Cult Movie: John Huston's The Man Who Would Be King

Sean Connery and Michael Caine in The Man Who Would Be King
Ralph McLean

The Man Who Would Be King

IF JOHN Huston had had his way Humphrey Bogart and Clark Gable would have been the stars of The Man Who Would Be King.

It’s a project the legendary director had been stewing over for years but his casting plans were torn asunder when Bogart died and the film got put on the back burner once again. When Huston’s pet project finally went before the cameras in 1975 he did have Sean Connery and Michael Caine in the starring roles though so maybe it worked out for the best in the end.

Adapted from a Rudyard Kipling story, it’s one of the truly great adventure tales in cinema history. A lavish, slyly knowing exercise in epic storytelling rolled out with real humour and style, it remains a film that keeps on giving even today. As a tale of two chancers on the make for personal gain at the expense of the British Empire it certainly feels contemporary.

Connery and Caine are British sergeants Danny Dravot and Peachy Carnehan and a bigger pair of opportunistic grifters you’d be hard pressed to meet. They hope to take over a remote Central Asian kingdom and make themselves unfeasibly rich in the process. Needless to say not everything goes exactly to plan on their mission.

With the likes of Christopher Plummer and Saeed Jaffrey padding out an impressively star-heavy cast and Connery and Caine sparking off each other in every scene, this is a super-stylish adventure yarn spun out with genuine style and class by a master film-maker. It looks suitably epic and feels decidedly dusty and windswept, like all good adventure movies should, but never forgets to entertain at all costs and it raises plenty of smiles along the way.

Connery as Danny and Caine as Peachy have grown tired of Victoria’s India and, leaning back on their former occupation as soldiers and building on their growing skills as blackmailers and forgers, they set out to carve a little corner of the colonial world for themselves in Kafiristan, then a wild and unchartered place untouched by tourist or interloper since the days of Alexander The Great.

The natives soon take to their unlikely visitors and before long the odd couple are revered as leaders. After a series of misunderstandings, however, the people come to believe that Dravot is a true God and that’s a deception the duo swiftly realise they won’t be able to keep up for too long.

Generally considered something of a late-period masterpiece for Huston, the legendary director was rightly proud of this tall tale of greed, courage and con-man artistry, and as free-flowing adaptations of Kipling short stories go this is pretty hard to beat.

Like Huston the human, it’s larger than life and irascible but it really knows how to tell a story. An old-fashioned adventure yarn told with real panache, it gets better with every single viewing. It’s hard not to wonder what old Bogie would have made of it though.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access