I'm twelve years old in early 1977, and I am at the Denali Theatre in Anchorage, Alaska for a showing of the latest Inspector Clouseau film, The Pink Panther Strikes Again. (The date is approximate; in Alaska, at that time, we often did not get films on time. The film was released mid-December, 1976; I have adjusted to account for this.) I am already familiar with Peter Sellers' buffoonish Inspector, though I know just as much about the character from the cartoon series that aired every Saturday morning on The Pink Panther Show (in whatever form it was in from year-to-year), and truth be told, though I had seen the first two films in the series at that tender age already, I was at the theatre almost as much for the opening animated credits as I was to see Peter Sellers.

In that day, films were still shown as double-features, and when you paid for one movie, you got another usually inferior film with it. Example: later in 1977, when my mother and I took in The Spy Who Loved Me, we were regaled with Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood, which served as a then-fun but, in retrospect, bad introduction to the aged Ritz Brothers. Sometimes, however, that second film was just as fun or good as the feature. Such is the case with Royal Flash, a film directed by Richard Lester and released in 1975, and which we saw packed into the program with the Panther film in the Denali on that day..

Lester, along with directing a couple little films called A Hard Day's Night and Help! (along with another personal favorite, The Knack ...and How to Get It) directed the acclaimed Dumas cinematic duo The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers, and Royal Flash, too, not only contains a large dollop of Lester's trademarked slapstick jauntiness, but also comes laced with their dash of ironic cruelty, as well. In fact, more than a dash of it, for Royal Flash is top loaded with the stuff, and if you were to discover that Musketeers screewriter George MacDonald Fraser was also the mind behind Royal Flash's witty deconstruction of both heroism and scoundrelism, it should not be so surprising.

Fraser has written a dozen Harry Flashman novels over the past 37 years (with the latest coming out just last year), and in 1975, the second novel was turned into a starring feature for Malcolm McDowell, who certainly knew a thing or two about playing scoundrels. But Harry Flashman is a different sort of scoundrel; for while he has the most mercenary of hearts, and cares only for himself and his safety, to the point of being an utter coward in situations that call for a man of stern and true intentions, fate has conspired to allow the bulk of the world to see him as a conquering hero, and reward and honor are bestowed upon him over better men, even when he tries to do things the right way. He lies, he cheats, he steals, he leaves others to die, and he still lucks his way out of the most dire circumstances, and he always survives to meet the next battle where he is hopelessly outclassed and outgunned again. Karma is his bitch, and magically, he always perserveres...

Alan Bates, Oliver Reed, Lionel Jeffries, Britt Ekland, Alastair Sim, Michael Hordern and even Bob Hoskins (in a early role) are along for this backstabbing parody of The Prisoner of Zenda: all mistaken royal identities, swordfights, trapdoors, torture dungeons and whatnot,
which Fraser had the cheek to have Flashman say in the novel version that Zenda author Anthony Hope stole the idea from Flashman!

My mother, to this day, still insists that the film we saw in the double feature with the Panther film was I'm All Right, Jack, a comedy from 1959 that is about labor unions, and one which I would have remembered as excrutiating, no matter the quality (which is great; I've seen the film for the first time recently), because no matter how funny a film is, a twelve-year old is generally not going to finish watching a Pink Panther flick, and then hold still for a film revolving around businessmen. Now, the film also stars Peter Sellers in a supporting role, but my mother always insists that Jack starred Stanley Baker, which it does not. I am therefore going to have to go with my memories and dreams of the sword duels, and the chained water torture sequence, and the scene out from under the castle, etc., and declare that Royal Flash was the film that we saw. Besides, I have friends who went to the same double feature and back me up on this.

It's all terrific though slightly dark fun, and I can't imagine why it is not out on DVD. Most of Lester's ouevre is out already (with a couple of prime films missing, this being one of them). In fact, the film never came out on VHS either, and the only way that I have a copy is that I taped it off of WGN in the early 1980's. When I started watching it, I immediately realized in the first scene that this was my long-lost double feature film, and thus, my copy is missing the first minute or so. Sadly, due to its basic cable status, it was roughly edited for content, shown in fullscreen (no one thought about widescreen in those days), and the cuts for the commercials (which represent the full array of lame tile and carpet warehouse genre) sometimes happen right in the middle of dialogue sequences.

But, it's all that I have for now, and for the foreseeable future. At least I have the novels to keep me twirling my imagined mustache...


ak_hepcat said…
Brother man, you needs to do you some researchin!

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Rik Tod said…
Thanks, Hepcat!

I know, I know, it's been shown on Cinemax and Showtime over the years, and it is a Fox movie, so naturally, they would show it on Fox Movie Channel.

But I was making a call for a DVD release. That's what this feature is all about: Slipped Discs. Movies that need to be released on DVD --- NOW!

I will settle for nothing less...

(Still going to Moxi the Fox showings in June, however...)

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