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The Man Who Would Be King (film)

The Man Who Would Be King
File:The Man Who Would Be King.jpg
Theatrical release poster by Tom Jung
Directed by John Huston
Produced by John Foreman
Written by Rudyard Kipling (story)
John Huston
Gladys Hill
Starring Sean Connery
Michael Caine
Christopher Plummer
Saeed Jaffrey
Music by Maurice Jarre
Cinematography Oswald Morris
Distributed by USA: Allied Artists Pictures Corporation
non-USA: Columbia Pictures
Release dates
  • December 18, 1975 (1975-12-18)
Running time
123 min
Country United States
United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $8 million[1]
Box office $11 million (rentals)[2]

The Man Who Would Be King is a 1975 film adapted from the Rudyard Kipling novella of the same title. It was adapted and directed by John Huston and starred Sean Connery, Michael Caine, Saeed Jaffrey, and Christopher Plummer as Kipling (giving a name to the novella's anonymous narrator). The film follows two rogue ex-non-commissioned officers of the Indian Army who set off from late 19th-century British India in search of adventure and end up as kings of Kafiristan.


In 1885, while working as a correspondent at the offices of the Northern Star newspaper, Rudyard Kipling (Christopher Plummer) is approached by a ragged, seemingly crazed derelict, who reveals himself to be his old acquaintance Peachy Carnehan (Michael Caine). Peachy tells Kipling the story of how he and his comrade-in-arms Daniel "Danny" Dravot (Sean Connery) traveled to remote Kafiristan (in modern-day Afghanistan, the province is now known as Nuristan), became gods, and ultimately lost everything.

Three years earlier, Dravot and Carnehan had met Kipling under less than auspicious circumstances- Carnehan, a former Colour sergeant of the Queen's Own Royal Loyal Light Infantry, pickpocketed Kiplings's pocketwatch but was forced to return it as he was a fellow Freemason. Despite being accomplished gun smugglers, swindlers, fencers of stolen goods, conmen, and blackmailers, both of them are bitter that after fighting to make India part of the Empire, they will have little to return home to except dead-end jobs. Feeling that India is too small for men such as themselves they intend to purchase twenty Martini Henry rifles, travel to Kafiristan, help a local king overcome his enemies, overthrow him, and become rulers themselves before stealing various riches and returning to England in triumph. After signing a contract pledging mutual loyalty and forswearing drink and women until they achieved their grandiose aims, Peachy and Danny set off on an epic overland journey north beyond the Khyber Pass, fighting off bandits, blizzards, and avalanches, into the unknown land of Kafiristan (literally "Land of the Infidels").

They chance upon a Gurkha soldier who goes by the name Billy Fish (Saeed Jaffrey), the sole survivor of a mapping expedition sent several years earlier. Billy speaks English as well as the local tongue. Acting as translator and interpreter of customs and manners, he smooths the path of Peachy and Danny as they begin their rise, offering their services as military advisors, trainers, and war leaders to the chief of the much-raided village of Er-Heb. Peachy and Danny muster a force to attack the villagers' most-hated enemy, the Bashkai. During the battle, Danny is struck by an arrow, but is unharmed, leading the natives to believe that he is a god. In fact, the arrow was stopped by a bandolier hidden beneath his clothing. As victory follows victory, the defeated are recruited to join the swelling army.

Finally, nobody is left to stand in their way, and they are summoned to the holy city of Sikandergul, where the chief high priest, Kafu Selim, sets up a re-enactment of the arrow incident, to determine whether Danny is a man or a god by seeing whether or not he bleeds. When Danny flinches, the monks grab him and open his shirt, only to be stopped by Danny's Masonic jewel (given to him for luck by Kipling, a fellow Mason). By coincidence, the symbol on the jewel matches one known only to the highest holy man, the symbol of "Sikander" (Alexander the Great), who had conquered the country thousands of years before and promised to return. The holy men are convinced Danny is the son of Sikander. They hail him as king and lead the two men down to storerooms heaped with treasure that belonged to Sikander, which now belongs to Danny.

As the months pass, Peachy is anxious to leave with the treasure before winter closes the passes (and before the natives learn the truth). Danny is against it, however, and develops delusions of grandeur. Firstly Danny 'suggests' that Peachy bow to him like the others, ostensibly to "keep up appearances" in front of the natives and continue the deception. Then, he begins making plans to turn the land into a modern country, to the extent that he envisages eventually meeting Queen Victoria "as an equal." Disgusted, Peachy decides to take as much loot as he can carry on a small mule train and leave alone.

