Below is a review I had written of the 1975 adaptation of George MacDonald Fraser's novel, ”ROYAL FLASH”:
"ROYAL FLASH" (1975) Review
Directed by Richard Lester, ”ROYAL FLASH” is a 1975 adaptation of George MacDonald Fraser’s 1970 novel of the same title, the second in a series of twelve (or thirteen) novels and stories about a cowardly British Army officer during the Victorian Era. Both the novel and the movie are comedic spoofs of Anthony Hope’s 1894 novel, ”The Prisoner of Zenda”, about an Englishman assuming the identity of a look-a-like European prince.
This movie does not seemed to be well-liked by many fans of THE FLASHMAN SERIES. One, it was adapted from one of Fraser’s least popular Flashman novels. Two, many of those fans balked at the idea of the medium-height blond Malcolm McDowell portraying the tall, dark-haired Harry Flashman. And three, many did not care how Richard Lester had included the same slapstick comedy that he had used in his two ”MUSKETEERS” movies. It is not surprising that ”ROYAL FLASH” not only failed to make an impact upon the box office in 1975, it remained unpopular for many years.
I must admit that Fraser’s 1970 novel never became a favorite of mine. Because it was a send-up of ”The Prisoner of Zenda”, it struck me as being somewhat unoriginal. And while I managed to tolerate Lester’s slapstick humor in the ”MUSKETEERS” movies, there were times when it seemed a bit too much in ”ROYAL FLASH”. Well . . . except in a few scenes in which I will comment upon later. As for Malcom McDowell being cast in the title role . . . I had no problems with his performance. In fact, I found it more than satisfying.
In a nutshell, ”ROYAL FLASH” began with Captain Harry Flashman being feted in 1843 London for his heroic exploits during the disastrous First Anglo-Afghan War (1839-42). Actually, Flashman’s actions were less than heroic. Being the coward he was, he surrendered to the enemy . . . before British artillery saved him from captivity via a barrage. British troopers came upon his unconscious body – with him clinging to a Union Jack flag – and mistook him as a brave military fighter who was not only the last survivor of Piper’s Fort, but as someone who had fought until the bitter end. Following Flashman’s return to England, the British officer met two people who would endanger his life on the European continent four years later – future chancellor and creator of modern day Germany, Otto von Bismarck; and the Irish-born actress/dancer (if you can call her one) and courtesan, Rosanna James aka Lola Montez. He had met the pair while fleeing from a whorehouse being raided by the police. Being a lustful ladies’ man, Flashy managed to charm Rosanna (or Lola) into a tumultuous affair. And being a vindictive scoundrel, he made an enemy out of Bismarck by manipulating the latter into a boxing demonstration with the famous boxer John Tully. Eventually, Flashman grew weary of Lola’s penchant for using a hairbrush on his backside during sex and ended the affair on a bad note. Four years later, Flashman received a letter from Lola, now mistress of King Ludwig I of Bavaria, asking him for a favor. Upon his arrival in Bavaria, Flashman is framed for the attempted rape of Bavarian countess by Lola and ended up in the clutches of Bismarck and his top henchmen, Rudi Von Sternberg. The pair coerced him into impersonating a Danish prince named Carl Gustaf, set to marry the Duchess Irma of Strackenz. According to Bismarck, the real Prince Carl had contacted a sexually transmitted disease, making it impossible for him to marry the Duchess. As Flashman will eventually discover, Bismarck’s reasons behind this deception are a lot more devious. The German politician did not wish for the Duchess to marry a Dane, since the marriage might tilt the balance on the Schleswig-Holstein Question and interfere with his plans for a united Germany.
Many years have passed since I last saw ”ROYAL FLASH”. Many years. And after reading several articles about its shortcomings, I really did not expect to enjoy it as I had done in the past. And yet . . . I did. Very much. Yes, I found some of the slapstick humor rather annoying. I can definitely say this about the sequence that featured the police raid on the London brothel, Flashman’s rather silly attempt to prove his marksmanship to the Bavarian military officers, and his duel against Rudi Von Sternberg inside the dungeon that held the real Carl Gustaf. But there were some slapstick moments that struck me as hilarious. One scene involved Flashman (in disguise as Prince Carl) accidentally smashing a bottle against the head of some poor chump during the christening of Strackenz’s new rail train. Another hilarious scene involved Flashman’s “honeymoon” night with the frigid Duchess Irma; along with Flashman’s attempts to escape from Bismarck and his thugs during his indoctrination as the fake Prince Carl. Also, the movie ended with a witty and rather funny duel of “Hungarian” roulette between Flashy and Von Sternberg, after the latter managed to interrupt Flashy’s flight from Germany.
