The first film that Yul Brynner got notice for was the cinematic version of the stage hit of which Yul Brynner had played the starring role in on Broadway, "The King and I". The film version paired Yul onscreen with the cool English actress Deborah Kerr. Their onscreen chemistry was one of the major reasons for the films success along with the lavish production and the great songs. In the late 1990's an updated version of the story was filmed but it was not a major success, it seems as if even today movie audiences can only imagine one man in the role of the King.
The Ten Commandments
Yul's finest performance and most well-known film is probably DeMille's
The Ten Commandments. The film is one of the finest epics ever
made and Yul has one of the juiciest villain roles in those epic
films. This is also my favorite of his films and roles.
showcases Yul's aggressiveness and tenderness - he is at first cruel to
the confused Ingrid Bergman and plans on using her to gain riches and
fame. Soon he falls in love with her and his plans come into
conflict with his feelings. Some excellent moments in this film, and
Yul gets to show off his singing and dancing skills once again.
Brothers Karamazov is one of my
favorite of Yul's film roles. His performance as Dimitri in the film
adaptation of Dostoevsky's classic Russian novel is as close to perfect as
it could be. Yul's scenes are the best in the film but all in all
this is as good a film adaptation as could be produced during the
1950's. Even Mr. Star Trek himself, William Shatner, is fairly good
in it as Alyosha. The biggest disappointment casting wise is Ivan,
played by Richard Basehart (MST3K comes to mind!). But the father
and Grushenkaya, played admirably by the German actress Maria
Schell. Marilyn Monroe wanted the part but I don't think she
would've had the earthiness required for the part.
The next great movie that Yul did was
The Journey in 1959, this film reunited him with Deborah Kerr. In
this film Yul is a Russian officer who's job it is to keep emigres from
leaving Hungary - it's a story about the Hungarian uprising in 1956.
Yul and Deborah once again have marvellous chemistry.
The Magnificent Seven
films followed until 1960 when The Magnificent Seven came
out. This is a great western with an incredible cast, many of the
actors who would become big stars in the 1960's were in this film
including Steve McQueen, James Coburn, and Charles Bronson (if this cast
list is starting to sound familiar it's because the director went on to
direct The Great Escape a few years later, which of course also featured
Coburn, Bronson and McQueen). I've read some funny stories about the
rivalry between Brynner and McQueen on the set -- scene stealing and the
like. Whatever their relations offscreen the cast is sure fun to
watch onscreen - the competition is quite engaging. In fact, of all the performances in the film Yul's is probably the least interesting. I see this film seems like a passing of the guard from the 1950's to the 1960's. This movie is definitely a 60's western, it has much more in common with The Good Bad and the Ugly than with Shane - the antihero makes his first appearance in a screen western. The heros are themselves gunslingers who have no real moral values but learn to care for the people in the village they are protecting. The "cool" anti-hero attitudes of the up and coming actors Coburn, McQueen and Bronson are very evident here. Brynner is the star but he doesn't have the same onscreen attitude as the others (Brynner stalks across the screen like a panther while McQueen slouches).
Kings of the Sun
I finally got to see this film again after many years thanks to TCM. Brynner stars in this epic about the Mayans - Brynner has a conflict with a new tribe of people who move into his land. Wonderful costumes and setting. Good themes about different cultures getting along and learning from others. I really like this movie, it's one of my favorite Brynner films and it's also nice to see West Side Story star George Chakiris in a showy role. Sure it may be somewhat cheesy but good epic cheese never harmed anyone!
Yul did another Russian themed film in 1962, Gogol's Taras Bulba.
Tony Curtis plays his son (not the most inspired bit of casting!). I
have not seen Kings of the Sun but that sounds like a great role for Yul.
Those are the must-see Yul films that I recommend.