Man Who Would Be King (1975), The

The Man Who Would Be King (1975), directed by John Huston.

First review

Pure adventure, like they used to make them. I wish there were ten more like it. No fantasy gimics, no cute kid, no romantic interest tagging along. Just clever Michael Caine and great-hearted Sean Connery as imperial soldiers looking for fortune on the far side of Afghanistan, and their shock when they find it.

The short story is elaborated into a tale told to Kipling himself, expertly played by Christopher Plummer. I don't recall the masonic theme being in the text.

I presumed Kipling's Kafiristan was mythical, but it was a real place.

All of Kipling's early stories are tales of India, a country he loved. If you haven't read them you may think you know what they are like, but I promise you that you don't. Tremendous literature.

The theme song is The Minstrel Boy, with lyrics from The Son of God Goes Forth to War

The DVD has a "making of" segment where Connery performs his own stunt of falling off the rope bridge, a long way down to a huge pile of cardboard boxes. Huston says "That's one of the damnedest things I've ever seen."

Second review

"Bags of swank!"

This thread has existed for just over a year and here is my first repeated movie. I read passages from Michael Caine's autobiography to my wife and she wanted to see The Man Who Would Be King again.

Ex-soldiers Daniel and Peachy are no ordinary looters. India is too small for them and "We are not little men." They want to be royal thieves. Money is important but so is their pride. Hubris trips them up: loot is one thing (sometimes you get away with it and sometimes you don't) but wealth that will make them the richest men in England, even the world -- you can't get away with that.

They tempt the gods further by setting up Daniel as a god, and he begins to believe his own line. Tragically, he does try to be a good king, but his pride is still in the way. And something more glandular than pride: he wants to form a royal line. Does he pick a stout earth-mother figured woman for his queen? No, he sends for Roxanne, slim and beautiful as a fashion model.

The story turns spookily Arthurian, where "the king and the land are one". The gods are angry and punish the country. The king is sacrificed and his friend lives to tell the tale. In the original story, Peachy dies the day after visiting Kipling.

Huston wanted to make this for years, originally with Clark Gable as Daniel and Humphrey Bogart as Peachy. "But they died on me." Connery and Caine had been friends since their pre-fame days. Caine's lovely wife Shakira was a last-minute addition as Roxanne. At first she refused but Huston took her aside and convinced her somehow.

In another bit of late casting, the old man who plays the high priest was originally the site night watchman. After a few days of filming they noticed he was exhausted because no one told him he didn't have to continue his night job while acting during the day. Wasn't he great? 100 years old.

Quite a lot of improvisation, including the whole early scene when the partners are up on charges before the government official. Huston, like Hitchcock, gave very little specific direction, instructing the actors only when something was wrong. "You pick the right people and you don't have to direct them."

In my original review I said Connery did his own stunt when falling off the rope bridge. Caine writes that it was a stunt-man, which is more plausible. The making-of feature lets us believe it was Connery without explicitly saying so.

Filmed in Morocco. Clothes by Edith Head.

Alexander the Great really did operate in that area and marry Roxanne. Her country used to be a crossroads for central Asia, pretty much wrecked by the Mongols 1500 years later.

The DVD has some problem with the telecine I don't remember seeing elsewhere. It's like the picture goes out of focus and the fine detail trembles several times a minute. We really need a better version. [Later: a Blu-ray appeared].

"God's holy trousers!"