Did you ever go back and watch a fondly-remembered movie for the first time in 20 years and worry that your memories of it were totally skewed, that it wouldn’t be as good? Or maybe even embarrassingly bad?
I was a little worried about that upon my first re-watching in a couple of decades of John Huston’s “The Man Who Would Be King,” the director’s version of the Rudyard Kipling story of two British soldiers-turned-adventurers-turned-con-men in the depths of colonialism in the late 1800s.
Huston’s film was released in 1975 and is still more than effective in telling its story of two men who start out with nothing more than a plan to get rich off tribal warlords as they leave India and journey to remote Kafiristan, a province of Afghanistan.
The idea is to sell rifles to a warlord, allowing him to more effectively kill his enemies and expand his reach.
But as Peachy (Michael Caine) and Danny (Sean Connery) put their plan into motion, they discover that while they can train a warlord’s troops and stroke his ego, it would just be easier to become the warlords themselves.
Danny – and Connery is wonderfully effective here – believes his own hype and before long is acting like the god-on-earth that his new subjects believe he is.
The story – based by Kipling on a couple of real-life adventurers – is a jarring mix of the old-fashioned and brutal. There’s a quaint framing device to tell the story but the fortunes of war are not kind to would-be warlords and gods.
Christopher Plummer is terrific as Kipling, as is Saeed Jeffrey as Billy Fish, the loyal native who helps the pair.
Seeing Plummer, Caine and Connery so young and vital is great fun and they’re perfect in what seemed like a throwback then that’s even more so now.