Song of the Day #4,431: ‘Shall We Dance’ – Yul Brynner & Deborah Kerr

Continuing my personal ranking of the 25 movie musicals deemed essential by the American Film Institute…

#20. The King and I – 1956
(#11 on the AFI list)

From this point on, I’m very positive on all of the movies I’ll mention. I guess that’s a good thing, given that this is supposed to be a list of the greatest musicals ever made.

The King and I, based on the Rodgers & Hammerstein stage musical, which was itself loosely based on the life of Anna Leonowens, a governess employed by King Mongkut Rama IV of Siam, is first and foremost a feast for the eyes. The costumes in this production are breathtaking, featuring lavish colors and intricate design. Deborah Kerr’s voluminous dresses are basically characters unto themselves.

Kerr got the co-starring role after Gertrude Lawrence, who played Anna on Broadway, died of cancer during the show’s run. Yul Brynner reprised his Tony-winning turn as the King, and wound up winning a Best Actor Oscar for his work in the film. Brynner is one of nine actors to win a Tony and Oscar for the same role. Two others will appear later on this list.

Brynner is amazing here, embodying the King’s haughty charm and comical naivete in every scene. His repeated delivery of “et cetera, et cetera” was the highlight of the film.

The King and I also features one of my new classic Hollywood girlfriends (this project surfaced a few) in Rita Moreno. I already singled her out as the best part of West Side Story, and here she is luminous as Tuptim, a member of the King’s harem.

Moreno was a contract player who was given every ethnic role in the book, regardless of nationality. The Puerto Rican actress was cast as a Thai woman in this film, but it was all the same to whitewashed Hollywood. Nevertheless, she’s gorgeous.

The film was nominated for nine Oscars, including Picture, Director, Actress and Cinematography. It won five: Sound, Music, Costumes, Art Design, and Brynner’s acting. It was worthy of every one of those wins.

The King and I isn’t a romance in the traditional sense, but it is quite romantic — never more so than in its most famous number, ‘Shall We Dance,’ presented as today’s Song of the Day.

[Note: A very Happy Birthday to my sister Amy! I wish the Barbra Streisand film had fallen on this day, because she’s a big fan, but Yul and Deborah will have to do.]

We’ve just been introduced
I do not know you well
But when the music started
Something drew me to your side

So many men and girls
Are in each other’s arms
It made me think we might be
Similarly occupied

Shall we dance?
On a bright cloud of music, shall we fly?
Shall we dance?
Shall we then say “Goodnight” and mean “Goodbye”?

Or perchance
When the last little star has left the sky
Shall we still be together
With are arms around each other
And shall you be my new romance?
On the clear understanding
That this kind of thing can happen
Shall we dance?
Shall we dance?
Shall we dance?

[ANNA, spoken]
Mm mm mm
Mm mm mm

[KING, spoken]
Why’d you stop? You dance pretty, go on, go on, go on!

[ANNA, spoken]
Oh Your Majesty I didn’t realize, after all I’m not a dancing girl… In England, no woman would dance while a man is looking at her

[KING, spoken]
But you will dance with strange men, holding hands, etc

[ANNA, spoken]
Yes, but not always a stranger. Usually a very good friend

[KING, spoken]
Good, then we will dance together! You show me. Teach, teach, teach!

[ANNA, spoken]
Well, it’s quite simple, the polka. You count, one, two, three. And one, two, three and one, two, three

(sung)
Shall we dance?

[KING, sung]
One, two, three and?

[ANNA, sung]
On a bright cloud of music, shall we fly?

[KING]
One, two, three and?

[ANNA]
Shall we dance?

[KING]
One, two, three and?

[ANNA]
Shall we then say “Goodnight” and mean “Goodbye”?

[King:]
One, two, three and?

[ANNA]
Or perchance
When the last little star has left the sky
Shall we still be together
With are arms around each other
And shall you be my new romance?
On the clear understanding
That this kind of thing can happen

[BOTH]
Shall we dance?
Shall we dance?
Shall we dance?

[ANNA]
One, two, three and one, two, three and
One, two, three and one, two, three and

[KING, spoken]
One, two, three, one, two, three
One, two… Something wrong!
I know, I know, I forgot “and” next time
I’ll remember!

[BOTH, sung]
One, two, three and one, two, three and
One, two, three and one, two, three and

[ANNA, spoken]
Oh that’s splendid, your Majesty!

[KING, spoken]
Splendid! Splendid!

[BOTH, sung]
And one, two, three and one, two, three and
One, two, three and

[KING]
That is not right!

[ANNA]
Yes, it is! You’re doing beautifully, your Majesty

[KING]
Not the way I see Europeans dance tonight

[ANNA]
Yes, it was! It was just like that!

[KING]
We’re not holding two hands, like this

[ANNA]
No. As a matter of fact

[KING]
Or no-o-o-ot like this

[ANNA]
Yes

[KING]
Come!

7 thoughts on “Song of the Day #4,431: ‘Shall We Dance’ – Yul Brynner & Deborah Kerr

  1. Dana Gallup says:

    I’ve never seen the movie, but we saw the revival show in Miami a few years ago. I must confess I was a bit bored by the show, but maybe I was just sleepy.😀

  2. Peg says:

    I loved this film! And tonight is the stage production on Great Performances on PBS. I didn’t realize Rita Moreno was in this film. She is still amazing at almost 90 years old! Happy Birthday to my wonderful daughter Amy ❤️❤️

  3. Amy says:

    Thank you for the birthday wishes. Unlike Dana, I appreciated the recent production of King and I. 😜

  4. Amy says:

    It’s only been relatively recently that Hollywood has retired this practice of casting a generic “ethnic” person to portray whatever the “ethnic” character might be, regardless whether the role is intended to be Italian, Cuban, Israeli, and so forth. I’m not sure this is always a bad thing. I wouldn’t want anyone but Greek Olympia Dukakis to play Italian Mama Castorini In Moonstruck, for instance. Still, it’s a sometimes fascinating/ sometimes problematic tendency.

    • Clay says:

      Yeah, Moonstruck is the single best argument for hiring whomever the hell you want.. that movie is perfectly cast.

      On the other side, you have movies where they darken someone’s skin to play another race (Mickey Rooney in A Breakfast at Tiffany’s might be the most horrific example).

      • Amy says:

        I fall somewhere in the “category” of representation matters, so, whenever possible not only should roles be cast by the ethnically appropriate actors, but so, too, should roles be reimagined to provide even more roles for a diverse cast (most famously, perhaps, is the role in Ghost that was written for a white man but worked perfectly with Whoopi Goldberg). That said, I do get uneasy at the notion that it was somehow wrong to have gay Neil Patrick Harris play incorrigible straight Barney Stinson, There’s a happy medium there somewhere, and you’re right that it probably lives within Moonstruck.

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