The Man Who Would Be King (film)
|The Man Who Would Be King|
Theatrical release poster by Tom Jung
|Directed by||John Huston|
|Produced by||John Foreman|
|Written by||John Huston
|Based on||The Man Who Would Be King
by Rudyard Kipling
|Music by||Maurice Jarre|
|Edited by||Russell Lloyd|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures
Allied Artists Pictures Corporation
|Box office||$13.2 million |
The Man Who Would Be King is a 1975 Technicolor film adapted from the Rudyard Kipling novella of the same title. It was adapted and directed by John Huston and starred Sean Connery, Michael Caine, Saeed Jaffrey, and Christopher Plummer as Kipling (giving a name to the novella's anonymous narrator). The film follows two rogue ex-non-commissioned officers of the Indian Army who set off from late 19th-century British India in search of adventure and end up as kings of Kafiristan.
In 1885, while working as a correspondent at the offices of the Northern Star newspaper in India, Rudyard Kipling (Christopher Plummer) is approached by a ragged, seemingly crazed derelict, who reveals himself to be his old acquaintance Peachy Carnehan (Michael Caine). Peachy tells Kipling the story of how he and his comrade-in-arms Daniel "Danny" Dravot (Sean Connery) traveled to remote Kafiristan (in modern-day Afghanistan, the province is now known as Nuristan), became "gods", and ultimately lost everything.
Three years earlier. Dravot and Carnehan had met Kipling under less than auspicious circumstances; Carnehan, a former Colour sergeant of the Queen's Own Royal Loyal Light Infantry, pickpocketed Kiplings's pocketwatch but was forced to return it as he was a fellow Freemason. Carnehan claims to be an expert in "whiskey, women, waistcoats and bills of fare." Both Dravot and Carnehan are in the process of blackmailing a local Rajah by posing as newspaper correspondents of "The Northern Star" newspaper-which outrages the real correspondent (Kipling). In order to save their lives Kipling has the local district commissioner detain both Dravot and Carnehan - who obliquely blackmail the commissioner himself.
Despite being accomplished gun smugglers, swindlers, fencers of stolen goods, conmen, and blackmailers, both of them are bitter that after fighting to make India part of the Empire, they will have little to return home to except dead-end jobs. Both Dravot and Carnehan turn up at Kipling's office-and explain their biggest gamble yet: feeling that India is too small for men such as themselves, they intend to travel to Kafiristan, help a local king overcome his enemies, overthrow him, and become "gods"/rulers themselves before stealing various riches and returning to England in triumph. After signing a contract pledging mutual loyalty and forswearing drink and women until they achieved their grandiose aims, Peachy and Danny (along with twenty Martini Henry rifles) set off on an epic overland journey north beyond the Khyber Pass (not before Kipling, after attempting to dissuade the men gives Dravot his masonic emblem as a token of brotherhood). Fighting off bandits, blizzards, and avalanches, they make their way into the unknown land of Kafiristan (literally "Land of the Infidels").
They chance upon a Gurkha soldier who goes by the name Billy Fish (Saeed Jaffrey), the sole survivor of a missing mapping expedition sent several years earlier which had been lost in an avalanche. Billy speaks English as well as the local tongue. Acting as translator and interpreter of customs and manners, he smooths the path of Peachy and Danny as they begin their rise, offering their services as military advisors, trainers, and war leaders to the chief of the much-raided village of Er-Heb. Peachy and Danny muster a force to attack the villagers' most-hated enemy, the Bashkai. During the battle, Danny is struck by an arrow, but is unharmed, leading the natives to believe that he is a god. In fact, the arrow was stopped by a bandolier hidden beneath his clothing. As victory follows victory, the defeated are recruited to join the swelling army.
