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The Man Who Would Be King
Blu-ray | Blu-ray Book Packaging
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Based on a Rudyard Kipling story and packed with spectacle, humor, excitement and bold twists of fate, John Huston’s film of The Man Who Would Be King earns its crown as “an epic like no other. One of the screen’s great adventure yarns” (Danny Peary, Guide for the Film Fanatic). Sean Connery and Michael Caine – chins out, shoulders squared and with a sly wink – star as British sergeants Danny Dravot and Peachy Carnehan. The Empire was built by men like these two. Now they’re out to build their own empire, venturing into remote Kafiristan to become rich as kings.
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In about 1993, a friend was showing me an article in a quarterly lifestyle-supplement to Forbes magazine, the gist of this article being 'If you go to the video-rental store with some particular movie in mind, but it's unavailable, choose something from our list of ~40 little-known movies -- you won't be disappointed.' So I said to him, I wonder if their list includes what I consider the greatest movie ever made, The Man Who Would Be King. And, yes, it was on the list -- as "the greatest movie ever made"!
It's a terrific swashbuckling adventure, and the key genius was director John Huston. Some years after first seeing the movie, I read, with great anticipation, Rudyard Kipling's short story of the same title, the inspiration for the movie. And I was thoroughly disappointed by it; it seemed like just a sketch of a story, so it was Huston who apparently reconceived it as the romantic masterpiece of a movie that it is.
It should be no surprise that The Man Who Would Be King was an enormous success, given the lineup of talent: director John Huston of Maltese Falcon and African Queen fame, British actors Sean Connery and Michael Caine as the soldiers of fortune, and Canadian actor Christopher Plummer as Rudyard Kipling. Typical of Kipling, his story is brimming with adventure and local color, all of which the film employs to great effect. The author was a character in his own story, although not by name as he is in the film. In the story, as in reality, he was a newspaper reporter and a brother in The Craft, the Masonic Order, which figures prominently in the film.
The tale has the elements of a Greek tragedy, with overweening pride and ambition being first rewarded with amazing success, only to be subsequently punished with divine retribution. Through it all the protagonists are loveable scoundrels, facing with humor and courage the bureaucrats of British India and the warring factions of Afghanistan and "Kafiristan", winning over the locals by military skill and a fortuitous coincidence of fictional ancient history, then losing it all with courageous grace.
The Man Who Would Be King is a great story, re-told by one of the greatest Hollywood storytellers directing some of the finest actors of the time. I was delighted to see this, one of my all-time favorites, become available in high definition. The DVD of this superb film was peculiar, requiring that the disc be turned over part way through the movie, and displaying marginal picture quality that was painful to watch on a large-screen television. Although the new Blu-ray is not a razor-sharp reference disc, it does deliver a major improvement in visual and sound quality, as well as the convenience afforded by not needing to flip the disc.
Special features on the Blu-ray are very sparse, just a trailer and a relatively brief but enjoyable making-of video.
If you haven't seen it, I hate to give it away...but...I will, a little. Caine and Connery are British soldiers just 'retired' with intentions, almost literally, of conquering the world. They ain't too bright. They sign a covenant in front of Kipling, himself, to go north into Afghanistan, conquer a kingdom and rob it blind. They also agree that there will be no women.
Our boys, dressed as locals, push north through the Khyber pass. They enter the brutal and desolate mountains of Afghanistan to face unbelievable hardships that would have destroyed lessor--make that more intelligent--men. There are avalanches and snow blindness but remarkably, they make it to a land never exposed to white men, there culture and their weapons. They rapidly subjugate the naive locals but are almost done under by religious monks who suspect they aren't quite as godlike as they claim. Almost miraculously, however, they see a Masonic emblem around Connery's neck and take him to be the supernatural descendant of Alexander the Great, who passed that way 2,500 years earlier and left a Masonic symbol.
Well, our boys are 'in like flint' and the gold of the Orient is poured on their heads...but...there is the issue of women, isn't there?
Ron Braithwaite author of novels--"Skull Rack" and "Hummingbird God"--on the Spanish Conquest of Mexico