Best of Both Worlds

Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner glided majestically across the CinemaScope images that filled the stage area of the Redford Theatre on Friday, September 11, 2015.

As I watched these two actors in the 1956 movie The King and I perform to the song “Shall We Dance,” I thought about how this movie strongly combined the best parts of stage and screen.

Several scenes in this Rodgers and Hammerstein musical used every square inch of the wide screen to recreate the magic of the stage production that debuted on Broadway in 1951.

These scenes also included the introduction of Deborah Kerr to Yul Brynner’s children as they marched onto the screen. The Siamese version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin also felt as much like a stage presentation as a movie.

My favorite stage-like scene was when Deborah Kerr (with some help from Marni Nixon) walked towards the audience, singing “Hello Young Lovers.” It was a transcendent moment, and a few rows in front of me, I noticed a man in his 50s or 60s slowly put his left arm around the shoulders of his lady companion.

I had never seen The King and I in a movie theater, and it had been a while since I saw it on video, so my experience was enhanced by powerful feelings of rediscovery.

A significant role in the movie was played by Rita Moreno, who has recently appeared at the Redford both on the screen (West Side Story and Singin’ in the Rain) and in person.

Much of Deborah Kerr’s singing was done by Marni Nixon, whose beautiful high-pitched vibrato voice has also echoed throughout the Redford in My Fair Lady and West Side Story.

The King and I was given a nice reception at the Redford when in first opened. After its downtown Detroit run in the summer of 1956, it played neighborhood engagements at the Redford in October 1956 and in April 1957.

Before the first September 2015 screening of The King and I, publicity chairperson Linda Sites noted that the Redford had obtained an archival 35-millimeter print of the movie from 20th Century Fox.

Those efforts paid off handsomely, with deep, rich colors, and details that didn’t have the glossy, hard-edged texture of digital screenings of older movies.

It was the first movie of the Redford’s September-December 2015 season, and the cool weather outside helped prepare people for the colder months ahead.

Those months will include a wide variety of movie events at the Redford. Linda Sites talked about the schedule before The King and I began.

The audience seemed most enthusiastic about the personal appearance of Tippi Hedren on October 16, 17, and 18, in conjunction with screenings of Alfred Hitchcock’s suspenseful The Birds and Marnie.

Warm applause also greeted an announcement about the final event of the year on December 18, 19, and 20. The Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life will be shown, with special guest Karolyn Grimes, who played the young girl Zuzu in the movie.

Detroit Movie Palaces Home Page

Copyright 2015 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.

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