Hardcore fans of THE FLASHMAN SERIES have condemned the choice of Malcolm McDowell for the role of Harry Flashman. It is quite apparent that the actor bore no physical resemblance to the fictional Flashman. But as far as I am concerned, McDowell more than made this up with his superb performance as the amoral and cowardly British officer. Personality wise, McDowell captured Flashman’s personality to a T. For me, he was Flashman personified.
There were other actors who struck me as perfectly cast in their roles – Oliver Reed as the manipulative and vindictive Otto von Bismarck, Britt Ekland as the beautifully cold Duchess Irma, Joss Ackland as the intimidating Danish patriot Sapten, and an unknown Bob Hoskins as the persistent London police officer who led the raid on the whorehouse. I also enjoyed Lionel Jeffries and Tom Bell as two of Bismarck’s thugs – Kraftstein and DeGautet. I must admit that it took me a while to warm up to Alan Bates’ performance as Bismarck’s top henchman, the Hungarian-born Rudi Von Sternberg. His Rudi seemed cooler, more mature and less jovial than Fraser’s literary version. But in time, I learned to appreciate Bates’ slightly different take on the role. However, the one performance that failed to impress me belonged to Brazilian-born actress, Florinda Bolkan, who portrayed the fiery Lola Montez. The filmmakers not only made the mistake of casting a Latin actress in the role, Lester allowed her to portray Lola as a Continental European. After all, the character was originally the Irish-born Rosanna Gilbert James before becoming the famous dancer, Lola Montez. Either Ms. Bolkan should have portrayed Lola as Irish, or Lester and the other filmmakers should have cast an Irish actress or one from the British Isles in the role.
Thankfully, there is a great deal more to enjoy in ”ROYAL FLASH”. George MacDonald Fraser did a first-rate job of adapting his novel into a screenplay. In fact, I found it a little more enjoyable than his novel. Anyone who has seen the ”MUSKETEER” movies must know that Lester had incorporated more realistic style fencing in the movies’ fight scenes. In other words, the sword fights featured a great deal of more bashing and kicking than any elegant swordplay. Thankfully, ”ROYAL FLASH” provided more elegance in its sword fights. I especially enjoyed McDowell’s skills during the kitchen fight sequence that turned out to be a fake rescue perpetrated by Von Sternberg. The legendary cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth did an excellent job of capturing the beauty of German locations featured in the film. However, I could have done without that soft focus look that seemed to scream ”period piece”. Utilizing Unsworth’s photography, Alan Barrett’s costume designs and Terence Marsh’s production designs; Lester managed to effectively recapture England and Germany during the 1840s.
I realize there are hardcore fans of THE FLASHMAN SERIES who will never accept ”ROYAL FLASH” as a worthy adaptation of Fraser’s 1970 novel. But you know what? Who cares? Seeing it again after so many years, made me realize that it had not lost its touch. At least not for me. In fact, I believe that the movie deserves a better reputation than the one it has possessed for the past three decades.
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"CENTENNIAL" (1978-79) - Episode Seven "The Shepherds" Commentary
The seventh episode of "CENTENNIAL" is set thirteen years after Episode Six. And it is a doozy. Although I would not consider this episode to be the best of the miniseries, I definitely believe it is one of the better ones.
Some of the events of the last two episodes end up having major consequences in this episode, set in 1881. The feud between farmer Hans Brumbaugh and the English rancher Oliver Seccombe spill out in an ugly range war between the region's farmers and the ranchers, led by Seccombe. Acting as the ranchers' hired guns are members from the Pettis gang, the same outlaws that had attacked the Skimmerhorn/Poteet cattle drive, in the last episode. After killing several farmers, whose land Seccombe managed to purchase, the Pettis boys set their sights on Brumbaugh's farm. However, they encounter stiff resistance from Hans, his family and two men from the Venneford Ranch - John Skimmerhorn, who is now ranch foreman; and Jim Lloyd, now a strapping 27 year-old ranch hand.
Brumbaugh turns to Centennial's sheriff for justice, but Axel Dumire is reluctant to move against the Pettis boys, claiming that no one could identify them as the attackers. However, the ranchers' focus upon the farmers transfer to a new enemy, with the arrival of one Messmore Garrett. The latter decides to settle near Centennial in order to raise sheep - something that cattle ranchers find abhorrent. Three men from the previous cattle drive end up working for Garrett - Nate Pearson, Bufe Coker (who was a former Venneford ranch hand) and Amos Calendar. The feud between Garrett and the ranchers spill into an ugly shootout that leaves Pearson, Coker and the latter's lady love, a former Cheyenne prostitute named Fat Laura, dead. As the only surviving shepherd, Calendar recruits his former fellow cowhand, Jim Lloyd and Brumbaugh to seek vengeance against the Pettis boys.
