75 Years of Flash and Panache

75 Years of Flash and Panache

Posted by Mike Finnegan on Jun 14th 2018

The compelling British-born and American-absorbed character actor whose arguably four most famous faces are that of futuristic droog gang leader Alex (Stanley Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange), the cunningly crooked Mick Travis of a venerable Lindsay Anderson trilogy (If…, O Lucky Man!, Britannia Hospital), a brutally sinister off-the-rails Caligula and a sensitive and lovestruck H.G. Wells (Nicholas Meyer’s Time After Time) turned 75 yesterday. You really can’t tell because the prolific Malcolm McDowell, lately of Mozart in the Jungle, works with the energy and alacrity of a voracious, eternally youthful repertory company player in all manners of genres and mediums, not to mention cool animated voice work too. A strong and splendid candidate for McDowell’s fifth most famous movie face might just be the rascally reprobate that cut quite a scandalous swath through 12 historical books by the canny novelist/screenwriter George Macdonald Fraser, a Victorian era British Army office who always manages to emerge on top despite being, in Fraser’s words, “a scoundrel, a liar, a cheat, a thief, a coward – and, oh yes, a toady.” The character is Harry Paget Flashman, the movie is director Richard Lester’s cheeky, comic carnival ride Royal Flash (1975, adapted for the screen from his second Flashman tome by Fraser himself), and in the company of superb fellow players as Alan Bates, Oliver Reed, Florinda Bolkan, Britt Ekland, Joss Ackland, Christopher Cazenove, Tom Bell, Alastair Sim, Bob Hoskins, Michael Hordern and Lionel Jeffries, McDowell manages the hair’s-breadth feat, in an ensemble of scene stealers, of emerging on top, due to his “fine, manic intensity,” The New York Times’  Vincent Canby proclaimed, adding: “Harry can't even smile straight. The corners of his mouth go up in the expected fashion but in the middle of it there's a misplaced leer. Ever optimistic, Harry keeps his leer at the ready, even though he’s the sort who loses when playing strip poker with a girl.”

Thanks to Twilight Time’s extras-lavished Royal Flash hi-def Blu-ray, the underappreciated film and its dandy McDowell lead turn have gained new admirers in recent years, such as Screen Anarchy’s Peter Martin (read his piece here: http://screenanarchy.com/2017/02/70s-rewind-royal-flash-richard-lesters-comic-19th-century-adventure.html) and Slant Magazine’s Bill Weber (explore his take here: https://www.slantmagazine.com/dvd/review/royal-flash). Interestingly, James M. Tate of Cult Film Freaks draws intriguing parallels with Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, which arrived in theaters just two months after Royal Flash (examine it here: http://www.cultfilmfreaks.com/2016/06/LFlasH.html). Thanks to the label’s current Twentieth Century Fox limited-time sales promotion now through July 5, this ribald romp is too good to pass up at 77% off original list. Grab it exclusively here: http://screenarchives.com/title_detail.cfm/ID/26423/ROYAL-FLASH-1975/. It clearly demonstrates that this diamond jubilee birthday honoree is no mere Flashie in the pan!