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John Huston
Sean Connery, Michael Caine, Christopher Plummer, Saeed Jaffrey, Doghmi Larbi, Jack May, Karroom Ben Bouih, Mohammad Shamsi, Albert Moses
Writing Credits:
John Huston, Gladys Hill, Rudyard Kipling (story)

Adventure in all its glory!

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.

Box Office:
$8 million.

Rated PG

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 129 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 11/18/1997

• “Call It Magic: The Making of The Man Who Would Be King” Featurette
• Production Notes
• Cast and Crew Bios
• Trailer


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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The Man Who Would Be King (1975)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 24, 2007)

Despite a long and varied career as a writer, the works of Rudyard Kipling have infrequently made a successful transition to the big screen. The most notable exception comes from The Jungle Book. Disney's version remains the best-known iteration of that tale, but the story has also made a splash with some live-action versions, most notably the one from the Forties with Sabu.

Other than that, however, adaptations of Kipling have been fairly infrequent and not-so-successful. A review of the record shows that although films of his stories were mildly plentiful in the early days of films, they slowed greatly in the Forties - which only included that aforementioned version of Book and have only trickled out since that time. With four adaptations, the Seventies was the most active period since the Thirties.

The Seventies is also the period that offered arguably the best Kipling adaptation: John Huston's marvelous version of The Man Who Would Be King. Frankly, I don't know all that much about Kipling's works, but I do get the feeling this film is one that really gets it right. It packs a nice sampling of adventure, comedy, drama and social commentary during its length and it provides a very satisfying experience.

The story actually involves Kipling himself (as played by Christopher Plummer), although he isn't usually an active participant in the proceedings. Actually, most of the tale functions in flashback mode. It starts with a confrontation between Kipling and a rather worn and grizzled mystery man. We soon discover this guy is Peachy Carnahan (Michael Caine), a raconteur with whom Kipling associated (at least in the fictional world of the story).

As the movie progresses, we find how Kipling came to know Peachy and his partner in crime (literally) Daniel Dravat (Sean Connery) and how Peachy ended up in such a sorry state. It seems that the two decided to take off for a semi-mythical area north of India and wanted to conquer it for themselves. The film covers all of the events that transpire as they set out on this goal.

King is a difficult movie to discuss in detail because I don't want to reveal too much of what happens to our protagonists. Obviously one can infer that things end poorly or else Peachy wouldn't be in such a sorry state, but many surprises occur along the way, and that's where we find much of the fun. So many improbable events happen to affect our characters that I don't want to enumerate them. Suffice it to say that the two go through a wide variety of experiences during their pursuit of wealth and power and the movie rarely lags.

Huston does a wonderful job of moving us through this rich material. He lets the camera linger long enough to milk scenes for their true worth but he rarely overdoes it to the point where we tire of certain areas; the plot proceeds at an acceptably leisurely pace but doesn't become slow or indulgent.

The presence of a couple of talents like Caine and Connery certainly helps make the film more engaging as well. Caine's absolutely terrific as Peachy. Improbably, he initially upstages the imposing Connery, which is no mean feat. Caine makes Peachy a most engaging and delightful character but also adds depth to the role, especially as the movie continues. I didn't think Connery was quite as successful with Danny, although it should be noted that he got the more challenging part, since Dravat becomes more of the focal point as the story progresses. Connery seems a little lost in the shadows during the early going but he soon emerges with his characteristic power and vigor.

The two actors feature a strong chemistry that also helps the movie immeasurably. There's a warmth and geniality between the two that makes the characters' bond believable and realistic. This kind of interaction doesn't always seem obvious on the screen, but when it exists it makes a film more compelling in a subconscious manner, and it definitely benefits this project.

Normally I don't much care for stories similar to The Man Who Would Be King. Something about the genre never really appealed to me. However, this movie provides a very entertaining experience. In the hands of a legendary director and with two strong actors, the tale comes to life vividly and excitingly. Perhaps part of the reason we don't see many Kipling adaptations is because they're difficult to do well, but King shows how entertaining them material can be.

