“You call it luck. I call it destiny.”
I can’t remember the last time I felt the sense of excitement and thrills I did while watching again John Huston’s “The Man Who Would Be King” (1975). It has a way of making you feel like a little kid all over again – and dream of faraway lands and seeking exploits. It takes you on this journey in which you get so involved with our two leading men in their daring quest that it propels you inexorably from one excitement to the next. Michael Caine and Sean Connery are so appealing in this, and the fun they’re having together is infectious. The film was a source of inspiration for Stephen Spielberg’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1980). It’s an assured, impressive work by Huston – and impossible to resist. I was twelve when I first saw it, and I’ve never forgotten the advertising tag line on the poster in the lobby for it captured the film so well: “Adventure in all its glory!”
Huston had tried to get this project off the ground for many years for he’d been a fan of the Rudyard Kipling (“The Jungle Book,” “Gunga Din”) novella of the same name since he was a child. This material suited him well – showcasing the bravado of foolish men attempting to do things beyond their capabilities and shooting in exotic locations — and it has other similar themes that he’d explored in earlier work like “The Treasure of Sierra Madre” (1948) and “Moby Dick” (1956), as well. After his big success helming “The African Queen” (1951) which garnered Humphrey Bogart an Oscar for Best Actor, Huston wanted to reunite with his leading man. He envisioned pairing Clark Gable with Bogart, but unfortunately there were delays in launching the project, and Bogart passed away in 1957, and in 1960 it was Gable’s turn. The writer/director subsequently came up with alternates that would have been terrific. Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas were enticed as well as Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole. In the early 70s, Huston reached out to Robert Redford and Paul Newman. The latter wisely advised the auteur that British actors would better fit the material, and he was the one that told him to consider Caine and Connery. Caine was thrilled knowing that the part had been written for Bogart since he had been Caine’s idol growing up – and this remains his favorite film he’s made. It turned out to be Huston’s best regarded film of the 1970s and both a critical and commercial success.
The movie is set in India in the late 19th century and is about two former British soldiers, Danny Dravot (Connery) and Peachy Carnehan (Caine) who have now become adventurers and con artists. They declare that “India is not big enough for them,” and they plan to go to Kafiristan, a country virtually unknown to Europeans since its conquest by Alexander the Great, and set themselves up as kings. “We shall go to those parts and say to any King we find – ‘D’you want to vanquish your foes?’ and we will show him how to drill men; for that we know better than anything else,” says Dravot. “Then we will subvert that King and seize his throne and establish a dynasty.” Before they embark on their expedition, they sign a contract pledging loyalty to one another and foregoing alcohol and women. Their witness is Kipling himself – who is a journalist who crosses path with the two rogues.
They disguise themselves as a holy man and his servant and get on their way for this Shangri-La. En route, they overcome trials and tribulations – including an extraordinary avalanche. With pluck and luck, they reach their goal. As they had planned, they train the habitants of the forbidden territory to fight another adjacent tribe. As a battle ensues, an arrow pierces Dravot’s chest – getting lodged in his leather bandolier. As he pulls it out, everyone thinks he must be an immortal – a descendant of Sikandergul (Alexander,) and he’s crowned king. Their dreams have come true but Dravot starts to take his role as ruler too seriously — plus he begins falling in lust with an exotic princess named Roxanne. “Wasn’t that the name of the princess Alexander married?” he ponders. He suffers from an Icarus complex.
The action is robust, laced with a lighthearted tone in the easygoing back and forth between Caine and Connery. Huston knows how to stage epic sequences and the hubris of the characters becomes a metaphor for colonialism. There are some awe-inspiring set pieces. One of the battle sequences is interrupted by the passing of seven blind priests crossing the battlefield. Dravot’s coronation is shot in oblique angles. The film is bookended with the visit of a derelict Carnehan telling Kipling, played effectively by Christopher Plummer, what transpired. The score is by frequent David Lean collaborator Maurice Jarre, and it conveys the right amount of splendor and excitement.
