Rudyard Kipling's The Man Who Would Be King (1975)

PG | 129 mins | Adventure | December 1975

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HISTORY

       For more than twenty years director John Huston was interested in filming The Man Who Would Be King , a short story by Rudyard Kipling that Huston read when he was fourteen. On 9 Jul 1954, a DV news item stated that Huston would make the film for Allied Artists and, according to an undated Var news item published circa 1955 in the film’s file at AMPAS Library, Huston planned to begin principal photography between Nov 1955 and Jan 1956 in India and was negotiating to film in the Todd-AO process. On 17 Jul 1959, a DV article reported that Huston would direct the film in India for Universal-International from a screenplay by himself and Aeneas MacKenzie. The same article reported that previously, in Oct 1958, Huston had announced his acquisition of the film rights and planned to shoot the film independently in Afghanistan. Although none of the above news items mentioned cast members, a 22 Mar 1968 DV news item reported that Humphrey Bogart was considering the project before he died. In a 1975 documentary found in the added content materials of the DVD release of the film, Huston stated that he had Clark Gable in mind for the role opposite Bogart, but both actors died (Bogart in 1957 and Gable in 1960) before the film could be made.
       According to a 12 Aug 1964 HR news item, producer Ray Stark of Seven Arts signed actor Richard Burton for the film, which Paramount planned to release. A 28 Oct 1964 HR news item added that Stark hired scriptwriter Anthony Veillor, who had written the ... More Less

       For more than twenty years director John Huston was interested in filming The Man Who Would Be King , a short story by Rudyard Kipling that Huston read when he was fourteen. On 9 Jul 1954, a DV news item stated that Huston would make the film for Allied Artists and, according to an undated Var news item published circa 1955 in the film’s file at AMPAS Library, Huston planned to begin principal photography between Nov 1955 and Jan 1956 in India and was negotiating to film in the Todd-AO process. On 17 Jul 1959, a DV article reported that Huston would direct the film in India for Universal-International from a screenplay by himself and Aeneas MacKenzie. The same article reported that previously, in Oct 1958, Huston had announced his acquisition of the film rights and planned to shoot the film independently in Afghanistan. Although none of the above news items mentioned cast members, a 22 Mar 1968 DV news item reported that Humphrey Bogart was considering the project before he died. In a 1975 documentary found in the added content materials of the DVD release of the film, Huston stated that he had Clark Gable in mind for the role opposite Bogart, but both actors died (Bogart in 1957 and Gable in 1960) before the film could be made.
       According to a 12 Aug 1964 HR news item, producer Ray Stark of Seven Arts signed actor Richard Burton for the film, which Paramount planned to release. A 28 Oct 1964 HR news item added that Stark hired scriptwriter Anthony Veillor, who had written the screenplay for a 1964 Seven Arts production that Huston directed, The Night of the Iguana (see entry). Although a HCN news item reported that Marlon Brando would also star in the film opposite Burton, several other actors were considered for the role. A 22 Mar 1968 DV news item reported that a few years earlier Rod Taylor had been cast, and modern sources reported that Michael Caine, Peter O’Toole and Frank Sinatra had been considered as Burton’s co-stars. Modern sources also stated that at some point the combination of Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas was considered. A 19 Jul 1965 HR news item reported that Huston postponed the start date from Jan 1966 to Jan 1967 to await Burton’s availability.
       8 Sep 1967 HR and 13 Sep 1967 Var news items reported that Warner Bros.-Seven Arts had acquired the film rights, and that the picture was considered “the most important acquisition” of the new company. A 22 Mar 1968 DV news item announced that Martin Ritt would produce and direct the film from Veillor’s script for Warner Bros.-Seven Arts, but on 13 Nov 1968, an HR news item reported that Ritt was leaving the project. An 8 Aug 1973 Var news item reported that Huston was again set to direct, and that producer John Foreman and actor Paul Newman were interested in the project. Modern sources stated that Huston was considering re-teaming Newman and Robert Redford, who was Newman’s co-star in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) and The Sting (1973).
       In a 12 Dec 1974 DV and other news items, Allied Artists and Columbia announced that the studios would jointly produce and distribute The Man Who Would Be King , which would star Connery and Caine (“Peachy Carnahan”), and would be directed by Huston from a script that Huston and his long-time assistant, Gladys Hill, wrote. Although a 27 Jan 1975 HR news item reported that Barbara Parkins would appear in the film, and a 2 Mar 1975 LAT article reported that Tessa Dahl, the daughter of actress Patricia O’Neal, was cast as the “princess,” the only female role in the film was portrayed by Shakira Caine (“Roxanne”), wife of Caine. Christopher Plummer was cast as “Rudyard Kipling.”