Finally, nobody is left to stand in their way, and they are summoned to the holy city of Sikandergul, where the chief high priest, Kafu Selim, sets up a re-enactment of the arrow incident, to determine whether Danny is a man or a god by seeing whether or not he bleeds. When Danny flinches, the monks grab him and open his shirt, only to be stopped by Danny's Masonic jewel. By coincidence, the symbol on the jewel matches one known only to the highest holy man, the symbol of "Sikander" (Alexander the Great), who had conquered the country thousands of years before and promised to return. The holy men are convinced Danny is the son of Sikander. They hail him as king and lead the two men down to storerooms heaped with treasure that belonged to Sikander, which now belongs to Danny.
As the months pass, Peachy is anxious to leave with the treasure before winter closes the passes (and before the natives learn the truth about them). Danny is against it, however, and develops delusions of grandeur. First, Danny 'suggests' that Peachy bow to him like the others, ostensibly to "keep up appearances" in front of the natives and continue the deception. Then, he begins making plans to turn the land into a modern country, to the extent that he envisages eventually meeting Queen Victoria "as an equal." Disgusted, Peachy decides to take as much loot as he can carry on a small mule train and leave alone.
Meanwhile, Danny decides to take a wife after seeing the beautiful Roxanne (Shakira Caine), despite Peachy's strong warnings. Roxanne, having a superstitious fear that she will burst into flames if she consorts with a god, tries frantically to escape, biting Danny during the wedding ceremony. The bite draws blood, and when everyone sees it, they realize that Danny is human after all.
The angry natives pursue Danny and Peachy. When it becomes clear that the battle is lost, Peachy and Danny offer Billy a horse to escape, but Billy refuses and wishes them luck before courageously charging into the mob with a kukri singlehandedly. Nevertheless, Billy is killed amidst the mob and Peachy and Danny are soon captured. Danny apologizes to Peachy for spoiling their plans, and Peachy forgives him. Now resigned to his fate, Danny is forced to walk to the middle of a rope bridge over a deep gorge as the ropes are cut. Peachy is crucified between two pine trees, but he is cut down the next day when he survives the ordeal. Eventually, he makes his way back to India, but his mind has become unhinged by his sufferings. As Peachy finishes his story, he presents Kipling with Danny's severed head, still wearing its crown, thereby confirming the tale.
- Sean Connery as Daniel Dravot
- Michael Caine as Peachy Carnehan
- Christopher Plummer as Rudyard Kipling
- Saeed Jaffrey as Billy Fish
- Doghmi Larbi as Ootah
- Jack May as District Commissioner
- Karroom Ben Bouih as Kafu Selim
- Mohammad Shamsi as Babu
- Albert Moses as Ghulam
- Paul Antrim as Mulvaney
- Graham Acres as Officer
- The Blue Dancers of Goulamine as Dancers
- Shakira Caine as Roxanne
Huston had planned to make the film since the 1950s, originally with Clark Gable and Humphrey Bogart in the roles of Daniel and Peachy. He was unable to get the project off the ground before Bogart died in 1957; Gable followed in 1960. Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas were then approached to play the leads, followed by Richard Burton and Peter O'Toole. In the 1970s, Huston approached Robert Redford and Paul Newman for the roles. Newman advised Huston that British actors should play the roles, and it was he who recommended Connery and Caine.
The role of Roxanne (the only listed female character in the movie) was original slated for Tessa Dahl daughter of Roald Dahl and actress Patricia Neal. Dhal, excited to take the role, had prepared for the part by losing weight and capping her teeth . However, at the last minute, director Huston had decided to cast someone whose appearance was more in keeping with natives of Kafiristan. "We've got to find an Arab princess somewhere", he is recounted as saying over dinner with Caine. At that same dinner, Caine's Guyanian born wife Shakira was present, so Huston and Caine persuaded her to take on the role. 
Karroom Ben Bouih was said to have been 103 years old when he played Kafu Selim, although there is no record of his birth.
Though based on Kipling's work, the actual comedy and relationship between the two characters was highly influenced by the Bing Crosby and Bob Hope Road to... movies of the 1940s and '50s.
- When Carnehan remarks of himself and Dravot having to fight through the Khyber Pass under "Bob" Roberts he is referring to the Second Anglo-Afghan War of 1878-1880 and to General Frederick Roberts, 1st Earl Roberts. Ironically in real life, Rudyard Kipling was so anxious for his son, John Kipling, to serve in the BEF that the father's friendship with Roberts helped procure a commission for his son. John was later killed in action in 1915.