I love this movie – Huston, Connery, Caine and adventure!
Peachy Carnehan : “And what, may I ask, did you think you were playin’ at, charging the enemy single-handed?”
Danny : “I got carried away. Heat of the moment. The blood was up.”
Available to stream on HBO Max and to rent on Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, YouTube, FandangoNOW, Vudu, Microsoft, iTunes, Redbox and DIRECTV.
Screenplay by John Huston and Gladys Hill
Based on the story by Rudyard Kipling
Directed by John Huston
Starring Sean Connery, Michael Caine, Christopher Plummer, Saeed Jaffrey and Shakira Caine
Bringing “The Man Who Would Be King” to the Screen
While bedridden as a child, director John Huston became a student of Rudyard Kipling’s writing. In a 1976 article for Film Encyclopedia, Huston remarked, “I read so much Kipling, it’s in my unconscious. You start a verse I’ll finish it. Kipling writes about a world gone, a geography gone. It’s the world of adventure, high honor, mystery”. Kipling’s romantic worldview may well have informed Huston’s adult life, with his experiences as a Mexican cavalry officer, big-game hunter, boxer, painter and even opera singer. There could be no more perfect director, then, to helm the larger-than-life story of “The Man Who Would Be King” (1975). Set in colonial India in the 1800s, the film follows the exploits of two rogue British Army sergeants, Danny Dravot (Sean Connery) and Peachy Carnehan (Michael Caine)…Huston had envisioned a screen version of “The Man Who Would Be King” as far back as the 1950s, at various times considering Bogart, Gable, Peter O’Toole, Richard Burton, and (lastly) Paul Newman and Robert Redford for the lead roles. At Newman’s urging, the director hooked Connery and Caine, and the result was a rare screen chemistry that drives the narrative wonderfully. Christopher Plummer holds down the role of Kipling himself in a performance that makes it difficult to imagine anyone different playing the role. In Lawrence Grobel’s “The Hustons,” Caine remarked that “The Man Who Would Be King” was “a classic of its kind” and “the only film I’ve done that will last after I’ve gone”. In regards to Huston’s deft direction, Caine noted, “Most directors today don’t know what they want – so they shoot everything they can think of. They use the camera like a machine gun. John used it like a sniper”. The film is a grand-scale, “don’t-make-’em-like-that-anymore” adventure that plays like Kipling himself would likely have imagined it. (tcm.com)
About Composer Maurice Jarre
Maurice Jarre was born on September 13, 1924, in Lyon, France. He wrote the music sound tracks for more than 150 motion pictures, of which 3 – “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962), “Doctor Zhivago” (1965), and “A Passage to India” (1984)—earned him the Academy Award for best original score and another 5 – “Les Dimanches de Ville d’Avray” (1962; “Sundays and Cybele”), “The Message” (1976), “Witness” (1985), “Gorillas in the Mist” (1988), and “Ghost” (1990)—received nominations for the score. For many people, however, his best-known work was the balalaika-infused song “Lara’s Theme,” which was drawn from the “Doctor Zhivago” score. Jarre studied engineering at the Sorbonne before transferring to the Paris Conservatory, and he served as music director for the Théâtre National Populaire for more than a decade. His first movie sound track was for the short documentary “Hôtel des Invalides” (1952), and he was soon in demand by filmmakers on both sides of the Atlantic. Although Jarre was especially known for his lush melodies, he was sensitive to the needs of the script and often incorporated exotic motifs, ethnic instruments, and electronic effects to enhance the drama onscreen. His varied film scores include “The Longest Day” (1962), “Paris brûle-t-il?” (1966; “Is Paris Burning?”), “Ryan’s Daughter” (1970), “The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean” (1972, including the Oscar-nominated song “Marmalade, Molasses & Honey”), “The Man Who Would Be King” (1975), “Die Blechtrommel” (1979; “The Tin Drum”), “The Year of Living Dangerously” (1982), “Dead Poet’s Society” (1989), and “A Walk in the Clouds” (1995). He also composed symphonic music and scores for such television films as “Uprising” (2001). Jarre was an officer of the Legion of Honour, and in February 2009 he was awarded the Berlin Film Festival’s Golden Bear for Lifetime Achievement. (britannica.com)
About Author Rudyard Kipling
