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USA 1975
Directed by
John Huston
129 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

The Man Who Would Be King

Acting buddies Sean Connery and Michael Caine take the lead roles in John Huston’s handsome adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s adventure story set in the colonial India during the heyday of the British Raj.

Daniel Dravot (Connery) and Peachy Carnahan (Caine) are a couple of grifting former British soldiers who hatch up a scheme to establish themselves as kings in Kafiristan in the remote north of the Indian continent in order to plunder the country mercilessly. Things go much better than expected with Daniel being recognized by the inhabitants as a divine descendant of Alexander the Great. But Daniel begins to believe the lie and overreaches himself by attempting to marry a local girl (Shakira Caine, wife to Michael).

Even for1975 Huston’s film looks dated, a legacy of 1960s Hollywood ‘s taste for lavish but dramatically lightweight spectacles set in exotic locations with strange customs.  The story (which is told in flashback) opens with a panorama of a teeming market place with blind beggars, snake charmers, holy men and ragged children before taking us on the long trek by foot to Kafiristan high in the mountains of what is now Afghanistan where in a monastery which looks like it was cobbled together from some sword and sandal epic Daniel and Peachy realize, at least for a short time, the dream in what is designed as a good old-fashioned adventure yarn.  

Which it would have been had it been made ten years earlier.  Post-Vietnam, Kipling’s “white man’s burden” point of view, even if ultimately the natives are vindicated, doesn’t sit quite right.  Nor, being largely played for comedy, does it have the bite of Huston’s The Treasure of Sierra Madre (1948) another but much more telling story of greed and folly.

For all that, Connery and Caine bring home with panache Kipling’s incorrigibly opportunistic characters in what is a particularly good double act.




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