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By the way, I thought Chicagoans liked to sneer at us Dee Cee crybabies for our hyperbolic reaction to snowfall.

Once the power came on at the Port-Swiller residence last evening – having been out for 18 hours due to Snowmaggedon,  Robbo sat himself down to watch Royal Flash and see for himself just how successfully the exploits of Sir Harry Flashman were translated from book to silver screen by his creator, George MacDonald Fraser.

The answer?  Not much.

I won’t bother with a detailed review.  Suffice to say the story was poorly done and needlessly punctuated with ridiculous slapstick gags.  Also, Oliver Reed could no more pull off Otto von Bismark than he could Queen Cleopatra.  It isn’t that he was a bad actor (in fact, he was a very good one), it’s that he just weren’t a Prussian.

Of all things that stuck in my brain, though, was a remark Flashy makes at one point about feeling like he’d sat in barbed wire.  “Half a tick,” says I, “This story is supposed to take place in 1848.  There was no such thing as barbed wire at that point, surely?”

Well, a visit to the Barbed Wire Museum confirms my suspicion:

In 1867, two inventors tried adding points to the smooth wire in an effort to make a more effective deterrent. One example was not practical to manufacture, the other experienced financial problems. In 1868, Michael Kelly invented a practical wire with points which was used in quantity until 1874.

Joseph F. Glidden of Dekalb, Illinois attended a county fair where he observed a demonstration of a wooden rail with sharp nails protruding along its sides, hanging inside a smooth wire fence. This inspired him to invent and patent a successful barbed wire in the form we recognize today. Glidden fashioned barbs on an improvised coffee bean grinder, placed them at intervals along a smooth wire, and twisted another wire around the first to hold the barbs in a fixed position.

Exactly.  That anomolous gaff positively ruined the rest of the picture for me, I can tell you.  (Sorry, but my little mind is posivitely infested with hobgoblins like this.)

Now Fraser was a meticulous enough historian that he could not possibly have put this simile in by accident.  I can only assume that somebody else added it in order to connect with the audience and that Fraser was forced to grit his teeth and bear it (along with much else) in order to see his movie get done.

Which is one of the main reasons I would never write for Hollywood.  (The other being that nobody’s ever asked me to, of course.)


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February 2010