This adaptation of the famous short story by Rudyard Kipling tells the story of Daniel Dravot and Peachy Carnahan, two ex-soldiers in India when it was under British rule. They decide that the country is too small for them, so they head off to Kafiristan in order to become Kings in their own right. Kipling is seen as a character that was there at the beginning, and at the end of this glorious tale. Written by
Greg Bole <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sometimes Huston seems to have fallen asleep at the wheel. It's hard to believe that he made a movie like "Annie" for any reasons other than financial. But his winners are first-rate. I'll only mention "The Maltese Falcon," "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre," and "The African Queen" in passing. Hardly anybody seems to be turning out well-crafted work like this anymore, pieces in which plot, character, and atmosphere cohere.
"The Man Who Would Be King" is a fine example of Huston at or near his best. It is completely without pretense -- a kind of blustering, masculine, tragicomedy with two superb actors in the leads and fine support by Christopher Plummer as Brother Kipling. Nothing that Caine or Connery feel seems to be more than an inch deep. Stranded on a snowy mountaintop in the Hindu Kush, they sit around a dying campfire discussing how they're going to kill themselves, since they will otherwise slowly freeze to death. "Let's wait till the fire goes out," suggests Caine, "and I'll do the necessary." Connery muses, "Peachy, do you think our lives have been misspent?" "Well," replies Caine, "I wouldn't say the world is a better place for our having been IN it." They start laughing as they reminisce, provoking a life-saving snow avalanche.
They are clever, treacherous, greedy, and very human. They've taken a serious vow against the use of women or liquor until they've completed their plan of robbing some remote tribe of natives "six ways from Sunday." Learning that they have no interest in sleeping with his daughters, a friendly chieftain suggests that maybe some boys would do the trick, sending the heroes into a Victorian dudgeon.
I can't carry on much more about the jokes or about the underlying theme, which is pretty sad. Hubris, the Greeks would have called it, defying the gods and presuming to rise above your station. The lawyers might have called it lex loci. Having been proclaimed king, Connery tells Caine, "I'll be going now. You mortals remain outside." Connery breaks his vow where women are concerned and marries the lusciously exotic Roxanne (Caine's wife at the time). The spirit grew ever weaker and the flesh was all too willing.
Neither Caine nor Connery has ever disgraced or damaged a movie they've been in, although the reverse hasn't always been the case. They're not exactly heroes here, either. Huston and his writers were unsentimental. The two are racists. Caine throws an affable Indian gentleman off the train -- "Outside, Baboo!" -- and Huston treats it as a comic incident. That unapologetic lack of political correctness also spares us any nonsense about noble savages. Each of the isolated mountain tribes complains about the next tribe living upstream that they wait until the local women are bathing or doing laundry in the river, then they pee into the river. Offered the title of "Ootah The Great," one chief grumbles and says he'd prefer to be known as "Ootah the Terrible." It would have been easy to sentimentalize these people, a bit of teaching of Oriental Wisdom, "a man's reach should not exceed his grasp," or "all things in moderation," or some such nonsense, but we don't get it here. These are pretty rough dudes who play ball with the heads of their enemies.
In trying to capitalize on the success of this movie, the company brought out a "novelization", which turned the screenplay into a novel, as if Kipling had never lived to write the original story. (Talk about barbarism!)
I could watch this a hundred times and still marvel at Connery's mastery of the military style of speech when he says lines like, "There'll be no summary executions in THIS ah-my!" And, "Sorry about that. Blood was up. Won't happen again." He does it at least as well as Nigel Greene, Harry Andrews, or Jack Hawkins -- those mess hall terminal contours.
Don't miss it.
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