- The film inaccurately has Carnehan referring to himself as a "gunnery sergeant"; the correct rank for this time is that of colour sergeant.
Differences from the original book
The film stays broadly true to the text of Kipling's original novella. However, there are some key differences from the written version:
- The movie clearly portrays the principle narrator as Kipling himself. Though this is hinted in the novella, it is never stated there.
- One of the most memorable and comic sequences in the movie, the scene in which Dravot and Carnehan are shown the ancient treasures of Alexander, is not present in the novella at all.
- In the novella, Billy Fish is a native chief who happens to be loyal to Dravot and Carnehan; whereas in the movie he is portrayed as an ex British serviceman who is the sole survivor of a previous expedition.
- In the novella, Dravot is able to speak the local languages and converses with the natives freely. In the movie, the two leads use Billy Fish to translate for them. This is perhaps why Huston re-cast Billy Fish as an ex servicemen, avoiding the need for extensive subtitling.
- In the movie Dravot is taken by the beauty of Roxanne and he then chooses to be married to her. In the novella, he does not see his bride until the wedding ceremony is taking place.
John Simon of New York magazine considered the film to be Huston's best work since The African Queen, 23 years earlier. Jay Cocks of Time commented "John Huston has been wanting to make this movie for more than 20 years. It was worth the wait."
Some critics felt that the film was too long and that Caine had overplayed his part. A review in Variety was critical of the film mostly because of Caine's performance, stating "Whether it was the intention of John Huston or not, the tale of action and adventure is a too-broad comedy, mostly due to the poor performance of Michael Caine."
- Best Art Direction – Alexander Trauner, Tony Inglis, Peter James
- Best Writing – John Huston, Gladys Hill
- Best Costume Design – Edith Head
- Best Editing – Russell Lloyd
Maurice Jarre scored the film and invited classical Indian musicians to participate in the recording sessions with a traditional European symphony orchestra. A key song, which figures within the plot of the movie, is a fusion of the music of the Irish song "The Minstrel Boy" with the lyrics of Reginald Heber's "The Son of God Goes Forth to War". This song is heard at key moments in the score, notably being sung by Dravot as he is being executed and as he tumbles to his death. The film's performance of The Minstrel Boy is by William Lang, late of the Black Dyke Band and the London Symphony Orchestra.
The Man Who Would Be King was released by Warner Home Video on DVD in Region 1 on November 19, 1997, and was re-issued on November 9, 2010, followed by a Region A Blu-ray release on June 7, 2011. In Region 2, the film was released on DVD by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment on August 27, 2007, with a re-issue on May 17, 2010.
- Box Office Information for The Man Who Would Be King. IMDb. Retrieved September 18, 2013.
- Top 20 Films of 1975 by Domestic Revenue. Box Office Report via Internet Archive. Retrieved September 18, 2013.
- TimesTalks: Michael Caine: Five Favorite Films | The New York Times on YouTube
- Huston, J. (1975). The making of the man who would be king. Allied Artists Pictures.
- "People Weekly: What's It All About, Alfie?".
- Patricia Neal: An Unquiet Life by Stephen Shearer (pg 313)
- Michael Caine Remembers Nearly 40 Years in Film by Glenn Whipp
- "Pinewood Studios: Filmography and history". Simply Networking Solutions. Retrieved 7 January 2013.
- Simon, John (12 January 1976). "Over the Mountains, Across the Oceans, Beyond the Pale". New York. p. 58.
- Cocks, Jay (29 December 1975). "Cinema: Rogues' Regiment". Time. Retrieved 7 January 2012.
- Roger Ebert (23 February 1976). "The Man Who Would Be King". rogerebert.com. Retrieved 25 January 2010.
- "The Man Who Would Be King". Variety. 31 December 1974. Retrieved 8 January 2013.
- "The Man Who Would Be King (1975)". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 December 2008.
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