East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

The Man That Would Be King, John Houston – 1946



Click on Caine as Bond to get the full list of the blogathon participants

Something different for today’s post – Karavansara is participating in The Great Imaginary Film Blogathon promoted by the fine ladies managing the Silver Scenes Blog.
The idea is simple – post an article about a movie that might have been.
Being Karavansara a blog about adventure, pulp and the Orient – we have obviously picked a nice pulpy adventure movie set in the higher reaches of the Himalayas, and based on a famous novella by Rudyard Kipling.
Being somewhat perverse, we also dropped a few dollops of uchronia in the mix, and hid a few bonuses in the following post.
And so, here goes our entry.


Karavansara’s Imaginary Movie of the Week


Ava Gardner as Roxanne (photographer unknown)

. title: The Man That Would Be King
. year of production: 1946
. cast:

Clark Gable (Daniel Dravot)
Humphrey Bogart (Peachy Carnehan)
David Niven (Rudyard Kipling)
Ava Gardner (Roxanne)
Pedro Armendariz (Billy Fish)

. Directed by John Huston
. Screenplay John Huston, Leigh Brackett & Robert E. Howard, from the Rudyard Kipling  story of the same title
. Paramount
. Technicolor
. Plot in brief: former British Indian Army NCOs Dravot and Carnehan travel to a secluded Himalayan valley, planning to set themselves up as war lords. Through a series of weird coincidences, the two rogues rise to the status of gods, but in the end they lose everything. Only Peachy survives the ordeal, and comes back to relate the story of Dravot’s rise to power and fall from grace.

I will not bore you with how great this movie is.
I’ll leave it to others, better than me, to provide some further information.

nivenFirst, David Niven, in the second volume of his autobiography:

I met John Huston in ’38, as, having finished “The Dawn Patrol” (again with Flynn), I was reading the script of “Wuthering Heights”. Huston had had a hand in the writing, tightening up the Bronte melodrama and making it easier on the camera.
Then, in May 1946 he called me.
“What about The Man that Would be King?” he said to my “Hullo?”
I replied like any good schoolboy that it was a classic Kipling yarn, which I had read it as a boy, and that it would make a great movie should anyone find the courage and the money to shoot it.
“My idea exactly,” he replied. And he offered me the role of Rudyard Kipling. “Paramount is footing the bill,” he said.
Of course I accepted, and I was careful not to remind him that Kipling himself did not appear in the story.
It was not the first time Houston was trying to shoot The Man That Would be King, featuring Clark Gable and Humphrey Bogart, but despite the enthusiastic support of his two stars, the project languished, and the script was undergoing continuous rewrites.
Finally, it was Leigh Brackett, a nice young girl and a friend of Bogart’s, that had worked with Faulkner and Hawks on the script for The Big Sleep, that found a solution.
She brought in a young writer from Texas, Bob Howard.
Melancholic and surprisingly well read, Howard had a dark streak (which probably came from surviving an attempted suicide), that was exactly what the script needed, and Houston was quick to realize he had a winner.
Howard had an instinctive understanding of epic, and was essential in putting together what was later called the greatest adventure movie of its time.
[David Niven, in “Bring On the Empty Horses”, Putnam Books, 1975]

roger-ebertThen, an excerpt from the late lamented Roger Ebert, published when the movie was re-released in selected cinemas for its fiftieth anniversary:

Howard’s emotional contribution to the movie is distilled in the film’s most famous scene, which gave Huston no end of troubles with Paramount, but was finally brought to the screen exactly as written.
The scene in which Peachy is nailed to the Tree of Pain, which he survives with his eyes blinded but his spirit somewhat tempered, to escape and finally tell Kipling (myself) the story of Dravot’s adventure and ultimate fate, is powerful, shocking, and was probably Bogart’s finest moment.
Unsurprisingly the movie netted seven Oscars the following year, including best actor for Gable as Dravot, and best supporting for Bogart as Peachy Carnehan.
[Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun Times, 1996]

mankingcriterionYou can get the remastered version of the movie, with rich extra features and commentary by both Ebert and British film critic Kim Newman, as a Criterion Collection Blue-Ray.

And finally, because here at Karavansara we are fans of the work of Robert E. Howard, this old snippet from the blog The Cimmerian:

The movie also paved the way for that small gem that is Solomon Kane’s Homecoming, scripted by Howard based on his own stories, which gave Gregory Peck the role of a lifetime.
[author unknown, The Cimmerian blog]

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

8 thoughts on “The Man That Would Be King, John Houston – 1946

  1. If any movie is worthy of the name “classic”, it would certainly be 1946s “The Man That Would Be King”. A most fun read.


  2. Awww, wouldn’t it be great if it existed? Such a role for Bogart! I dig it.


    • I think Bogart would actually fit his role better than Gable – it’s hard imagining Gable as Dravot.
      But yes, it would have been good.
      There was also another, later option, featuring Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster, again directed by Huston.
      I’ll save it for the next blogathon 🙂


  3. A silly note: it has been pointed out to me that the Kipling story is called The Man Who Would Be King.
    And it is certainly so.
    Quite simply, in my universe, film-wise, The Man Who Would Be King is a movie featuring Sean Connery and Michael Caine, while The Man That Would Be King features Clark Gable and Humphrey Bogart.
    That’s it.


  4. Fun post! Your cast sounds great, and I like the way you described the film through book excerpts.


  5. What a great idea! Now, thanks to you (and John Huston) every time I think about Rudyard Kipling, I’ll imagine him like David Niven!
    Don’t forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! 🙂


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