More personal matters also loomed large in this episode. Levi Zendt, just barely into his sixties, receive a visit from his Lancaster nephew, Christian Zendt, and gives him a tour of Centennial. Christian's visit leads Levi to visit his hometown in Pennsylvania one last time. Brumbaugh's struggles to find decent farmhands leads him to hire a family of Japanese immigrants named Takemoto. Love also hits Centennial in this episode. Jim Lloyd falls in love with Levi and Lucinda's wayward daughter, Clemma; who feels no affection towards him whatsoever. And Oliver Seccombe meets two visitors from England - a British investor named Claude Richards and Charlotte Buckland, the daughter of another investor - and ends falling in love and marrying the latter.
Screenwriter Charles Larson and director Virgil W. Vogel really did an outstanding job with this episode. I thought they did a great job in balancing the various storylines - including the romances, Levi Zendt's memories of the past via a visit from his nephew, and Brumbaugh's labor problems. But the episode's pièce de résistance were the range wars that threatened to overwhelm the region surrounding Centennial. It is believed that James Michner had based this particular chapter on the infamous Johnson County War in 1892. This was very apparent in three brutal action scenes featuring the attack on the Brumbaugh farm (shot at night), the attack on Bufe Coker and Fat Laura's homestead, and the vigilante attack on the Pettis gang.
The amount of violence featured in this episode seemed to contrast rather well with the more dramatic scenes directed beautifully by Vogel. I was especially taken by the romantic scenes between Seccombe and Charlotte, Brumbaugh's meeting with the Takemoto family, and Amos Calendar's heartfelt speech about the bonds of brotherhood, as he convinces Jim to seek vengeance against the Pettis boys. Apparently, those bonds formed during the Skimmerhorn cattle drive had failed to disappear, despite the brutal range wars. But the one scene that brought tears to my eyes turned out to be Levi and Lucinda's emotional parting, as he prepares to board an eastbound train for Pennsylvania.
If "The Shepherds" had one fault, it was its running time. A great deal of narrative and characterization occurred in this particular episode. And not all of it was focused around the range wars inflamed Centennial. Some of the story arcs - including the visit by Claude Richards and Charlotte Buckland, Levi Zendt's visit to Pennsylvania, and Hans Brumbaugh's labor problems - served as introductions to the main plots for the next two or three episodes. The episode started out well paced. But when Messmore Garrett's character was introduced into the story, I got the feeling that the pacing increased in order to include the entire plot within ninety minutes. In all honesty, "The Shepherds required a longer running time of at least two hours and fifteen minutes.
But I cannot deny that the performances featured in the episode were outstanding. Timothy Dalton continued his excellent work of conveying the ambiguous nature of Oliver Seccombe, whether the latter was plotting the destruction of Messmore Garrett and the shepherds or allowing himself to be wooed by Charlotte Buckland. "The Shepherds" served as the introduction of Lynn Redgrave as part of the main cast. She did a solid job in this episode, but her time to shine will appear in the next two to three episodes. I could say the same for Brian Keith, who gave a remarkable performance as the ambiguous and frustrating sheriff, Axel Dumire. Alex Karras was superb, as always, in his portrayal of Hans Brumbaugh. Both Mark Neely and Adrienne Larussa were excellent as Levi and Lucinda's children, Martin and Clemma. The two did a great job in conveying how their characters dealt with the stigma of being mixed blood. Gregory Harrison and Christina Raines shone once more in the wonderful and poignant scene that featured Levi's departure from Centennial by train.
William Atherton stepped into the role of Jim Lloyd for the first time and did a great job, especially in a scene that featured his desperate attempt to convince Amos Calendar to give up working for Garrett. Speaking of Amos Calendar, I thought Jesse Vint gave one of the better performances in this episode in a scene in which he convinces Jim to seek revenge for Nate and Bufe's deaths. While watching Glenn Turman and Les Lannom portray Nate Pearson and Bufe Coker for the last time, it occurred to me that their characters had come a long way since setting eyes upon each other for the first time in"The Longhorns". And both gave beautiful performances, as their characters prepared to meet death during the shootout with Pettis boys.
The running time for "The Shepherds" was very frustrating for me. I believe the episode's transcript would have been better served with a longer running time. But as far as I am concerned, this was the only drawback to the episode. I believe it is still one of the more exciting and fascinating episodes in "CENTENNIAL", thanks to director Virgil Vogel and screenwriter Charles Larson.
