Sunday, January 31, 2016

Don't Make a Scene: The Man Who Would Be King

The Story: You've heard the tale: John Huston wanted to make The Man Who Would Be King "back in the day" (in 1953) with Clark Gable and Humphrey Bogart, with Mike Todd producing. But, Huston couldn't get financing, Bogart died and then Todd and then Gable. 

Then, Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas were in talks. 

Then, after Becket, Richard Burton and Peter O'Toole

Then, in the '70's, Paul Newman and Robert Redford.

Thank God Newman had the presence of mind to suggest to Huston that the only two actors who SHOULD play Daniel Dravot and P.T. Carnehan were Sean Connery and Michael CaineAnd when Huston offered, they grabbed at the chance. The two were roguish old friends and had wanted to work together for years. Caine had had a varied, eclectic career, and Connery was just finding his way "back" from international stardom with a resurgence in films after retiring from playing James Bond, a role where his acting abilities were taken for granted.

During the extensive location shoot, Connery and Caine would stay up half the night planning bits of business for the next day's work. At dawn, Huston would briefly commiserate and set up camera. Then, he'd bark "Action!" and the two would rip and riff. Huston would print and move on. His lack of direction worried the two actors. When Caine approached Huston for his opinion, he dismissed the worry: "You're being paid a lot of money to do this, Michael. I think you should do it by yourself."

Right. Case in point, this scene, choreographed and executed by Connery and Caine in full plumage and a certain exaggerated dudgeon.

(When aspersions are cast against me, I have been known to bark —in faux-Cockney: "Dit-riments, you call us? Dit-riments!")

The Set-Up: Correspondent Rudyard Kipling (Christopher Plummer) of The Northern Star has had two chance encounters with a pair of former British soldiers who have made his life...interesting.  They are Peachey Carnehan (Michael Caine), who has previously lifted—and then returned—Kipling's pocket-watch, and Daniel Dravot (Sean Connery) who was relayed a message from Peachey through Kipling that his comrade was endeavoring the very escapade that they have been "nicked" for in this scene.


The Arms of the Queen Empress of India are displayed on a white-washed wall. The COMMISSIONER, fiftyish, with pale blue eyes and high arched nose that is a mark of his class, is seated at a long table, with an inkstand, folders and a bell before him; while Kipling occupies a chair at the end of the polished board to his left. A punkah swings slowly overhead, propelled by the great toe of a native, seated on the floor. 
D.C.: As you know, Kipling, we took them at the Degumber border; so there’s a question of jurisdiction involved. 
D.C.: But a charge of conspiracy to blackmail might be brought. 
KIPLING: I didn’t lay the information before you for a criminal prosecution, sir; only to save their lives. 
D.C.: Then may I ask what particular interest you have in these scoundrels? 
KIPLING: Well...
KIPLING: They happen to be Freemasons–like myself. 
D.C.: Freemasons? 
D.C.: Those chaps? I should think you’d strike them off your rolls.
KIPLING: Oh, once a Mason, always a Mason.
D.C.: You don’t say! Humph!… Had one here three weeks ago—a Bengali merchant—black as my boot. Demanded that we notify his mother; and when we tried to, damn if she hadn’t been dead for thirty years. 
KIPLING: (smiling) He didn’t mean his natural mother, sir, but his mother lodge.
D.C.: Never could understand how perfectly proper chaps—like yourself—can go about on public occasions wearing aprons and sashes, shaking hands with total strangers.
D.C.: Just what is Masonry, Kipling? 
KIPLING: An ancient order dedicated to the brotherhood of man
KIPLING: ...under the all-seeing eye of God. 
D.C.: We should have done well to leave that sort of thing behind us in England, my friend. 
D.C.: It can never work here. 
KIPLING: There are tales that it did work here—before we ever came. Some audacious scholars even trace it back to the builders of Solomon’s Temple. 
D.C.: Old wives’ tales, I suspect.
KIPLING: Yes, in all likelihood, sir.
(striking bell) 
D.C.: Well, let’s have a look at your lodge brothers.
SIKH GUARD: Bring the prisoners in now. 
CARNEHAN: (barking) Right turn! 
A door is opened on Dravot and Carnehan, who are in file between two Sikhs and bayoneted rifles. 
The door closes behind them as they enter and advance at the regulation step to the centre of the table, when they halt and turn smartly with clicking heels.
CARNEHAN: (barking) Hats off! 
Both remove their hats in unison. 
D.C.: (frowning) You men are not under arrest… 
D.C.: …Thanks to Mr Kipling here… 
D.C.: ...who happens to be a genuine correspondent for the Northern Star.
Shoulders back, chins in, Carnehan and Dravot indicate no loss of assurance. 
D.C.: (continuing) But both of you richly deserve to be in gaol. I’ve your records before me. 
(exhibiting files) 
D.C.: There’s everything in them... 
D.C.: ...from smuggling, to swindling, to receiving stolen goods to barefaced blackmail! 
CARNEHAN: (indignantly) Sir, I resent the accusation of blackmail. It’s blackmail to obtain money by threats of publishing information in a newspaper; 
CARNEHAN: But what blackmail is there...
 CARNEHAN: accepting a small retainer to keep it out of a newspaper? 
D.C.: (dipping a quill into the inkwell) And how did you propose to keep it out? 
CARNEHAN: By telling the editor what I know about his sister... 
CARNEHAN: ...and a certain government official in these parts. 
21 THE DISTRICT COMMISSIONER drops the ink-laden quill on the papers before him. 
DRAVOT: Let him put that in his paper if he has need of news!
The District Commissioner busies himself considerably in blotting ink before answering.
D.C.: (looking up grimly) It would have been wiser... 
D.C.: ...if both of you had gone home at the end of your Army Service… 
CARNEHAN: Home to what? 
CARNEHAN: A Porter’s uniform outside some restaurant, and six-penny tips from belching civilians for closing cab doors on them and their blowsy women! 
DRAVOT: (contemptuously) Not for us, thank you. Not after watching Afghans come howling down out of the hills and taking battlefield command when all the officers had bought it.
CARNEHAN: Well said, Brother Dravot!
D.C.: (angrily) Enough of this insolence. There may be no criminal charges against you... (picks up folders) 
D.C.: ...but I’ll see these files reach Calcutta with a recommendation that you be deported from India as Political undesirables—
D.C.: —detriments to the dignity of the Empire and the Izzat of the Raj. 
CARNEHAN: ‘Detriments’ you call us. ‘Detriments’! 
CARNEHAN: Well, I remind you that it was detriments like us... 
CARNEHAN: ...that made this bloody Empire 
CARNEHAN: ...and the Izzat of the Raj!
(to Dravot)
CARNEHAN: Hats on! 
CARNEHAN: About turn!
CARNEHAN: By the left, quick march!
They put on their hats in unison, turn and exit in file, their heavy shoes pounding in unison.
CARNEHAN: Le-eft...
When they have gone:
Kipling chuckles
D.C.: There’s no need to let any of this get into the Star, I take it, Kipling? 
Behind the thick lenses of his glasses, Kipling’s eyes are smiling.

The Man Who Would Be King

Words by John Huston and Gladys Hill

Pictures by Oswald Morris and John Huston

The Man Who Would Be King is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Warner Home Video.