Meanwhile, Danny decides to take a wife after seeing the beautiful Roxanne (Shakira Caine), despite Peachy's strong warnings. Roxanne, having a superstitious fear that she will burst into flames if she consorts with a god, tries frantically to escape, biting Danny during the wedding ceremony. The bite draws blood, and when everyone sees it, they realize that Danny is human after all. The angry natives pursue Danny and Peachy. When it becomes clear that the battle is lost, Peachy and Danny offer Billy a horse to escape, but Billy refuses and wishes them luck before courageously charging into the mob with a kukri singlehandedly. Nevertheless, Billy is killed amidst the mob and Peachy and Danny are soon captured. Danny apologizes to Peachy for spoiling their plans, and Peachy forgives him. Now resigned to his fate, Danny is forced to walk to the middle of a rope bridge over a deep gorge as the ropes are cut. Peachy is crucified between two pine trees, but he is cut down the next day when he survives the ordeal. Eventually, he makes his way back to India, but his mind has become unhinged by his sufferings. As Peachy finishes his story, he presents Kipling with Danny's head, still wearing its crown, thereby confirming the tale.


Huston had planned to make the film since the 1950s, originally with Clark Gable and Humphrey Bogart in the roles of Daniel and Peachy. He was unable to get the project off the ground before Bogart died in 1957; Gable followed in 1960. Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas were then attached to play the leads, followed by Richard Burton and Peter O'Toole. In the 1970s, Huston approached Robert Redford and Paul Newman for the roles. Newman advised Huston that British actors should play the roles, and it was he who recommended Connery and Caine.[3]

Karroom Ben Bouih was said to have been 103 years old when he played Kafu Selim, although there is no record of his birth.

The film was shot at Pinewood Studios[4] and at locations in France and Morocco.[5]

Though based on Kipling's work, the actual comedy and relationship between the two characters is high influenced by the Bing Crosby and Bob Hope Road to... movies of the 1940s and '50s.


John Simon of New York magazine considered the film to be Huston's best work since The African Queen, 23 years earlier.[5] Vincent Canby of The New York Times called it: "Gloriously old-fashioned in its approach – right down to the characters' politically incorrect attitudes toward anyone who isn't one hundred per cent British – The Man Who Would Be King is pure entertainment in the grand tradition of Gunga Din." Jay Cocks of Time commented "John Huston has been wanting to make this movie for more than 20 years. It was worth the wait."[6]

Roger Ebert gave the film 4 out of a possible 4 stars and wrote: "It's been a long time since there's been an escapist entertainment quite this unabashed and thrilling and fun."[7]

Some critics felt that the film was too long, and that Caine had overplayed his part. A review in Variety was critical of the film mostly because of Caine's performance, stating "Whether it was the intention of John Huston or not, the tale of action and adventure is a too-broad comedy, mostly due to the poor performance of Michael Caine."[8]

Award nominations

The film was nominated for four Academy Awards:[9]

Maurice Jarre was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score.

Head was nomiated for the BAFTA Award for Best Costume Design, and Oswald Morris for the BAFTA Award for Best Cinematography.


Maurice Jarre scored the film and invited classical Indian musicians to participate in the recording sessions with a traditional European symphony orchestra, blending the musical styles for the melodies, based around the Irish song "The Minstrel Boy" (although the lyrics are those of Reginald Heber's "The Son of God Goes Forth to War"), which figures in the plot. The fine playing of The Minstrel Boy is by William Lang, late of the Black Dyke Band and the London Symphony Orchestra.

See also



  1. ^ Box Office Information for The Man Who Would Be King. IMDb. Retrieved September 18, 2013.
  2. ^ Top 20 Films of 1975 by Domestic Revenue. Box Office Report via Internet Archive. Retrieved September 18, 2013.
  3. ^ Huston, J. (1975). The making of the man who would be king. Allied Artists Pictures.
  4. ^ "Pinewood Studios: Filmography and history". Simply Networking Solutions. Retrieved 7 January 2013. 
  5. ^ a b Simon, John (12 January 1976). "Over the Mountains, Across the Oceans, Beyond the Pale". New York: 58. 
  6. ^ Cocks, Jay (29 December 1975). "Cinema: Rogues' Regiment". Time. Retrieved 7 January 2012. 
  7. ^ Roger Ebert (23 February 1976). "The Man Who Would Be King". Retrieved 25 January 2010. 
  8. ^ "The Man Who Would Be King". Variety. 31 December 1974. Retrieved 8 January 2013. 
  9. ^ "The Man Who Would Be King (1975)". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 December 2008. 



External links