After scoring with The Three Musketeers (1973) and The Four Musketeers (1974), producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind tackled another classic novel with their lavish adaptation of Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper. And while Twain’s narrative has as much adventure and whimsy as Dumas’ Musketeers book, Crossed Swords (as the Salkind production of The Prince and the Pauper is more widely known) was handicapped by miscasting in front of and behind the camera. In the dual lead roles of an English prince and the lookalike street urchin with whom he trades places, Mark Lester is startlingly amateurish. Undoubtedly cast because he had played Oliver Twist in the Oscar-winning musical Oliver! (1967), Lester is gangly and stiff in Crossed Swords, forcing bug-eyed reaction shots and yelping whiny line deliveries. The inadequacies of his performance are exacerbated by the presence of flamboyant big-name actors who blow the young leading man off the screen. Even worse, journeyman director Richard Fleischer calls the shots instead of Richard Lester, whose light touch with action and comedy made the Musketeers movies memorable. Under Fleischer’s hand, Crossed Swords is quite severe, not exactly the right tonality for an escapist fable. But for viewers who can overlook shortcomings, the picture has buried treasures. The swordfight scenes are muscular, the production values are terrific from start to finish, and costar Oliver Reed gives one of his most entertaining performances as a nobleman robbed of his title. Once the film pits Reed against David Hemmings, playing the nobleman’s avaricious brother, Reed catches fire in a string of powerful scenes. The movie also boasts appearances by Ernest Borgnine, Rex Harrison, Charlton Heston, George C. Scott, and Raquel Welch, most of whom are miscast but all of whom periodically fill the entertainment gap created by the film’s unsatisfactory lead player.
Crossed Swords: FUNKY