Kipling was born in Bombay, India, in 1865. His father, John Lockwood Kipling, was principal of the Jeejeebyhoy School of Art, an architect and artist who had come to the colony, writes Charles Cantalupo in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, “to encourage, support, and restore native Indian art against the incursions of British business interests.” He meant to try, Cantalupo continues, “to preserve, at least in part, and to copy styles of art and architecture which, representing a rich and continuous tradition of thousands of years, were suddenly threatened with extinction.” His mother, Alice Macdonald, had connections through her sister’s marriage to the artist Sir Edward Burne-Jones with important members of the Pre-Raphaelite movement in British arts and letters. Kipling spent the first years of his life in India, remembering it in later years as almost a paradise. “My first impression,” he wrote in his posthumously published autobiography “Something of Myself for My Friends Known and Unknown,” “is of daybreak, light and colour and golden and purple fruits at the level of my shoulder.” In 1871, however, his parents sent him and his sister Beatrice—called “Trix”—to England, partly to avoid health problems, but also so that the children could begin their schooling. Kipling and his sister were placed with the widow of an old Navy captain named Holloway at a boarding house called Lorne Lodge in Southsea, a suburb of Portsmouth. Kipling and Trix spent the better part of the next six years in that place, which they came to call the “House of Desolation.” 1871 until 1877 were miserable years for Kipling…At last, Kipling suffered a sort of nervous breakdown. An examination showed that he badly needed glasses—which helped explain his poor performance in school—and his mother returned from India to care for him….He and his sister spent each December time with his mother’s sister, Lady Burne-Jones, at The Grange, a meeting-place frequented by English artisans such as William Morris—or “our Deputy ‘Uncle Topsy’” as Kipling called him in Something of Myself…In 1878, Kipling was sent off to school in Devon, in the west of England. The institution was the United Services College, a relatively new school intended to educate the sons of army officers, and Kipling was probably sent there because the headmaster was one Cormell Price, “one of my Deputy-Uncles at The Grange … ‘Uncle Crom.’”
There Kipling formed three close friends, whom he later immortalized in his collection of stories “Stalky Co,” published in 1899… Since his parents could not afford to send him to one of the major English universities, in 1882 Kipling left the Services College, bound for India to rejoin his family and to begin a career as a journalist. For five years he held the post of assistant editor of the Civil and Military Gazette at Lahore. During those years he also published the stories that became “Plain Tales” from the Hills, works based on British lives in the resort town of Simla, and Departmental Ditties, his first major collection of poems. In 1888, the young journalist moved south to join the Allahabad Pioneer, a much larger publication. At the same time, his works had begun to be published in cheap editions intended for sale in railroad terminals, and he began to earn a strong popular following with collections such as “The Phantom,” “Rickshaw and Other Tales,” “The Story of the Gadsbys,” “Soldiers Three,” “Under the Deodars,” and “Wee Willie Winkie” and “Other Child Stories.” In March 1889 Kipling left India to return to England, determined to pursue his future as a writer there. The young writer’s reputation soared after he settled in London. “Kipling’s official biographer, C.E. Carrington,” declares Cantalupo, “calls 1890 ‘Rudyard Kipling’s year. There had been nothing like his sudden rise to fame since Byron.’” “His poems and stories,” writes O’Toole, “elicited strong reactions of love and hate from the start—almost none of his advocates and detractors were temperate in praise or in blame. Ordinary readers liked the rhythms, the cockney speech, and the imperialist sentiments of his poems and short stories; critics generally damned the works for the same reasons.” Many of his works were originally published in periodicals and later collected in various editions as Barrack-Room Ballads; famous poems such as “The Ballad of East and West,”“Danny Deever,” “Tommy,” and “The Road to Mandalay” date from this time. Kipling’s literary life in London brought him to the attention of many people. One of them was a young American publisher named Wolcott Balestier, who became friends with Kipling and persuaded him to work on a collaborative novel. The result, writes O’Toole, entitled “The Naulahka,”…Balestier himself did not live to see the book published—he died on December 6, 1891—but he influenced Kipling strongly in another way.
