The Man Who Would Be King (1975)

Two years before George Lucas took the swashbuckler genre into outer space with Star Wars (1977), John Huston showed how much fun it could be right here on Earth. Sticking closely to Rudyard Kipling’s 1888 novella, he brought to life the adventures of Danny and Peachy, two former members of the British Army in India who set out to take over a small Afghan republic. Their daring, ingenuity and dumb luck make for heroic exploits in the grand tradition. Huston had fallen in love with Kipling’s writings as a child and spent 20 years trying to film the story, first with Clark Gable and Humphrey Bogart. When they died, he approached Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole and then Paul Newman and Robert Redford. Newman suggested Sean Connery and Michael Caine would be better suited to the project, and the rest is history. The two old friends play off each other beautifully, capturing both the mischief and the naked ambition behind their characters’ antics. The major change Huston made to the original was identifying the narrator, a British reporter stationed in India, as Kipling. He then had the wisdom to cast Christopher Plummer, who added the perfect note of wry humanity to the proceedings. Oddly, the producers wanted to replace him and might have had Connery not threatened to quit.

(d. John Huston, 129m, 35mm)

In attendance: Christopher Plummer