Ah yes, British supremacy at its finest. To begin with, the film is chock full of beautiful cinematography, gorgeous locations and excellent acting. That aside, it is not a perfect film.
It begins with Christopher Plummer, playing Rudyard Kipling who wrote the short story this movie is based on, a quiet Free Mason working in his office located somewhere in India. A scraggly figure enters and claims to have met Kipling once and signed a contract with another man in the very office. And with that the story begins. Two British soldiers, Michael Caine and Sean Connery, have spent years wheeling and dealing their way through India to the point that they feel it is too small for them. So they decide to advance north to Kafiristan, a country behind in the times enough that two strangers with rifles can demand themselves to be kings. Between the Masons sketchy characteristics and the plot revolving around two white men cheating another culture for their personal gain, these are not the most upstanding characters, yet remain likable enough because of the performances.
An odd movie for 1975, at the Oscars it was nominated for a few technical awards, (art direction, editing, costume design) and best adapted screenplay but did not win any. Had it been nominated for Best Picture it would have been up against nominees One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Dog Day Afternoon and Nashville, not all necessarily better films, but all different from the fairly safe film that is The Man Who Would be King. Amarcord and Barry Lyndon, the other two nominated films that year are closer to The Man Who Would Be King, as they are all period films that are not full of seventies-esque violence, foul language and sex but it’s possible that The Man Who Would Be King was not the best film of 1975 because it is seemingly timeless. Due to globalization there are probably no more nations existing in the world that could be duped as easily as the ones in this movie, but the plot consists of the age-old basic story elements of friendship, greed, and the ability to live one’s life however one wishes. These were not new themes when Kipling wrote the original story, nor were they in 1975 and they will still be old in 2075 as well but they will always pertain to human stories. They are constants for gripping stories that can allow imaginations to soar yet remain grounded in the reality that for every action there are consequences.
The plot moves along from event to event and has no real conflict other than what the characters bring on themselves but with John Huston’s strong direction it keeps from becoming a messy travel commercial with good acting and instead makes it the great adventure film that it is. Probably not for all tastes but if you are looking for a solid evening of entertainment and excitement - look no further.