Yul Brynner: King Mongkut vs. The Gunslinger

Yul Brynner

One actor. Two film roles. You tell us which . The most memorable. Or iconic. Or simply your favorite.

But before you pass judgment, a few words defending the “character” of each…


The case for King Mongkut

For his portrayal of King Mongkut in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The King and I, Yul won two Tony Awards. He won an Academy Award for the 1956 film version. And he also played the role in a short-lived version called Anna and the King airing on CBS television in 1972. Yul reigned as King for over 30 years, playing the role 4,625 times on stage from 1951 to his death in 1985. So to say Yul Brynner is the epitome of the character of King Mongkut is not hyperbole—the two are simply indistinguishable.

The case for The Gunslinger

Some may now call Westworld a pretty cheesy production. But in fact, at the time of its release Variety Magazine lauded the film as “solid entertainment” with “superbly intelligent serio-comic story values.” And a review of the DVD by The Daily Telegraph in 2008 called the film a “bleakly terrifying fable—and Brynner’s performance is chillingly pitch-perfect.” It may be an eye-opener for an older generation that folks today relate far better with a relentless, steely-eyed, killer android than a singing & dancing Siamese king from the 1860s.

Now that you’ve heard the arguments for both it’s time to render your verdict!



  • arguellogomez

    There’s no comparison whatsoever- his most memorable role, bar none, was as King Mongkut of Siam. His one other iconic role, and my personal favorite, was as Radames in “The Ten Commendments”.

  • bonnerace

    I think one role that Yul Brynner will be remembered for—even if people don’t know what film the character came from—is his part in THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. (So, also the gunslinger from WESTWORLD.) Neither is my favorite film, but you DO remember the characters. I like the King, too.

  • Blair Kramer

    Imagine Chris from THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN losing his mind, and you have the robot gunslinger in WESTWORLD. Well… I’d rather NOT imagine Chris losing his mind, so I pick THE KING AND I.

  • Michael Evans

    YUl is effective in WESTWORLD but surely his major gunslinger role should be the one he portrayed in THE MAGNIFICENT 7, which the WESTWORLD robot was really an homage to. Regardless, his “crowning achievement” -if you’ll pardon the terrible pun- is as KIng Mongut in THE KING AND I. I saw him doing the role on stage in Boston in 1981, but by that time the balance between The King and Anna had swung to The King and the show suffered accordingly. I did not see him on Broadway with Gertrude Lawrence , but I believe his film performance must be similar to his original stage performance and is thus the best interpretation to see,thankfully recorded on film for posterity. Zanuck originally wanted .Maureen O’Hara for Anna and as she can sing I think she’d have been as good as Deborah Kerr was in the part. R+H nixed it due to her “adventure movie roles” as pirate queens etc. (did they forget HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY?)

    Zanuck wanted to cut ‘Is a Puzzlement’, but caved in and allowed it to be shot and kept in the film. A pity the people who persuaded him didn’t fight as hard to keep ‘I Have Dreamed’ in the movie, which was actually shot twice but ultimately cut. Forever banned in Thailand with the other movies ased on Anna’s version of what happened in the palace when she was there (no doubt fictionalized somewhat), it is the equal of the 1946 Irene Dunne film which inspired it (and fictionalized the early death of Louis!) and like a documentary in comparison to the highly romanticized Jodie Foster debacle of the ;90’s. The King in that film ludicrously attempts to kiss Mrs Leonowens on the beach and comes across like a frustrated Asian businessman having problems with a Western employee. Most remakes only serve to make the original look better. Take that as a warning Hugh Jackman re CAROUSEL

  • Cara

    Although I liked him in both movies, he owned the part of King Mongkut. I don’t think The King and I will be remade anytime soon because when you think of TK&I, you think Yul.

  • Julie

    Yul Brynner WAS The King in the King and I. I saw him at the London Paladium in 1978/9 satrring opposite Virginia Mckenna. They were wonderful together.