Friday, January 22, 2016

The Man Who Would Be King

The Man Who Would Be King; adventure, USA / UK; 1975; D: John Huston, S: Sean Connery, Michael Caine, Christopher Plummer, Saeed Jaffrey, Karroom Ben Bouih, Shakira Caine

19th century, British Raj. Rudyard Kipling gets a visit from an old acquaintance, Peachy, who tells them about his adventure with Daniel Dravot. Peachy and Daniel decided to go to Kafiristan, a small kingdom in central Asia, where the last time a Westerner set foot on it was over 2200 years ago, when Alexander the Great came there. After crossing the mountains, Peachy and Daniel arrived there and decided to support one local warrior in order to make him and king and then rob his treasure. However, the people mistaken Daniel for a God, and crowned him king. Daniel's ego became too big and he decided to stay there. However, when he was scratched by a woman and started to bleed, the people realised he was a fake and threw him down the bridge into a canyon.

An adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's eponymous novel, John Huston's "The Man Who Would Be King" is one of the finest adventure films of the 70s in the first 2/3 of its running time, though several omissions and clumsy decisions slightly ruin the high impression in the last third. The main concept is deliciously tempting and stimulative: two British soldiers, Peachy and Daniel, decide that "India is not big enough for them anymore", and then decide to go to one of the last unknown regions on Earth, Kafiristan, where the last time a Westerner set foot on it was during Alexander the Great. This conjures up a sense of mystery and anticipation, since nothing is known about the land they are entering. At least a quarter of the film is a pure comedy, since Sean Connery and Michael Caine share such a contagiously positive chemistry that they even enhance some comical situations. In one of the most insanely absurd moments, after the natives mistakenly started to think that Daniel is a God because he was not wounded by a shot of an arrow, Peachy says this priceless line: "He can break wind on both ends simultaneously, which is probably more than any god can do!" Another golden dialogue is when Peachy and Daniel are stuck in the snowy mountains, and then remember one military campaign, when a soldier lost his purse with his money, and then turned around to get it back, but accidentally initiated the whole army to start charging with him against the enemy, for which he was even awarded. Their plan to find some anonymous warrior, help him become a king, only to topple him and steal his wealth, is practically a dissertation of colonialism in small, while the locations create a feeling of exotic spark with ease, though a few ellipses leave the film feeling episodic. Unfortunately, the last third lost its path and left the impression as if the authors did not know what to do with the king subplot anymore, which concluded in a rather vague finale that does not do the rest of the film justice.


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