31 December 2010 | gregkokko
rowdy swashbuckling fun with a dream cast!
As a fan of George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman series I have seen this film many times and it's a treat to finally own a widescreen transfer on DVD. Royal Flash is the 1975 film based on the second "Flashman" novel of the same name. It stars Malcolm McDowell as Captain Harry Flashman, Oliver Reed as future German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, Alan Bates as Rudi von Sternberg, Britt Ekland as the chilly Princess Irma, and Florinda Bolkan plays the actress/mistress of mad Bavarian King Ludwig. Lola Montez. It also features the best Scrooge ever, Alastair Sim, and a pre-"Roger Rabbit" Bob Hoskins in minor but memorable parts. Fraser wrote the screenplay and the film was directed by Richard Lester. It is very similar in style to their collaboration on The Three/Four Musketeers films of 1973/1974, which also featured great locales, swordfighting galore and an ideal cast. OK, first, the BAD news: although I saw a 1975 preview screening in Ottawa I have never seen the original longer version, which apparently was released and trimmed to 102 minutes shortly after. Sadly, this footage, which apparently featured Lester regular actor Roy Kinnear in some scenes, does NOT appear on the DVD. There are some special features, including the theatrical trailer and a couple of mini-documentaries made around 2004. Another quibble some Flashy purists have expressed is that McDowell is not "stout" enough to play Harry. I think the natural devilment in Malcolm's performance more than makes up for his stature, and they even try to make him broad-chested in the film. I'm a Flashy purist too, and I prefer the tall lancer figure portrayed by Barbosa on the original book covers to the rather fat portraits on the current book covers. Finally, some have objected to the "slapstick" nature of the film, and perhaps these readers are more interested in Flashy's military campaigns than his rollicking amorous adventures. How much you like Lester's use of muttered quips and style of shooting will perhaps guide you: if you like "A Hard Day's Night", "Help!" or the Musketeers films you should enjoy this one. If you're looking for Kubrick, move along. Here's the GOOD news: the widescreen transfer is fine, the outdoor location shots still gorgeous and the movie is great fun. It is still a puzzle to me why such a fine film stiffed at the box office and was hard to find on TV or video for so many years. But you don't even have to be a fan of the books to enjoy this movie, or know the fascinating actual histories of Bismarck or Lola Montes to enjoy the larger-than-life characters. P.S. any resemblance to the classic "Prisoner of Zenda" is entirely deliberate. Eight out of ten stars, only because I hope the "lost" footage has survived and may be available in a (Blu-Ray, please!) version soon.