       As noted in the end credits, the film was shot on location in Morocco and on the Grande Montée, Chamonix, France, and was completed at Pinewood Studios, London. A 10 Jan 1975 DV news item reported that filming began in Marrakesh, Morocco, where, according to studio publicity materials, the Marrakesh Railway Station served as the story’s Lahore station, and an open square was used to film a market sequence. The publicity materials reported that approximately thirty locations were used in the film around the Marrakesh and Ouazarzate areas. The village of Tagadirt-el-Bour was used as the Kafiri village, Er-Heb, and the battle sequence between the Er-Heb and Bashkai was shot at Tifoultout near Ouazarzate. Another location site mentioned in publicity materials was Gorges du Todra at Tinghir, which served as the Khyber Pass. The caravan procession was shot at Ait Benhaddou, and Tanahoute was used to depict the Holy City of Sikandergul. According to a 10 Mar 1975 HR news item, the Moroccan government cut production costs by building a two-mile road through the Atlas Mountains for the filmmakers that could later be used by local inhabitants.
       According to a 2 Mar 1975 LAT article, a twelve-week shooting schedule was planned and 500 local people were used as extras. The 1975 documentary found on the film’s DVD release reported that Karroom Ben Bouih, who marked his only film appearance as the high priest, “Kafu Selim,” was a local night watchman and approximately one hundred years old. The same documentary reported that the rope bridge in the story took about six weeks to build, and that during the sequence when the bridge was severed, Connery performed his own stunt by dropping about seventy to eight feet and landing on a cardboard boxes and foam rubber pads.
       The picture closely follows Kipling’s original short story, although Huston enhanced the Masonic theme for the film. Another change made by Huston and Hill was the character played by Plummer, who in the short story was not given a name, but, like the real Kipling during his early career, worked for a small newspaper in Lahore. At the end of the short story, Peachy does not leave Daniel’s head with the reporter, but takes it with him, then dies a few days later without the head in his possession. The lyrics to the hymn by Reginald Heber, “The Son of God Goes Forth To War,” is sung by Daniel several times in the film and also appears in Kipling’s story. In the film, the words are sung to the tune of a traditional Irish melody, “The Moreen,” which is better known as “The Minstrel Boy.” The tune is a major theme in the soundtrack and is heard intermittently throughout the film.
       A 24 Jan 1978 DV article reported that Caine and Connery filed suit against Allied Artists, seeking $109,000 each. They maintained that they were each due five percent of the gross profits from the film, but had only received $301,254 of the $410,400 total. According to a 5 Jul 1978 DV article, Allied responded with a counterclaim suit of $21,500 for defamation of character. In a 1 Aug 1978 DV article, Caine stated that he and Connery had resolved their differences with Allied and, although no monetary figure was mentioned, the article reported that it was understood that the actors received a “substantial portion of the sums they claimed they were owed.”
       The Man Who Would Be King was nominated for four Academy Awards (Art Direction-Set Decoration, Costume Design, Film Editing and Writing-Screenplay Adapted from Other Materials). Maurice Jarre was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Original Score-Motion Picture, and Huston and Gladys Hill were nominated by the WGA for Best Drama Adapted from Another Medium.
      A working title of the film was The Man Who Would Be Alexander . Voice-over narration by Michael Caine as “Peachy Carnehan” is heard intermittently throughout the film. The end credits include a statement of thanks to King Hassan II and the government of Morocco for their cooperation during production. Although copyright records for the film list Columbia Pictures as the claimant, an onscreen copyright notice lists Devon Company.
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SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
3 Mar 1975.
---
Daily Variety
9 Jul 1954.
---
Daily Variety
17 Jul 1959.
---
Daily Variety
22 Mar 1968.
---
Daily Variety
12 Dec 1974.
---
Daily Variety
10 Jan 1975.
---
Daily Variety
7 Feb 1975.
---
Daily Variety
24 Jan 1978.
---
Daily Variety
5 Jul 1978.
---
Daily Variety
1 Aug 1978.
---
Hollywood Citizen-News
20 Oct 1964.
---
Hollywood Reporter
12 Aug 1964.
---
Hollywood Reporter
29 Oct 1964.
---
Hollywood Reporter
8 Sep 1967.
---
Hollywood Reporter
19 Jul 1965.
---
Hollywood Reporter
13 Nov 1968.
---
Hollywood Reporter
27 Jan 1975.
---
Hollywood Reporter
10 Mar 1975.
---
Hollywood Reporter
12 Dec 1975
p. 3, 31.
Los Angeles Times
2 Mar 1975.
---
Los Angeles Times
18 Dec 1975
p. 1, 29.
New York Times
18 Dec 1975
p. 62.
