Double Feature

Royal Flash

How I Won the War

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Royal Flash

Writer George MacDonald Fraser published a string of satirical adventure novels poking fun at the British Empire set during the late 19th century, featuring the egotistical military officer known as Flashman. Director Richard Lester had read the first novel in the series, loved it and hired Fraser to write the tongue-in-cheek screenplays for two of Lester’s biggest successes, The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers. Lester wanted to film one of the Flashman volumes and finally got his chance, settling on the 2nd installment, Royal Flash. Who better to embody Flashman than Malcolm McDowell, who conjures up the naïvely entitled opportunism (evidenced in his Travis persona from O Lucky Man!) and the lecherous bloodlust (shown by his Alex in A Clockwork Orange) needed for the swashbuckling character? Oliver Reed is superb as Otto von Bismarck, hatching a plot to disrupt an arranged marriage to a German princess (Britt Ekland) and to get revenge on Flashman by coercing our anti-hero to impersonate a Bavarian prince who will marry Ekland instead. Amusing complications ensue, with a mindboggling supporting cast that includes Alan Bates, Florinda Bolkan (Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion), Joss Ackland, Lionel Jeffries (First Men in the Moon), Tom Bell, Michael Hordern and Alastair Sim, and introducing Bob Hoskins (The Long Good Friday). Critics and audiences were divided, but the New York Times heaped praise on the original novel: “Mr. MacDonald Fraser has considerable narrative skill… most ingeniously plotted and often hilariously funny.”

“Part of the appeal for McDowell is how committed he is making his characters so thoroughly, deliciously reprehensible…the film’s historical and political satire, particularly its digs at Victorian era nationalism, is still potent. The acting is faultless, as is the film’s exceptional cinematography – by no less a talent than Geoffrey Unsworth – and superb production design by Terence Marsh.” – Stuart Galbraith IV

Royal Flash remains a watchable romp due largely to the wit, sex appeal, and rakish physicality of star Malcolm McDowell. This swashbuckling spoof gets by on star power and perpetual motion.” – Bill Weber, Slant Magazine

Read “On the Set of Royal Flash in The Australian Women’s Weekly.

Marc Edward Heuck discusses our Richard Lester Film Festival on the New Beverly blog.

Chris D explores Richard Lester’s diverse career on the New Beverly blog.

Director
Richard Lester
Starring
Malcolm McDowell, Alan Bates, Florinda Bolkan, Oliver Reed, Tom Bell, Joss Ackland
Year
1975
Rated
PG
Country
UK/USA
Format
35mm
Running Time
102 minutes

How I Won the War

Director Richard Lester’s episodic adaptation of Patrick Ryan’s more traditional – though no less satirical – anti-war novel was not received especially well by the critics. Then again, when has there ever been a time when the mass media has taken kindly to a skewering of the military and, in particular, war – unless it’s “the right war.” Michael Crawford (Lester’s The Knack…and How to Get It, Michael Winner’s The Jokers) stars as the naïve, patriotic main protagonist, a hapless army lieutenant in WW2, alongside John Lennon (in his only non-musical movie role), joining supporting players such as Jack McGowran (Roman Polanski’s The Fearless Vampire Killers and Cul-de-Sac), Roy Kinnear (The Three Musketeers) and Michael Hordern. Lester’s style here hearkens back to his anarchic days in 1950s British TV, especially his work on “The Goon Show” and various other early Peter Sellers television efforts, resorting to strung-together blackout skits, fake documentary clips, and breaking the fourth wall to directly address the audience. Surrealist humor and non-sequitors abound in a delightful and scathingly critical stream of consciousness, confronting the tragic absurdities and mass contradictions of one of mankind’s favorite self-destructive hobbies. One of the movies taglines: “What we want is more humane killers!” An interesting bit of trivia purports that, while filming How I Won the War in Spain, a patch of particularly lush vegetation inspired John Lennon to spontaneously compose the Beatles song, “Strawberry Fields Forever,” on the spot.

“Ambitious, stylised British satire. Written and acted with conviction, it pulls no punches.” – John Fortgang, Film4

“Lester’s gruesomely black anti-war comedy still looks inventive, and manages to hit home with its blend of surreal lunacy and barbed satire.” – Time Out

Read an excellent A.V. Club interview with director Richard Lester.

Marc Edward Heuck discusses our Richard Lester Film Festival on the New Beverly blog.

Chris D explores Richard Lester’s diverse career on the New Beverly blog.

Director
Richard Lester
Starring
Michael Crawford, John Lennon, Roy Kinnear, Lee Montague, Jack McGowan, Michael Hordern
Year
1967
Rated
Approved
Country
UK
Format
35mm
Running Time
109 minutes

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