Kipling married Balestier’s sister, Caroline, in January, 1892, and the couple settled near their family home in Brattleboro, Vermont. The Kiplings lived in America for several years, in a house they built for themselves and called “Naulahka.” Kipling developed a close friendship with Theodore Roosevelt, then Under Secretary of the Navy, and often discussed politics and culture with him…Both of Kipling’s daughters were born in Vermont—Josephine late in 1892, and Elsie in 1894—as was one of the classic works of juvenile literature: “The Jungle Books,” which are ranked among Kipling’s best works. The adventures of Mowgli, the foundling child raised by wolves in the Seeonee Hills of India, are “the cornerstones of Kipling’s reputation as a children’s writer,” declared William Blackburn in Writers for Children, “and still among the most popular of all his works.” The Mowgli stories and other, unrelated works from the collection—such as “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” and “The White Seal”—have often been filmed and adapted into other media. …The Kiplings left Vermont in 1896 after a fierce quarrel with Beatty Balestier, Kipling’s surviving brother-in-law…Rather than remain in America, Kipling and his wife returned to England, settling for a time in Rottingdean, Sussex, near the home of Kipling’s parents. The writer soon published another novel, drawing on his knowledge of New England life: “Captains Courageous,” the story of Harvey Cheney, a spoiled young man who is washed overboard while on his way to Europe and is rescued by fishermen…The Kiplings returned to America on several occasions, but this practice ended in 1899 when the whole family came down with pneumonia and Josephine, his eldest daughter, died from it…In 1901 he published what many critics believe is his finest novel: “Kim,” the story of an orphaned Irish boy who grows up in the streets of Lahore, is educated at the expense of his father’s old Army regiment, and enters into “the Great Game,” the “cold war” of espionage and counter-espionage on the borders of India between Great Britain and Russia in the late 19th century…
In 1902 the Kiplings settled in their permanent home, a 17th-century house called “Bateman’s” in East Sussex. “In the years following the move,” O’Toole explains, “Kipling for the most part turned away from the types of stories he had written early in his career and explored new subjects and techniques.” One example, completed before the Kiplings occupied Bateman’s, was the collection called the Just So Stories, perhaps Kipling’s best-remembered and best-loved work. The stories, written for his own children and intended to be read aloud, deal with the beginnings of things: “How the Camel Got His Hump,” “The Elephant’s Child,” “The Sing-Song of Old Man Kangaroo,” “The Cat That Walked by Himself,” and many others…Kipling wrote many other works during the periods that he produced his children’s classics. He was actively involved in the Boer War in South Africa as a war correspondent, and in 1917 he was assigned the post of “Honorary Literary Advisor” to the Imperial War Graves Commission—the same year that his son John, who had been missing in action for two years, was confirmed dead. In his last years, explains O’Toole, he became even more withdrawn and bitter, losing much of his audience because of his unpopular political views—such as compulsory military service—and a “cruelty and desire for vengeance [in his writings] that his detractors detested.” Modern critical opinions, O’Toole continues, “are contradictory because Kipling was a man of contradictions. He had enormous sympathy for the lower classes … yet distrusted all forms of democratic government.” He declined awards offered him by his own government, yet accepted others from foreign nations. He finally succumbed to a painful illness early in 1936. (poetryfoundation.org)
About Director and Co-Screenwriter John Huston