Below are images from "THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL", the 2008 remake of the 1951 science-fiction movie. Based on the Harry Bates 1940 short story, "Farewell to the Master" and directed by Scott Derrickson, the movie starred Keanu Reeves and Jennifer Connolly:
"THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL" (2008) Photo Gallery
This 1962 movie marked the cinematic debut of EON Production's James Bond franchise, created by Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. Sean Connery also made his debut in this film as the MI-6 agent, James Bond. Although many critics and fans consider film as one of the more impressive in the franchise, I honestly cannot say that I share their opinion. Based on Ian Fleming's 1958 novel and directed by Terence Young, "DR. NO" begins with the murder of MI-6 agent Strangeways and his secretary by a trio of assassins in Jamaica. Fellow MI-6 agent James Bond is ordered by his superior, "M", to investigate the agent’s death and eventually stumbles upon a plot by Dr. Julius No, an agent of the criminal organization SPECTRE, to disrupt the U.S. space program for the Chinese Republic. As I had stated earlier, I have never considered "DR. NO" as one of the more impressive entries of the Bond franchise. In fact, it is one of my least favorite Bond movies of all time. The main problem I had with "DR. NO" was the schizophrenic script written by Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood, and Berkely Mather that featured an unbalanced mixture of genres. I suppose they had no choice. After all, they simply wrote a close adaptation of Fleming's novel. And Fleming never struck me as the world's greatest novelist. The story began as a mystery thriller, as Bond tried to figure out who was behind Strangeways' death. Unfortunately, the movie transformed into a fantasy-style adventure once Bond and one of his CIA contacts, Quarrel, made their way to Dr. No's Crab Key Island in order to disrupt the villain's plot. A part of me wish that Young and the screenwriters had made changes in Fleming's story. The stilted dialogue peppered throughout the movie only made matters even worse for me. The worst line came out of the mouth of former beauty pageant winner, Marguerite LeWars, who portrayed a photographer working for SPECTRE. It is so bad that I will not even repeat it. Even Connery was guilty of spewing some wooden dialogue. In fact, his performance seemed as uneven as the movie’s story and production style. In many scenes, he seemed to be the epitome of the smooth British agent. And in other scenes – especially with Jack Lord, who was the first actor to portray CIA agent Felix Leiter – he came off as gauche and wooden. Mr. Lord, on the other hand, gave a consistently polished and performance as the sardonic Agent Leiter. Much has been made of Ursula Andress’ performance as "Bond Girl No.1" Honey Ryder – especially her famous first appearance when her character emerges upon a beach. Frankly, I have never been able to sense the magic of that moment. Nor did I find Andress' presence in the movie particularly impressive. Not only was her character irrelevant to the story, she did not really aid Bond’s attempts to defeat Dr. No. I first became a fan of Joseph Wiseman ever since I noticed his sly and subtle performance as a 1960s gangster in the Michael Mann TV series, "CRIME STORY". But I was not that impressed by his Dr. Julius No, a character that simply bored me to tears. I might as well say the same about Anthony Dawson’s performance as SPECTRE agent, Professor Dent. Many fans have been waxing lyrical over a scene featuring his death at Bond's hand. Personally, I found Bond's actions unprofessional. The MI-6 could have easily drugged the SPECTRE agent, remove any inconvenient cyanide pills and have the authorities "question" him. Instead, Bond killed him in cold blood . . . and lost any chance to get more information from Dent. Moron. "DR. NO" can boast first-class performances by American-born John Kitzmiller as the exuberant Jamaican CIA contact, Quarrel. And Zena Marshall gave a solid, yet subtle performance as Professor Dent’s Eurasian secretary and SPECTRE agent, Miss Taro. It is only too bad that the producers and Terence Young could not find genuine Eurasians for both the Dr. No and Miss Taro roles. But I guess that would not have been possible in 1962. Or would it? "DR. NO" featured some beautiful photography of Jamaica from cinematographer Ted Moore. Monty Norman not only provided a first-rate musical score, he also delivered the original "James Bond" theme. However, some of the movie's flaws – namely the uneven script and direction by Terence Young, along with the wooden dialogue, makes "DR. NO"vastly overrated in my eyes. But what can I expect from a movie that consistently threatens to put me to sleep two-thirds into the story?
