If ever a film springs to life when Oliver Reed is on the screen it just might be this Richard Fleischer directed version of The Prince and the Pauper. For despite having a cast of top flight actors, it comes off somewhat flat when Ollie isn’t wielding a sword or barking at our supposed pauper Mark Lester. Then there is the dueling with the likes of baddies Ernest Borgnine and David Hemmings that puts Ollie right in his element calling to mind his previous successes with the Musketeer films.
The Mark Twain story had been previously done with Errol Flynn in 1937 and this time out Reed is reunited with his Oliver! costar Mark Lester in the dual role. From the outset the plot is set with our Pauper a thief and the son of nasty Borgnine. Our other Lester is the heir to the throne and with Charlton Heston’s King Henry nearing his death it won’t be long before a new King is crowned. When our two Lester’s cross paths they switch places so that the true heir can go to a masquerade ball as a filthy pauper. It backfires and kindly member of the court Rex Harrison has him escorted and gently removed from the palace.
Enter Oliver Reed as a guardian to the young street urchin who claims to be the true Prince and soon to be King. Reed thinks the boy a lunatic but refuses to let any harm come to him. Their adventures take them from crossing paths with Borgnine who wrongly claims the royal Lester as his own to George C. Scott who commands a group of poor derelicts in the bowels of the city.
When Heston dies the real Prince demands he be taken back to London to stop the “other Lester” from being mistakenly crowned. This leads to learning of Reed’s past and the wrongs done to him by his evil brother Hemmings and his longing for his lost love Raquel Welch. In fact Reed’s plight comes to mirror that of the displaced Prince.
Can they get to the coronation in time and stop Harry Andrews from placing the crown on the wrong Lester?
With all the talent both on screen and off it’s Reed that breathes life into this often told tale. The film tries hard to duplicate the feel of the Richard Lester Musketeer films which featured not only Reed but Heston and Welch as well. Truly it doesn’t come close. Hard to swallow when you look at not only Fleischer directing but Jack Cardiff as the photographer and the script from George MacDonald Fraser. Fraser had also done the Musketeer scripts and the Flashman novels that resulted in the hilarious tongue and cheek Royal Flash that had also featured Ollie.
Borgnine, Scott and Heston had all worked prior to this swashbuckler with director Fleischer and Borgnine points out in his autobiography he’d have done anything for the director. He had already worked on both Barabbas and The Vikings with Fleischer.
Reed’s the whole show here but don’t expect too much from him in the first hour as it’s the last half of the film where his character takes over. Lastly it should be pointed out that when it comes to a “puffy shirt”, Jerry Seinfeld has got nothing on Oliver Reed.
Please head over to Speakeasy where Kristina is joining me and featuring a rare “winner” of a comedy from the Reed catalogue in one of his collaborations with director Michael Winner.