Going into this one, I was aware it was part of a literary franchise by George MacDonald Fraser (who personally adapted the novel of the same name to the screen – incidentally, he died quite recently) involving roguish British officer Harry Flashman (the name itself derives from the student bully of the literary classic for children "Tom Brown's Schooldays"!). The film-makers, in fact, hoped this would take off a' la the James Bond extravaganzas – but, clearly, the idea was doomed to failure, since old-fashioned and expensive costume pictures were no longer trendy by this time; for the record, not long ago I'd watched another contemporary tongue-in-cheek epic – Jerzy Skolimowski's film of Arthur Conan Doyle's THE ADVENTURES OF GERARD (1970), which was partly shot in Malta! Besides, I think it was a mistake to have started off with a novel whose plot had already been redone to death over the years – the protagonist, in fact, goes through a "Prisoner Of Zenda"-type adventure where he has to impersonate a look-alike royal!
Even so, on its own account, the film is undeniably stylish, considerably funny (effortlessly going from verbal wit to broad slapstick) and blessed with a tremendous cast (Malcolm McDowell, Alan Bates, Oliver Reed as future German political leader Otto von Bismarck, Florinda Bolkan as actress/courtesan Lola Montes – who, obviously, had already been the protagonist of Max Ophuls' sublime but ill-fated 1955 film of that name, Britt Ekland – underused as McDowell's frigid intended, Lionel Jeffries - sporting a metallic hand, Michael Hordern, Alastair Sim – amusingly popping in merely to referee a pistol duel between females, Joss Ackland, Tom Bell, Christopher Cazenove and Bob Hoskins). At the same time, however, it fails to scale the heights of director Lester's previous swashbuckling saga – THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1973) and its simultaneously-filmed sequel THE FOUR MUSKETEERS (1974).
Interestingly, the opening sequence – with McDowell speaking at a school assembly with the Union Jack behind him – is actually lifted from the unforgettable prologue to PATTON (1970) where, in that case, George C. Scott had addressed the (non-visible) troops in front of the U.S. flag! Other notable assets here are the cinematography (by Geofftrey Unsworth), the production design (courtesy of Terence Marsh) and the score (from Lester regular Ken Thorne). By the way, in the liner notes it's stated that the film was originally previewed at 121 minutes and later cut to 98 for general release – but the DVD edition I've watched, and which was released only recently as a SE by Fox, is a bit longer than that (running 102 minutes, to be exact)!