“Women do not exist in Siam — they simply do not exist.”
A widowed schoolteacher (Irene Dunne) arrives in Siam with her son (Richard Lyon) prepared to teach the many wives and children of King Mongkut (Rex Harrison) — including the son (Tito Renaldo) of Mongkut’s first wife (Gale Sondergaard). She’s quickly taught by Mongkut’s right-hand-man (Lee J. Cobb) about his many quirks and sexist beliefs, but pushes back when Mongkut refuses to give her the house he promised. When Anna witnesses Mongkut’s “number one wife” (Linda Darnell) being mistreated, she feels she’s had enough — but can she be convinced to stay?
- Feminism and Women’s Issues
- Historical Drama
- Irene Dunne Films
- John Cromwell Films
- Lee J. Cobb Films
- Linda Darnell Films
- Rex Harrison Films
- Royalty and Nobility
This first cinematic adaptation (by director John Cromwell) of Margaret Langdon’s biographical novel about Anna Leonowens is a worthy predecessor to its more famous musical remake, The King and I (1956). Dunne matches Deborah Kerr in both intensity and believability as a bold widow who stands up to toxic patriarchy and corruption in a foreign country while remaining sympathetic to the conflicted goals of its intelligent but brutal leader. Refreshingly, there is no hint of romantic interest between Dunne and Harrison; their relationship is one of begrudging mutual respect (and, for Dunne, eventually deep commitment). Of note are both Arthur Miller’s cinematography and Bernard Herrmann’s score, adding to the quality of this slightly over-long but engaging feminist tale.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Irene Dunne as Anna (nominated as one of the Best Actresses of the Year in Peary’s Alternate Oscars)
- Rex Harrison as the King (nominated as one of the Best Actors of the Year in Alternate Oscars)
- Arthur C. Miller’s cinematography
- Bernard Herrmann’s score (check out the horror-flick ambience as Anna is leaving the king’s palace at night and hears a baby crying on her way home)
No, but it’s certainly recommended for one-time viewing.
“This school has practically reduced me to a nervous wreck!”
An undercover detective (Joyce Grenfell) is sent to investigate the situation at an anarchic boarding school for girls, whose cash-strapped headmistress (Alastair Sim) is betting money on an Arabian racehorse to save her institution. Meanwhile, Sim’s brother (also Alastair Sim) brings his rebellious daughter (Vivienne Martin) back to the school in order to learn more information about the racehorse, which is owned by the recently arrived daughter (Lorna Henderson) of a sultan (Eric Pohlmann).
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Alastair Sim Films
- Boarding School
- Get Rich Quick
Based on a popular comic strip series by British satirist Ronald Searle, this first of four films in the popular “St. Trinian’s” series takes place at a boarding school where wild-haired girls run rampant while their vampy teachers smoke cigarettes and schmooze. It will primarily appeal either to those familiar with the strip or fans of Sim, who is in fine comedic mettle here playing dual roles as siblings (though he spends most of his time in drag as Millicent). He’s nicely matched by Grenfell as a determined detective who resorts to ultra-creative evidence gathering in the film’s final moments. Director Frank Launder co-wrote the screenplay with Sidney Gilliat, with whom he had previously scripted The Lady Vanishes (1938) and Night Train to Munich (1940); fans of those earlier classics should be forewarned that this flick is much more broadly slapstick, relying heavily on caricatures and the ridiculousness of a kidnapped horse.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Joyce Grenfell as Sgt. Ruby Gates
No; this one will likely only appeal to fans of Sim or Searle’s work.