Variety
8 Aug 1973.
---
Variety
10 Dec 1975
p. 26.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A John Huston–John Foreman Film
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
2d unit dir
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
WRITERS
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
2d unit cam
Cam asst
Key grip
Chief elec
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Asst art dir
Matte artist
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dresser
Prop master
Const mgr
Prod buyer
COSTUMES
Ward master
MUSIC
Mus comp and cond
VISUAL EFFECTS
Opt eff
Spec eff
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Hairdresser
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod supv
Casting
Prod mgr
Prod mgr
Prod mgr
Prod mgr, Moroccan unit
Loc liaison
Liaison, Moroccan unit
Prod secy
Prod secy, Moroccan unit
Transport mgr
Master of horse
Services by
STAND INS
Stunt coord
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the short story "The Man Who Would Be King" by Rudyard Kipling in his The Phantom 'Rickshaw, and Other Tales (London, 1888).
SONGS
"The Son of God Goes Forth to War," music traditional, lyrics by Reginald Heber
COMPOSER
DETAILS
Alternate Titles:
The Man Who Would Be King
The Man Who Would Be Alexander
Release Date:
December 1975
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 17 December 1975
Los Angeles opening: 19 December 1975
Production Date:
began 10 January 1975 in Morocco
Copyright Claimant:
Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.
Copyright Date:
17 December 1975
Copyright Number:
PA280600
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Duration(in mins):
129
MPAA Rating:
PG
Countries:
United Kingdom, United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
24409
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

Around 1885, in Lahore, India, newspaper correspondent, Rudyard Kipling, is working late, when a broken, crippled man enters his office and reminds him that they have met before. When Kipling recognizes the man as Peachy Carnehan, Peachy begins a tale that began when they met three years earlier: At a railway station, Peachy, a Cockney ex-Army sergeant, picks Kipling’s pocket, stealing his watch, but when he sees that the watch has a charm with a Masonic emblem attached, he hastens to board Kipling’s train and sit in the first class carriage with him in order to return it. After giving the watch to Kipling, Peachy uses secret Masonic code words to reveal that he, too, is a brother Freemason and then asks a favor of Kipling. As Kipling plans to be at Marwar Junction near a certain day, Peachy asks if he will take a message to his friend, another former Army sergeant and fellow Mason, Daniel Dravot, who will be passing through, and tell him that Peachy “has gone South for the week.” Days later, Kipling delivers the message to Daniel, who confides that he and Peachy are planning to blackmail a rajah. After Kipling alerts the district commissioner in time to foil their scheme, Daniel and Peachy visit Kipling’s office, asking to use his books and maps, as they have decided that India is not big enough for them. They explain that they plan to become kings of Kafiristan, a land of warring tribes in remote Afghanistan. By using their superior military experience, they will assist a chief by training his warriors to defeat and unite neighboring tribes, thus making the chief into a king. Then, Daniel ... +


Around 1885, in Lahore, India, newspaper correspondent, Rudyard Kipling, is working late, when a broken, crippled man enters his office and reminds him that they have met before. When Kipling recognizes the man as Peachy Carnehan, Peachy begins a tale that began when they met three years earlier: At a railway station, Peachy, a Cockney ex-Army sergeant, picks Kipling’s pocket, stealing his watch, but when he sees that the watch has a charm with a Masonic emblem attached, he hastens to board Kipling’s train and sit in the first class carriage with him in order to return it. After giving the watch to Kipling, Peachy uses secret Masonic code words to reveal that he, too, is a brother Freemason and then asks a favor of Kipling. As Kipling plans to be at Marwar Junction near a certain day, Peachy asks if he will take a message to his friend, another former Army sergeant and fellow Mason, Daniel Dravot, who will be passing through, and tell him that Peachy “has gone South for the week.” Days later, Kipling delivers the message to Daniel, who confides that he and Peachy are planning to blackmail a rajah. After Kipling alerts the district commissioner in time to foil their scheme, Daniel and Peachy visit Kipling’s office, asking to use his books and maps, as they have decided that India is not big enough for them. They explain that they plan to become kings of Kafiristan, a land of warring tribes in remote Afghanistan. By using their superior military experience, they will assist a chief by training his warriors to defeat and unite neighboring tribes, thus making the chief into a king. Then, Daniel and Peachy plan to seize the chief’s power, especially his wealth, and eventually return to England with the loot. Calling them “crazy,” Kipling warns that the area is dangerous for white men and that the members of a mapping expedition disappeared there a few years earlier. He tells them no white man has been in that area since Alexander the Great in 300 B.C. Not to be dissuaded, Peachy and Daniel ask Kipling to witness a contract that they sign that swears they will