The DVD Grades: Picture C-/ Audio C/ Bonus D+

The Man Who Would Be King appears in an original theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this double-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Yes, this title is a "flipper", as the movie itself spreads to both sides of the disc. That’s not the only problem. A disc from the format’s early days, this one showed its age.

Sharpness usually worked okay, though some light to moderate edge enhancement occasionally made the image less concise than I’d like. A few soft shots cropped up through the film, usually in wider takes. However, I didn’t find a lot of reason to complain about delineation. Jagged edges and shimmering were more noticeable, however, and some source flaws also appeared. I noticed the occasional speck, mark or blemish, though these defects weren’t overwhelming; they usually stayed in check.

Colors usually appeared bright and bold, with hues that looked accurate and well-saturated but lacked any signs of bleeding or noise. Black levels were deep and rich, and shadow detail usually seemed appropriately dense without appearing excessively thick. A few shots used "day for night" photography and looked too dark, but these are the exceptions; most of the low-light scenes were fairly clear.

So far, this all sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? This may make you wonder why the transfer got a “C-“. Answer: digital artifacts. Lots of these kinds of problems cropped up on the DVD. The image often took on a blocky, stiff look, and it also seemed grainy due to the artifacts. For lack of a better term, it simply demonstrated a somewhat harsh digital look much of the time. It also had a wavy appearance that meant it lacked stability. Enough went right with this transfer to earn it a “C-“, but it could really use an update – or at least a remastering, if not a new transfer.

The film’s monaural soundtrack seemed average given its age. Dialogue was a bit thin and flat but remained clear and intelligible, even with some heavy accents heard in the piece. Effects were similarly slightly dull but relatively accurate. The score appeared clean and acceptably smooth, with somewhat lackluster bass but some decent high end. The soundtrack was acceptable for a more than 30-year-old film.

The DVD of King doesn't approximate a special edition release but it tosses in a few nice extras. First up is Call It Magic: The Making of The Man Who Would Be King, a roughly 12-minute featurette created at the same time as the film's theatrical release. For the most part, this program seems of a kind with today's heavily promotional puff pieces. It creates less of a hard sell, but it generally lets us know how great the movie will be. Still, time makes these things more charming, and since this kind of product is rarer for an older film, it actually feels pretty entertaining, though it's light on interesting details about the production. The best segment depicts the making of the climactic scene. (Yes, the program essentially gives away the ending, so don't watch it if you haven't seen the movie.) It's not a special program, but it's mildly entertaining.

Cast and Crew provides biographies for the three main actors plus Kipling, composer Maurice Jarre, director/co-screenwriter Huston and co-screenwriter Gladys Hill. These entries are generally pretty good; only Hill's listing seems rather skimpy, as the others provide decent details about the careers involved.

Back in the old days, Warner Bros. loved to make it appear that their DVDs contained more content than they actually did, and King was no exception. In addition to "Cast and Crew", we find six more text sections. Although these provide good information - especially "Kipling's Short Story", which tells us of the tale's history - most of them are rather brief. In fact, three of them - "Freemasonry", "Almost a Different Movie" and "Together Again" – require only one screen apiece. There's no reason why all of these couldn't have been within one general "Production Notes" category. Call me nitpicky, but it always irritates me when I find this kind of wasteful presentation.

Finally, the DVD ends with a slew of trailers. We find promos for King itself plus ads for The Maltese Falcon, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Key Largo, The Flight of the Iguana, The Asphalt Jungle, The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, and Reflections in a Golden Eye. Wow! That's a pretty nice collection of trailers, especially since so many of them come from older films.

Overall, The Man Who Would Be King is a winner. The movie provides a very satisfying combination of adventure, drama and comedy and does so with flair to spare. However, the DVD itself offers mediocre picture and sound with a few minor extras. It’s a good movie but a flawed DVD.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.375 Stars Number of Votes: 24
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