RogerBW's Blog

The Man Who Would Be King 07 August 2021

1975 thriller, dir. John Huston, Michael Caine, Sean Connery; IMDb / allmovie. The two ex-soldiers have a great idea…

All right, it has only one named female role, and she has no lines in English. All right, Michael Caine takes over what should really be an equal partnership. All right, some of the editing could be tighter. All right, Kafiristan (known as Nuristan from 1895) should be a lot greener than the bits of Morocco where this was filmed, especially the parts people actually live in.

But this is still a superb film, for me one of Huston's high points. It's reasonably faithful to the story, and the story is under 15,000 words, which is the best sort of length to adapt to a film; starting with a novel one just has to excise too much to make it meaningfully the same thing. (But of course a "bestselling novella" that the accountants reckon will get audiences into the cinema is a rarity.)

I think it makes most sense considered as a double act; I could see it adapted as a two-man play, with the rest of the characters simply implied by the acting of the principals. It's about Dravot and Carnehan first, and then what they do, and then what other people think about it. (I think this is the only film in which Connery and Caine had significant time together; IMDb lists three other joint credits, not counting documentaries and clip shows and such, but I don't think they share the screen to any noticeable extent.)

All that said, I'm especially impressed with Larbi Doghmi as Ootah, the local chief who's the recipient of our heroes' military aid; he has just the right sort of face for the part, and in particular his expressions during the first battle as he works out just when it's safe enough to get involved but still dangerous enough to let him look like a heroic leader are perfect. Saeed Jaffrey as "Billy Fish", here transformed from a native chief to a Gurkha survivor of an earlier expedition, also nails it.

Roger's Guns Corner: the imported rifles are Martini-Henrys, about to go out of production and be replaced by the Lee-Metford when the story was written (and presumably set) in 1888, and you get a brief look at a plausible-seeming jezail.

Once more if you want more of my witterings you should listen to Ribbon of Memes.

Tags: film reviews

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