Royal Flash [1975]

The term "romp" could have been invented to describe Royal Flash, a boisterous 1975 comedy-adventure starring Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange, Caligula) as Captain Harry Flashman: Braggart, bully, coward, thief, womanizer, and all-around scoundrel. Having risen to heroic prominence through sheer luck, Flashman gets sucked into a scheme by German statesman Otto von Bismarck (played with a superlative scowl by Oliver Reed, Gladiator) and courtesan Lola Montez (Florinda Bolkan, The Damned) to marry Flashman to a beautiful duchess (Britt Ekland, The Man with the Golden Gun) to control her province. But the political machinations are just an excuse for a rambunctious mix of satire and derring-do, much like director Richard Lester (A Hard Day's Night) and screenwriter George MacDonald Fraser (who also wrote the Flashman novels, on which this film was based) had perfected with the enormously successful The Three Musketeers. Royal Flash suffers in comparison; the pace in the middle sags from too much pomp and not enough circumstance. But the movie builds to a vigorous conclusion, including some excellent swordplay between McDowell and Alan Bates (Gosford Park) as an unscrupulous Hungarian. The movie's skeptical view of heroism and politics are a welcome tonic in an era of spin and image management. McDowell reminisces fondly on the commentary track. --Bret Fetzer

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