Yes, one of my favourite actors was born on this day a hundred years ago. Named Yuli Borisovich Bryner, ‘Yul’ Brynner was born in Vladivostok on July 11, 1920 and ended up moving first to Harbin (in China) and then to Paris, along with his mother and his sister Vera after their father abandoned them. Yul’s musical and dramatic abilities came to the fore in Paris, where he became a guitarist and later a trapeze and theatre artiste. In 1941, having travelled to America, he debuted on stage in Twelfth Night. That was the start of Yul Brynner’s career in the US, debuting onscreen eight years later in Port of New York (1949).
Yul Brynner’s decidedly exotic features meant that he, like contemporary Omar Sharif, ended up playing several different nationalities in films. Russian, of course; German; Mexican; Japanese…
… and Thai.
In what proved to be his only Oscar-winning role in a career spanning almost three decades, Yul Brynner played a historical figure: the Thai ruler King Mongkut.
Despite everything more fashionable cinema viewers may say, I love The Sound of Music. I love the songs, I love the mushy romance, I love the children. I love Julie Andrews. I love Christopher Plummer.
Which is why it’s always bothered me that Christopher Plummer used to refer to the film as The Sound of Mucus. Why, I wondered.
Well, this might just furnish some sort of answer to that question. Plummer stars in Triple Cross as a war-era safe breaker who offers his services to the Nazis as a spy in Britain. It’s not a frightfully demanding role, but it offers a glimpse of what Plummer was capable of. And I can understand why he might have thought of his role as Georg von Trapp as a little too much of a cakewalk.
After having watched Akira Kurosawa’s brilliant Shichi-nin No Samurai last week, I figured it was time to rewatch this film, which goes so far as to mention that it’s based on Shichi-nin No Samurai. For me, The Magnificent Seven has much to recommend it. Firstly, it’s a Western, a genre I’m usually fond of (as long as it steers clear of the run-of-the-mill formulas that John Wayne acted in during the early 30’s—and which, sadly, continued in a lot of films well past the 30’s). Secondly, The Magnificent Seven stars one of my favourite actors, Yul Brynner. Thirdly, it was directed by John Sturges, the very capable man behind classic adventure films like Escape from Fort Bravo, The Great Escape, and Ice Station Zebra.
I sometimes discover films in a very roundabout way. This one, for example.
Those who’ve explored this blog probably know that I also do travel writing, and that I recently went to Switzerland. While doing background research on the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Geneva (which was constructed from funds donated by a Russian Grand Duchess, Anna Feodorovna), I read again about the Romanovs—and inevitably, about Anna Anderson, the woman who emerged in Western Europe in the 1920’s, claiming to be Czar Nikolai’s youngest daughter, the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolayevna. Some more research, and I ended up at this film, starring one of my favourite actresses.