Plot: Kim (Dean Stockwell) is a street kid who lives by his wits in Victorian India. The orphaned son of white English parents, he disguises himself as a native, because “missionaries take white boys to school” and he wants his freedom. He lives by petty theft and by running small errands for people like Red Beard (Errol Flynn), also a white man who dresses and lives as a native.
On his way to deliver a message for Red Beard, Kim meets a mysterious holy man (Paul Lukas), who is searching for a mythical holy river that will cleanse sins. Kim accompanies the holy man as an apprentice to make it easier for him to reach the place where he must deliver Red Beard’s message. He becomes fascinated with the holy man, and stays on with him until he is discovered by British officers, who realize that he is the son of a former colleague, and send him to a military orphanage, promising him to “make a white boy of you.” Unhappy at the orphanage, he is sent to a posh private school, St. Xavier’s, where he has trouble fitting in. He lags far behind the other boys in schoolwork, and is constantly told that what he is used to doing is “not done at St. Xavier’s.” On his way back to the military orphanage for school break, he runs away and returns to native garb. Red Beard’s friend trains him in “the great game,” espionage, and, reunited with the holy man, he gives crucial aid to the British in the battles along the Afghanistan border. The holy man dies, and Kim and Red Beard ride off together.
Discussion: This is a colorful and exciting story, based on the book by Rudyard Kipling. As in “Oliver,” “Huckleberry Finn,” and “Aladdin” (and “Home Alone”), it is the story of a boy who must take care of himself in the adult world, and Kim does a reassuringly good job. He even takes good care of the holy man. One theme of interest in the movie is the way that he is able to move back and forth between two different worlds, each apparently requiring different clothes. In one scene, he is able to make himself almost invisible by dying his skin and putting on a turban; even his schoolmate does not recognize him, when he asks for alms. Only one character can tell that he is a fraud; the “fat man,” who sees that his beads and belt are wrong.
Topics for discussion include the various petty thefts and subterfuges Kim uses, and whether they are justified, as well as the larger issues of colonialism and the author’s point of view.