Tuesday, 6 September 2011

King Con

For those like me jonesing for another hit of our favourite Scottish tax-exile (see Zardoz archive), you don't have to go cold turkey. I recommend a shot of Sir Sean of Conneryshire's methadone performance in The Man Who Would Be King.

It's an old-school John Huston epic, released in 1975, loosely based on Rudyard Kipling's story about the adventures of a pair of roguish ex-soldiers of the British Raj, Peachy Carnehan (Michael Caine) and Daniel Davot (Connery), as they travel from colonial India to the Hindu Kush in search of riches and glory.

Exceedingly good, etc,
Their tale is recounted to Kipling himself (Christopher Plummer) by a disfigured beggar whom, though initially unrecognised by Kipling, it transpires met with him some years earlier.

Before crucifixion
After crucifixion
Kipling, Danny and Peachy are all Freemasons, and Kipling gives Danny a Masonic medallion to protect him on the journey across India's border, over snowy peaks, to the land of Kafiristan (Pakistan). Once there they team up with local Billy Fish (Saeed Jaffery) to save his village from marauders. Their British army training brings victory after victory, and they are summoned to the capital Sikandergul when the tribesmen witness Danny survive being shot with an arrow (it only really hits his bandolier). Danny is proclaimed a living god, the reincarnation of Sikander (Alexander the Great - Alexander = Sikander, geddit?), whose emblem of the 'all-seeing eye' just happens to resemble the Masonic 'eye of God'. Crikey!


Peach and Danny have enjoyed a fruitful partnership thus far, but the power and wealth of deification prove Danny's undoing. When he starts throwing his weight about, Peachy decides to make his exit, loads a mule train with his share of Sikander's treasure and get's ready to leave with Danny's agreement. Danny asks him to stay to witness his marriage to a local beauty (Caine's real wife Shakira), and of course it is she (a woman!) who ends the boys' lucky streak. She scratches Danny's mutton-chopped cheek and draws blood, and as everyone knows, gods don't bleed.

Billy Fish, Peachy, King Con
The locals run the duo out of town. Billy Fish is killed and Danny falls to his death crossing a rope bridge when the cords are cut. Peachy is captured and crucified for two days but survives and is allowed to leave, broken and disfigured, to return to India and recount his tale to Kipling, in case you hadn't guessed. It's Peachy as Lazarus, to quote a Eliot's Prufrock (via Zardoz), "come back to tell you all". He brings with him a single piece of evidence to prove the truth of his story: Danny's decapitated head, still wearing the golden crown of Sikander.

This is proper Boys Own Adventure material, daft and full of the colonialist attitudes and racism of the period, including a particularly absurd scene in which an Indian is thrown off a moving train for having the temerity to eat a piece of fruit in the same compartment as an Englishman. But the film is quite clear about the base motivation of the protagonists (and the British Empire) and the great partnership of the two lead actors has held me in its thrall on many wet Sunday afternoons.

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