Here is some information and an old recipe for a dessert dish known as the Charlotte:
I first heard about the Charlotte or one of its variations in the 1992 movie, "HOWARD'S END". One of the supporting characters seemed to have a real enthusiasm for the dessert being served to him by his family's maid. I have never forgotten that particular scene. And when I came across some information on the Charlotte, I found myself inspired to post an article about it.
The Charlotee is a type of dessert that can be served hot or cold and was believed to be created in the late 18th century. It can also be known as an 'ice-box cake'. Bread, sponge cake or biscuits/cookies are used to line a mould, which is then filled with a fruit puree or custard. It can also be made using layers of breadcrumbs. Classically, stale bread dipped in butter was used as the lining, but sponge cake or sponge fingers may be used today. The filling may be covered with a thin layer of similarly flavoured gelatin.
Many different varieties have developed. Most Charlottes are served cool, so they are more common in warmer seasons. Fruit Charlottes usually combine a fruit puree or preserve with a custard filling or whipped cream. Some flavors include strawberry, raspberry, apple, pear, and banana. Other types do not include fruit but use a custard or bavarian cream. A citrus curd is a more contemporary choice.
There is a lot of doubt surrounding the origins of the name charlotte. Despite the fact that Charlottes are served across Europe, one etymology suggests it is a corruption of the Old English word charlyt meaning "a dish of custard." Meat dishes that were known as charlets were popular in the 15th century. Some claim that the charlotte had its origin in the dessert, Charlotte Russe, which was invented by the French chef Marie Antoine Carême (1784-1833). Apparently, he named it in honor of Charlotte of Prussia, the sister of his Russian employer Czar Alexander I (russe being the French word for "Russian"). Other historians say that this sweet dish originated with the Apple Charlotte, which took its name from Queen Charlotte (1744-1818), wife of George III - patron of apple growers in Britain.
The various types of Charlotee desserts include:
*Charlotte Russe - a cake is which the mold is lined with sponge fingers (Ladyfingers) and filled with a custard. It is served cold with whipped cream.
*Apple Charlotte - a golden-crusted dessert made by baking a thick apple compote in a mold lined with buttered bread. This dessert was originally created as a way to use leftover or stale bread.
*Chocolate Charlotte - a cake that uses chocolate mousse within its layers
*Charlotte Malakoff - a cake with a lining of ladyfingers and a center filling of a soufflé mixture of cream, butter, sugar, a liqueur, chopped almonds, and whipped cream. It is decorated with strawberries.
*Cold charlottes - made in a ladyfinger-lined mold and filled with a Bavarian cream. For frozen charlottes, a frozen soufflé or mousse replaces the Bavarian cream.
Here is an old American recipe for Apple Charlotte:
"Cut as many very thin slices of white bread as will cover the bottom and line the sides of a baking dish, but first rub it thick with butter. Put apples, in thin slices, into the dish, in layers, till full, stewing sugar between and bits of butter. In the mean time, soak as many thin slices of bread as will cover the whole, in warm milk, over which lay a plate, and a weight to keep the bread close on the apples. Bake slowly three hours. To a middling-sized dish use a half pound of butter in the whole." - "A New System of Domestic Cookery, Formed Upon Principles of Economy, and Adapted to the Use of Private Families" by Maria Rundell, 1807
Here is a more modern recipe for the same dish:
1 tablespoon butter 1 (1 pound) loaf white bread, crusts trimmed 8 apples - peeled, cored and chopped 1/3 cup white sugar 1/2 tablespoon ground cinnamon 1 tablespoon lemon juice 2 tablespoons butter, cubed nonstick cooking spray.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Grease a 9x5 inch bread pan with 1 tablespoon butter. Press bread slices onto the bottom and sides of pan, making sure there are no gaps.
In a large bowl, combine apples, sugar, cinnamon, lemon juice and 2 tablespoons cubed butter. Place apple mixture in bread lined pan. Cover top with bread slices, and coat with nonstick cooking spray. Cover with aluminum foil. Bake in preheated oven for 35 to 40 minutes. Allow to cool for 15 minutes in pan, then invert onto serving dish. - allrecipes.com
Below are images from Disney's "THE THREE MUSKETEERS", Disney's 1993 adaptation of Alexandre Dumas père's 1844 novel. Directed by Stephen Herek, the movie starred Chris O'Donnell, Kiefer Sutherland, Charlie Sheen and Oliver Platt.
"THE THREE MUSKETEERS" (1993) Photo Gallery
Below are images from Disney's "THE THREE MUSKETEERS", Disney's 1993 adaptation of Alexandre Dumas père's 1844 novel. Directed by Stephen Herek, the movie starred Chris O'Donnell, Kiefer Sutherland, Charlie Sheen and Oliver Platt.