The Man Who Would Be King

1975, Movie, PG, 129 mins


This was writer-director John Huston's dream project for decades. He originally wanted to film the Rudyard Kipling short story in the 1940s with Clark Gable and Humphrey Bogart. Later he envisioned Richard Burton and Peter O'Toole. However the long wait paid off: Michael Caine, Sean Connery, and Christopher Plummer deliver outstanding performances in a classic adventure that delivers thrills even as it meditates on issues of power and imperialism.

Kipling (Plummer) is working in his office in Lahore, India when an aged beggar enters and begins to spin an amazing tale that fascinates the writer. We flashback to Kipling's office many years earlier when a young, vibrant, if somewhat boorish Peachy Carnehan (Caine) and his dashing friend Daniel Dravot (Connery) ask the writer to witness some "official" document. Stationed in India, these British army officers have been supplementing their salaries with various scams. Down on their luck after squandering their money on vice, they have concocted a new scheme: they will sojourn into the hills of Kafiristan (a province in eastern Afghanistan now called Nuristan) where they will set themselves up as rulers. Intrigued by these brazen soldiers-of-fortune, Kipling secures them an appointment with the District Commissioner (May). However the official sees their true colors and sends them packing. Dravot and Carnehan endure assorted hardships as they trek through the storied Khyber Pass, and although Dravot gets mistaken for a god at one point, things don't quite work out as planned.

This is a grand adventure tale that does not stint on characterization. Connery and Caine join the ranks of Huston's classic overachievers, most notably Bogart's Fred C. Dobbs in THE TREASURE OF SIERRA MADRE. Caine may have gone a wee bit over-the-top but that helped the audience distinguish between the the natures of the two men. The film was shot on location in Morocco because of the costs and dangers of working in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the score by the celebrated Jarre (LAWRENCE OF ARABIA) failed to match the evocative power of the setting. However these are minor flaws in a delightful and memorable film. leave a comment

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