By: Oberst Von Berauscht (A Toast) –
While working through the night on correspondences, writer Rudyard Kipling (Christopher Plummer) is met by a disheveled intruder. Due to his ragged and weatherbeaten nature, the man quickly realizes Kipling doesn’t recognize him. He reveals himself to be a someone who had sat in Kipling’s office three years prior in a meeting where an agreement was signed, with Kipling as witness. It was at this meeting that Peachy Carnehan (Michael Caine) along with his compatriot Daniel Dravot (Sean Connery) agreed to travel to Kafiristan (Present day Northern Afghanistan) with a cache of rifles and make themselves King… and then to escape with as much plunder as possible.
You truly are a pirate!
Director John Huston is no stranger to Adventure Cinema, having helmed two of the most essential and influential of all time; The African Queen and The Treasure of Sierra Madre. So influential were these films that it is easy to overlook this one, as it came far later in his career, with the genre conventions firmly established. This would be a mistake however, as The Man Who Would Be King is easily one of the most unique films in this category.
In the film, the tribes of the area are quickly won over by the advanced technology and seemingly wondrous feats accomplished by Connery and Caine’s characters, even proclaiming that Connery must be a god. Being essentially con artists, they take full advantage, and reap vast riches, while simultaneously setting themselves up on a pedestal that no mortal man could maintain.
This simple fable is told with great enthusiasm by Caine, who also serves as the film’s narrator. Michael Caine gives a thoroughly eccentric performance, imbuing the film with comic relief while staying just grounded enough to keep from becoming parody. On top of this, he chooses to use an exaggerated version of his own trademark accent
Caine is a master of self-impersonation
Sean Connery is solid as well, becoming so enamored with the power which comes from being seen as a god that he allows it to destroy his plan to get rich quick. He also is boasting facial hair so bristly it could polish a diamond.
King Sean “Mean Muttonchops” McConnery IV
In keeping with the epic aesthetics of the film, Director Huston and longtime collaborator Oswald Morris (Cinematographer extraordinaire) provide the film with sweeping visuals that demonstrate the challenges and rugged beauty of the setting, and help to highlight the precarious situation the characters are in, as there is no easy way in or out of the mountains. Huston shot much of the film in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco to double as the mountains of the Khyber Pass. This choice allowed them to use the ancient structures and villages of the area to the film’s advantage.
In the end, though, the film’s greatest advantage is in the chemistry between the two leads. Connery and Caine portray the most amicable pair of military comrades since Gunga Din. This is carried out not only by their dialogue, but in their body language as well; it takes only moments seeing them on screen together before the audience knows all they need to. This is one of the great friendships in cinema. If you have any reservations about watching the film, I insist you watch this scene:
“Ats off, Ats on!”
Adventure filmmaking doesn’t get much better than this, absolutely essential entertainment.
Take a Drink: for any instance of “The Minstrel Boy” song
Take a Drink: for any instance of author Kipling’s trademark Colonial Racism
Do a Shot: in loving memory of Sean “Mean Muttonchops” McConnery, may his whiskers rest in peace…