Born on Aug. 5, 1906 in Nevada, MO, Huston was raised the only child of noted stage and screen star, Walter Huston, and sports journalist and editor Rhea Gore. His parents divorced when he was six years old, forcing Huston to split time between both while receiving his education at various boarding schools. Though his father quit acting to become a civil engineer when his son was born, he soon returned to his craft, allowing the young Huston to spend his summers traveling with his father on the vaudeville circuit. Naturally, he became attracted to the idea of becoming an actor. But Huston developed a number of childhood maladies like an enlarged heart and kidney problems that forced extended bed rest in Arizona before moving to Los Angeles with his mother. He later attended Lincoln Heights High School, where he took up boxing and won the Amateur Lightweight Boxing Championship in California, leading to a semi-professional stint after dropping out of school at 15 years old. He fought in various clubs for five dollars a night until discovering a love for painting, which led to enrollment at the Smith School of Art. By this time, Huston resumed his boxing career, only to have his nose smashed into his face, forcing an end to that particular ambition. He moved to New York City, where he began performing on stage in 1924 with the Provincetown Players in Greenwich Village. An avid horseback rider, he soon made his way to Mexico in search of a famous trainer and colonel in the army, who gave him an honorary commission, allowing him to ride with the officers. This led to a confrontation with a South African count over a woman that escalated to challenges of a duel that fortunately never materialized. Encouraged to become a writer after receiving an illicit copy of James Joyce’s then-banned Ulysses, Huston began writing short stories, having “Fool” accepted by legendary editor H.L. Mencken for his magazine American Mercury in 1929. He followed in his mother’s footsteps and became a journalist, writing for the New York Daily Graphic, only to realize he lacked the requisite skills to be a good reporter – proven when he mixed up his notes while writing a murder story and accused the wrong man of the crime.
By this time, Huston had married his first wife and high school sweetheart, Dorothy Harvey, while his stories appeared in the likes of Esquire and The New York Times. Having found some success as a playwright, he was convinced by friend and Broadway director Herman Shumlin to try his hand at Hollywood, leading Huston to move back to Los Angeles, where he became a contract writer for Samuel Goldwyn. His initial Hollywood stint was marred by dissatisfaction, starting with his departure from Goldwyn Studios to Universal Studios after months of landing no assignments. For Universal, he worked on the scripts for “Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1932), an adaptation of the Edgar Allan Poe short story; “Law and Order” (1932), a retelling of the famed shootout at the OK Corral; and “A House Divided” (1932), directed by William Wyler and starring his father, Walter Huston…He eventually moved back to the United States…Determined to become a serious writer, Huston achieved great renown as a contract writer for Warner Bros. It was there that he co-wrote major films like “Jezebel” (1938) with Bette Davis; “The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse” (1938), starring Edward G. Robinson and Humphrey Bogart; and “Juarez” (1939)…Huston earned the first of many Academy Award nominations with his co-writing efforts on “Dr. Ehrlich’s Magic Bullet” (1940)…He earned another Academy Award nod for “Sergeant York” (1941) …he wrote the script for “High Sierra” (1941)…Because the movie was a big hit, Huston – who had it in his contract to be able to direct his next picture – was given the opportunity to step into the director’s chair with his choice of material. Huston picked an adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s “The Maltese Falcon,”…Huston went on to direct two more hits, the melodramatic “In This Our Life” (1942)…and the spy thriller “Across the Pacific” (1942), with Bogart again in the lead…Huston put aside career ambitions to become involved in the war effort, earning the rank of captain with the Army Signal Corps and producing groundbreaking documentary work like “Report from the Aleutians” (1943), “The Battle of San Pietro” (1944) and “Let There Be Light” (1945)
