Fun and moving evening at the historic Festival Theatre, newly set up as a Film Festival venue for the big galas. Sean Connery celebrated his eightieth birthday with a screening of the restored THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING, one of his finest movies. Festival producer Ginnie Atkinson is leaving us, and Connery, having retired from acting, will probably be winding down his involvement in the fest too, so it was kind of a goodbye to both of them.
A friend had asked me to report back on the condition of Connery’s co-star Saeed Jaffrey (Billy Fish in the movie), who had enjoyed himself so much at the previous night’s party, he had to be carried out. And indeed, as Connery was talking to the audience and Jaffrey waited his turn, they had to get him a chair. (Celebrities have been enjoying themselves at Edinburgh this year: Patrick Stewart was seen dancing at the ceilidh — well, he is known as “Party Hard Picard”.)
My zoom lens is busted. The spec at stage centre is Connery. The spec being propped up on the left is Saeed Jaffrey. Interestingly, while Connery’s voice is now somewhat cracked, he seems in very good shape otherwise. And while Jaffrey had to be helped to the microphone, his voice boomed out to all 1,500 seats as if it needed no such assistance.
Of course Ossie Morris’s widescreen photography looked magnificent on the big screen. Connery, Caine, Jaffrey and Christopher Plummer impressed as ever. (Plummer avoids obvious showboating in this one and underplays to form a nice bassline beneath the big star personae — although Fiona spotted him very deliberately not blinking for long periods of time during a classic “A” composition where he was stood between the two big guys.) And the film, perhaps because of the occasion, was more moving than I’d previously found it, I can’t say why.
It’s interesting to me that Huston celebrates such a disreputable pair of heroes — my take on Huston is that he was similarly amoral and out for a good time. These soldiers of fortune set out to loot what is basically Afghanistan, and come to grief due to a lack of exit strategy. (All the ’70s films here seem incredibly timely in a way that few of the modern ones do.) And the other great Huston moment is the laughter, where Connery and Caine face certain death in the icy mountains of the Hundu Kush, and their laughter in the face of this causes an avalanche which enables them to proceed. The fatalistic laugh can be traced through THE MALTESE FALCON, TREASURE OF THE SIERRE MADRE and BEAT THE DEVIL, and Huston experienced it first hand in real life. It’s the vast, echoing laughter of the universe, and it’s highly infectious: once you get in tune with it, you may find it hard to stop.