Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Prince and the Pauper

(Crossed Swords, 1977)

What the U.S. distributor thought was wrong with Mark Twain’s original title I can’t imagine, unless they thought it sounded like a children’s film. But they changed it. It was not very successful in either incarnation.

I’ve been reading a Hollywood memoir by the screenwriter, George MacDonald Fraser, who scripted two of my Top 25 films: The Three/Four Musketeers. He also wrote about a dozen books about the biggest scoundrel of the 19th century, Sir Harry Flashman, which I adore. As the first book was presented as a recently discovered manuscript by Flashman himself, Fraser inadvertently fooled about a third of the reviewers of the book, who thought the dude was a real person! Oh, well, I knew a few people who thought The Princess Bride was a real book before William Goldman cut out all the dull parts, too.

This one is not nearly as successful as the Musketeers movies. The cast is amazing, including Raquel Welch, Oliver Reed, Charlton Heston as Henry VIII, Rex Harrison, and Ernest Borgnine. There’s plenty of sword fighting, most of it involving Reed. It turned out to be the last film of Mark Lester, who after a thirty-year retirement has just acted in another movie. He is best known for the title role in Oliver! And he’s pretty bad here. He has to play both parts, and he has no range at all. As Tom Canty, the boy who accidentally finds himself accepted as the Prince of Wales, about all he can do is cringe and look stupid. I guess that’s the biggest problem with the film, the central characters being so unconvincing.

Fraser had a great many stories to tell about the making of the film, in Hungary. Most of them had to do with Oliver Reed, who he respected greatly as an actor (I do, too), and was a good man, but a terrible drunk. He was thrown out of two hotels in Budapest, once for swimming the Danube and then walking into the lobby naked and covered in mud. If you want more stories, read The Light’s On At Signpost, by Fraser.