerr threatens to leave Siam for the umpteenth time. It's funny and touching, an altogether classic movie of the first rank.

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The Ten Commandments Review


Excellent
It takes something special for a motion picture to enter the Biblical canon. But ask any Christian what happened to Moses before age 30, and they'll likely relate to you the plotline of Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments.

Surprise! As DeMille himself tells us in a (somewhat silly) opening narration -- where he comes out from behind a curtain and addresses the audience -- the Bible skips Moses' formative years altogether. One minute, as a baby he's fished out of the Nile by Pharoah's daughter, the next he's banished to the desert for killing an Egyptian who is beating a Hebrew man. There's certainly no talk of Moses' rise to power under Pharoah -- which comprises the first two hours of this nearly four-hour film. In DeMille's rendition (based, he says, on the works of ancient scholars), Moses (Charleton Heston, in the role that would define his career) toils under Pharoah (Cedric Hardwicke) as his adopted grandson, working hard building a treasure city for his glory. His rival is Pharoah's son Rameses (Yul Brynner), who isn't only also up for the future job of Pharoah, he's also competing for the hand of Nefretiri (All About Eve's title character Anne Baxter).

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Anastasia (1956) Review


OK
This is the earlier, and definitely not animated, version of the story of the hunt for Anastasia Romanov, daughter of the Tsar who, according to legend, was the only member of the royal family to survive their massacre by revolutionaries in 1917. Anastasia starts off in the late 1920s among the exiled White Russian community in Paris, who rather obsessively keep their country's customs alive in a foreign place. Certain entrepreneurs in the community, including a disgraced former general, Prince Bounine (Yul Brynner), have been trying for years to discover a trainable woman with a close-enough resemblance to Anastasia that she could pass for the real thing - and collect 10 million pounds of Russian royal money sitting in a London bank. Bounine and his compatriots recruit the homeless and rather insane Ingrid Bergman for the task and start about molding her to pass muster before the exiles who knew the real Anastasia and who will, hopefully, sign testimonies to her identity. The twist is that Bergman at times actually thinks she is Anastasia.

There would have been plenty of opportunity for some My Fair Lady-type hijinks in the early part of this remarkably-controlled film, with Brynner playing the stern taskmaster and Bergman the not-so-ugly duckling about to transform into a swan. But director Anatole Litvak keeps everything measured and reasonably serious, focusing more on Bergman's dementia than the perfunctory romance that supposedly blossoms between her and Brynner. Bergman's performance (which won her an Oscar) has its hammy "look at me!" moments, but they're shrewdly undercut by the surrounding characters' suspicion that she is inventing not just her past as Anastasia but her entire dementia as well.

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