…Returning to Hollywood once the war was over, Huston embarked on the most fruitful and significant portion of his career. From 1948-1952, he produced a succession of important films that went on to become cinematic classics long admired by later generations. First was “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” (1948)…”The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” became an instant classic, earning Huston Academy Awards for writing and directing, and a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his father. With his next film, “Key Largo” (1948), Huston further defined the film noir…Huston directed “The Asphalt Jungle” (1950)…earning him more Academy Award nominations as writer and director…Huston followed with “The Red Badge of Courage” (1951)…Arguably his most accomplished and mature work came next with “The African Queen” (1952)…”The African Queen” earned four Academy Award nominations, including two for Huston…The director garnered yet another Oscar nomination for Best Director with “Moulin Rouge” (1952)…his offbeat comic thriller “Beat the Devil” (1953), again starring Bogart, Huston’s reputation suffered a series of setbacks over the next 20 years. By this time, he had endured personal frustration with the ugly politics of the McCarthy Era, particularly when his involvement in a group called the Committee for the First Amendment was charged with being a Communist front…he found peace on an estate in Galway…Also at this time, Huston married his fourth wife, Enrica Soma, who gave birth to his first two children, Tony and Anjelica. In 1962, the couple separated, in which time Enrica had another daughter, Allegra…In the meantime, he directed and co-wrote with Ray Bradbury an adaption of “Moby Dick” (1956)…his next picture, “Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison” (1957)…Huston received his 11th Academy Award nomination, this time for Best Adapted Screenplay. Making his feature debut as an actor… in Otto Preminger’s religious-themed drama “The Cardinal” (1963), which led to his only acting Academy Award nomination – Best Actor in a Supporting Role. Back in the director’s chair, he helmed…”The List of Adrian Messenger” (1963)
…Huston returned to artistic form with his adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ drama “The Night of the Iguana” (1964)…Huston spent a great deal of time making his next picture, “The Bible: In the Beginning” (1966)…Huston next joined four other directors to helm… “Casino Royale” (1967)…He moved on to direct “Reflections in a Golden Eye” (1967)…Huston directed…”Sinful Davey” (1969) and the spy thriller “The Kremlin Letter” (1970), while appearing more frequently onscreen with roles in the satirical “Myra Breckinridge” (1970) and the Spaghetti Western “The Deserter” (1971). After directing “The Last Run” (1971) with George C. Scott, Huston returned to form with… “Fat City” (1972)…Also that year, he directed “The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean” (1972)…After helming the misfire spy thriller “The Mackintosh Man” (1973)…he directed the epic adventure “The Man Who Would Be King” (1975), adapted from the Rudyard Kipling short story of the same name…”The Man Who Would Be King” earned Huston an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. He accepted roles in a variety of pictures, including the historical epic “The Wind and the Lion” (1975)…”I Tentacoli” (1977), and…”The Bermuda Triangle” (1978). Despite his advanced age and increasingly poor health…Huston continued to make a movie almost every year. He next directed “Wise Blood” (1979)…Huston directed the compelling World War II thriller “Victory” (1981)…He helmed the musical “Annie” (1982), which went on to become a box office hit…After directing the long strange trip “Under the Volcano” (1984)…Huston returned…with “Prizzi’s Honor” (1985)…Daughter Anjelica Huston delivered a dynamic performance as the hit man’s spurned lover, earning her an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Her triumph made the Hustons – Walter, John and Anjelica – the only family to win Oscars in three successive generations. At this point in his life…His health was also rapidly failing him. He suffered from a long bout with emphysema while also undergoing major heart surgery. But none of this stopped the ever-energetic director who went on to helm another long-held project, “The Dead” (1987), an adaptation of the famous James Joyce short story which he co-wrote with son, Tony. Both elegiac and reflective, “The Dead” starred Anjelica Huston…At the time of his death, Huston was preparing for his next film, “Mr. North” (1988), which he wrote and was also going to produce. But when his illnesses finally got the better of him, son Danny Huston…took over the helm. (tcm.com)