Inside us, all would love to live a great adventure in a faraway and exotic land, perhaps together with our best friend, as in this 1975 movie, The Man Who Would Be King.
It all begins toward the end of the 19th century in India, where two former British soldiers decide they have had enough of living on petty trading and swindling.
Desiring to accomplish a memorable feat, these two great friends prepare for a long journey through Afghanistan to Kafiristan.
Since it is a relatively unknown country to white men, they want to be the first to set foot there since Alexander The Great and conquer as much wealth as possible.
Before leaving, these friends visit a writer they had met during one of their scams, signing a pact with terms for their adventure.
Both agree that they will not drink or go with women and must be willing to sacrifice for each other no matter what happens.
After successfully entering Afghanistan, masquerading as two religious zealots, the soldiers climb the icy mountains in the country’s north.
The journey nearly kills them by isolating them on a snowy peak to freeze to death, when miraculously, an avalanche opens the way to the Kafiristan border.
Arriving in the valley, they rescue the inhabitants of a village from a pack of masked assailants, convincing their king to exploit their war experience to train a small army and counterattack.
Their plan entails anything but helping the king become more and more powerful and accumulate as much wealth as possible, then taking him down and stealing everything from him.
However, when a group of marauders mistakes one of them for the son of a deity, their adventure takes an entirely different direction from which they will never be able to turn back.
That adventure cinema no longer exists
I realize that, especially among those writing online about cinema, Masterpiece is one of the most overused words.
However, I cannot find even the slightest flaw in this movie from 1975, The Man Who Would Be King.
There is everything for all preferences in this story: war and peace, the will to live free and away from the shackles of society, friendship, and sacrifice, along with a lot of humor and courage.
John Huston carves in rock one of the cornerstones of adventure cinema, starting from the same premise as the equally memorable The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
Instead of Humphrey Bogart and Tim Holt, this time, the two protagonists seeking glory and riches are Sean Connery and Michael Caine, who have even better chemistry.
Thanks to their brilliant performance (and Huston’s excellent direction and screenplay), we can follow a story that, in other hands, would have been grotesque and hardly believable.
Except that the ever-present dose of comic relief removes any narrative doubts, just as the relentless adventurous pace makes us wonder every moment what else these crazy protagonists may be up to.
Moreover, behind them, we behold the marvelous landscapes of the Far East flowing through time, from the crowded Indian cities to the empty deserts and snow-capped peaks of the Afghan mountains.
It is a world left behind, buried in the dawn of time yet, for better or worse, still proud of its ancient millennia-old tradition.
By exploiting this technological weakness and cultural ignorance, the two soldiers think they will have an easy ride exploiting the myths and superstitions of these people.
However, for every moment of glory they enjoy, there will be a heavy price to pay, as John Huston points out in every movie, changing his heroes into hopeless victims in a moment.
A movie that will never die
John Huston stays loyal to the anti-heroic narrative tone, chronicling the exploits of two irresistible rascals with no shame whatsoever for their actions and who they are.
Indeed, when a rude English officer insults them as vulgar rabble-rousers, they reply that rabble-rousers like them are precisely the ones who made England conquer India.
This substantial social rupture, along with the heroes not having to be handsome or agreeable at any cost, elevates the story to myth status and an example for any aspiring filmmaker to follow.
Having said even too much about Huston, let us also give credit to the extraordinary leads, starting with an incomparable and histrionic Sean Connery.
We cannot remember enough how much we miss this great Scottish actor’s pleasant and intelligent face, which I not long ago recommended his roles I most enjoyed.
In this character, we see the psychological transformation and ambitious obsession as was strictly for Humphrey Bogart in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
Serving as his sidekick is the equally good Michael Caine, a faithful friend, and fearless soldier who succeeds in coming out of any situation.
However, not even he will escape the punishment of daring too much, just as we meet him again, now disfigured and destroyed, while he tells us every detail of the story in their journalist friend’s office.
Then in this other role, we have a young Christopher Plummer, an equally wry and elegant character interlocutor who, on the one hand, thinks the two protagonists are crazy while at the same time admires their courage and resourceful spirit.
In conclusion, they are not only these big names making this movie from 1975 a masterpiece, because The Man Who Would Be King will live forever crystallized in perfection.