The Man Who Would Be King

Movie Information

The Hendersonville Film Society will show The Man Who Would Be King at 2 p.m. Sunday, June 21, in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community, 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville. (From Asheville, take I-26 to U.S. 64 West, turn right at the third light onto Thompson Street. Follow to the Lake Point Landing entrance and park in the lot on the left.)
Genre: Action/Adventure
Director: John Huston
Starring: Sean Connery, Michael Caine, Christopher Plummer, Saeed Jaffrey
Rated: PG

It’s interesting that John Huston’s long-gestating project to film Rudyard Kipling’s The Man Who Would Be King finally came to fruition in 1975 (the project dated back to plans for a Clark Gable-Humphrey Bogart picture). The year the film was released was the same year that the outburst of the 1960s sensibility in film had its last glorious stand at the box office—the end of the era where art film, cult film and mainstream movies were on a truly even footing with the studios. In its own way, Huston’s film is part of that last stand, even though it’s an old-fashioned adventure yarn of the Gunga Din (1939) school. There’s no denying that Huston brings a Hollywood sensibility to the material—a “ripping yarn” about a couple of opportunistic British soldiers (Sean Connery and Michael Caine) in India who opt to establish themselves as kings in Kafiristan—but it’s a sensibility shot through with a distinctly modern take. It’s a Hollywood epic infused with the same kind of anti-imperialist tone found in Tony Richardson’s The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968)—minus the stylistic flourishes.

Make no mistake, Huston’s film is first and foremost a solid action picture where the viewer is meant to find its scoundrel leads likeable and want them to succeed. The film is supposed to be fun—despite its ending—and even that is an interesting departure from the über-serious tone of most epics of the time. But the fun is slyly undercut by the knowledge of the larger context of imperialist bullying in “backward” countries—as when Connery tells the Kafirs that the two are going to teach them to kill their enemies “like civilized men.” Indeed, one wonders if the film Huston planned those many years earlier could have been quite the film he made in 1975.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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