become kings of Kafiristan and, until then, will not look at alcohol or women, but will help each other in times of trouble. Some time later, Kipling again encounters the former sergeants, who show him packed crates of Martini rifles they plan to take with them. They explain how they will travel through Afghanistan under the guise of a mad priest and his servant. Again, after warning of the danger of their plans, Kipling says goodbye to them, but impulsively gives Daniel his Masonic charm for good luck. For many days, Peachy and Daniel travel with a caravan, then continue alone, traveling by night to avoid being seen by villagers. For days they pass over snowy mountains, entering Kafiristan where Daniel goes temporarily snow blind. When a deep crevasse blocks the path before them and an avalanche closes off the way behind, they prepare for death and reminisce about their lives. Their laughing causes another avalanche that moves the icy snow over the crevasse and provides them with a way to cross the chasm. After descending the mountain, they observe masked Bashkai men tormenting the people of Er-Heb, and shoot them from across the river, taking one prisoner. Afterward, they approach the village, expecting to be welcomed, but instead the superstitious inhabitants mistake them for “devils.” An ex-Gurkha soldier called Billy Fish, who was the sole survivor of the geographic expedition that perished in an avalanche, is among the villagers and recognizes that they are British soldiers. Using Billy Fish as an interpreter, Daniel and Peachy convince the chief, Ootah, to allow them to train his men to conquer the Bashkai and are soon teaching the Er-Hebs to march, shoot and fight. After settling in, Daniel and Peachy notice that the Er-Heb men relax by playing a kind of stick ball that reminds them of England, but Billy Fish tells them the ball is the head of the Bashkai prisoner they captured. During battle with the Bashkai, Daniel is shot by an arrow that sticks into his bandolier. Seeing him unharmed, the Bashkai drop to their knees and surrender. Although Ootah is eager to execute the prisoners, Daniel forbids it and orders the Bashkai to unite with the Er-Heb. Soon the united villagers are calling Daniel the son of “Sikander,” who, Billy Fish explains, was a god from the west who built the holy city, Sikandergul. When Sikander eventually decided to leave the natives, Billy Fish says, he promised his worshippers that he would someday send a son. After Peachy and Daniel realize that the man was Alexander the Great, who they learned about from Kipling, they decide to take advantage of the people’s ignorance and not explain that Daniel is just a mortal. Soon after, they learn that the Ur-heb are celebrating their new brotherhood by playing stick ball with Ootah’s head. Under Daniel and Peachy’s command, and with the rifles they brought, the united army is triumphant in many battles, and their ranks grow by adding the men of defeated villages. As word spreads, villages no longer fight but welcome them with dancing maidens, one of them, the beautiful Roxanne, who bears the same name as Alexander the Great’s wife. The high priest, Kafu Salim, commands Daniel to visit the holy city of Sikandergul, where he intends to carry out a test to determine if Daniel is really a god. An archer is poised to shoot Daniel in the chest when Kafu Selim spots Kipling’s Masonic emblem hanging around his neck. Because the emblem matches the symbol of Sikander, Daniel is crowned king and is given Sikander’s treasures that have been protected by monks for many centuries. Peachy is eager to “fill their pockets” and return home, but Daniel comes to believe that it was his destiny to rule. He asks Peachy to bow to him in public and puts him in charge of supervising the army’s building of a bridge across the chasm near the holy city. For several months he takes his role as king and god seriously, attempting to lead wisely and with justice. Deciding that the people need the continuity of a royal line, he decides to marry Roxanne and start a family. Although Peachy warns against his plan, he agrees to stay until the wedding and then plans to begin the journey home with a mule train filled with riches. Roxanne is a reluctant bride, as she believes the native superstition that a mortal will go up in flames when making love to a god. During the ceremony, when Daniel attempts to kiss her, she bites him, drawing blood and disproving his divinity. At Peachy’s urging, Daniel attempts to escape with him and their loyal rifleman. Billy Fish sacrifices himself by lunging into the angry crowd to give Peachy and Daniel more time to escape. However, Peachy and Daniel are soon surrounded and led back to the city. Daniel asks for Peachy’s forgiveness, then walks to the middle of the newly finished rope bridge he had built. After ordering the people to cut the ropes, he tumbles down into the deep chasm. Peachy is crucified between two pine trees, but his miraculous survival until the following day prompts the people to release him, and eventually he makes his way back to Lahore. In the present, Peachy tells Kipling that Daniel walked before him all the way, never letting go of his hand, and that Peachy never let go of Daniel’s head. From a sack, Peachy pulls out Daniel’s head, which is still crowned. Peachy then takes his leave of the horrified Kipling, claiming that he has to meet a man at Marwar Junction. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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