|Mark Lester and Mark Lester as the Prince and the Pauper in CROSSED SWORDS.|
If you've never seen Richard Fleischer's CROSSED SWORDS (1977), a retelling of Mark Twain’s THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER starring Charlton Heston (as Henry VIII), Oliver Reed, and numerous veterans from Hammer and Ken Russell films, you should pick up the imminent Kino Lorber Blu-ray (streeting March 23). This is very much an Ilya Salkind/Pierre Spengler production from their THREE MUSKETEERS/SUPERMAN heyday, and a resonant reminder of a time when the British film industry was second to none. It's a handsome thing, photographed by Jack Cardiff and scored by Maurice Jarre. There are minor faults - Mark Lester isn’t quite up to either of the two lead roles (he's an awkward 17 year-old, playing characters meant to be resourceful 8 year-olds) and there were apparently enough problems with the original script for George Macdonald Fraser to receive sole credit on the US release for “Final Screenplay” (a credit I’ve never seen before!) - so I would have to objectively rate it just a notch below excellent.
Nevertheless... I loved it.
|The great Oliver Reed in his swashbuckling prime.|
There’s a scene in which Reed (in top swashbuckling form as Miles Hendon) enters the royal palace and recognizes the doorman as someone he knew years earlier. The doorman, whom he greets with palpable warmth, is played by none other than Michael Ripper, clawed to death by Reed in CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1961) many years previously, and this is just one of many magical scenes arranged through its exemplary casting. Rex Harrison, Ernest Borgnine, Raquel Welch, David Hemmings, Harry Andrews, Murray Melvin, Dudley Sutton, Sybil Danning (in a rare unglamorous role as the Pauper’s careworn mother!), so many more... I don’t know why I avoided this film for so long, but to see all these fine actors assembled, in their prime and giving their best, in what was - to me - a “new” movie was like having them all back again. As the end credits rolled, I felt pangs of gratitude. Bless them all.
|Charlton Heston as King Henry VIII.|
Kino Lorber's disc also includes a standard-definition presentation of the “International Cut” - to help us determine the impact of that “Final Screenplay,” I suppose - and I intend to watch it. There's also a 20m interview with Mark Lester, in which he reminisces about the production, and a Howard S. Berger, Steve Mitchell, and Nathaniel Thompson commentary that will surely shed some light behind and in front of the scenes.
(c) 2021 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.
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