Perhaps, we should call this “the summer is almost over” Duo Post. Heck, people are already weighing in on who won the summer of 2016. All I seem to care about at the moment is figuring out a way to complete what I laid out for myself months ago in choosing a pair of films to represent my side of this month’s (single) title. Jamming in two for the price of one in this case. How do I get into messes like this? Don’t answer that.
Well, at least my partner picked a vintage work for us to review in parallel and help carry out the dog days left. An enduring French classic by a celebrated author, and one of the most widely read. Alexandre Dumas works have been translated into nearly 100 languages, establishing him as one of the most popular in France of the nineteenth century and well beyond. We’ll be taking on one of his most appealing, The Three Musketeers.
A rollicking adventure filled with intrigue, wit, and no loss of (Gallic) romance, of course.
Rachel will scan an English transliteration of the originally serialized 1844 publication while I’ll again sport a pair of movies from…ahem…The Seventies (you had to know something like this was coming). Helmed by an American film director based in Britain who up and changed my life almost ten years before the first of his all-star “D’Artagnan, Athos, Aramis and Porthos” set appeared. All for one, and one for all, as they say.
The wordy one’s book review can be found here:
A brief synopsis of the film(s): A young D’Artagnan arrives in Paris with dreams of becoming a king’s musketeer. Almost immediately, he meets and quarrels with three men. Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, each of whom challenges him to a duel. D’Artagnan finds out they are musketeers and is invited to join them in their efforts to oppose Cardinal Richelieu, who wishes to increase his already considerable power over the king.
D’Artagnan must juggle affairs with the charming Constance Bonancieux and the passionate Lady De Winter. A secret agent for the cardinal, the scoundrel seeking to embarrass the Queen of France, Milady’s determined to wreak revenge on the Three Musketeers for foiling her plots. Pitting the deadly Count of Rochefort with our hero swashbucklers who fight for the good name of the Queen and the life of Constance.
[spoiler warning: some key elements of the films could be revealed in this review]
“Now, that man in his time has insulted me, broken my father’s sword, had me clubbed to the ground, laid violent hands on the woman I love! He is inconvenient.”
I know why I chose to take on a pair of films (the adaptation split into two by the producer1) from 1973-4 instead of any of the cinematic translations done before or after. It’s that the traumatic and troublesome period also pushed boundaries within cinema in the wake of Vietnam, Watergate, and the post-war-oil crises-inspired general upheaval. Might as well step over whatever confines of what’s come before and at least have some fun with it.
Somebody’s had to do it, might as well go with a filmmaker who had a knack for doing just that.
Note, a good portion of this occurs on the periphery of scenes and via aside dialogue by characters in the background.
Who better than the man who made such pop-comedies like A Hard Day’s Night, Help!, and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum to accentuate the comedy within the Dumas classic for his version of the film. After finally reading it, I now see how well Richard Lester could exploit the tale for physical slapstick and comedic satire à la Monty Python. Few have done it better, which made him perfect for directing this film, in my opinion.
Though approximately encapsulating only half the book for the first film, The Three Musketeers provides a pretty substantial foundation of 1625 France. The squalor of the poor compared side-by-side with the disinterested King Louis and those circulating within the palace. You only need look at those wandering or begging in the streets; heck, look upon the Queen’s dressmaker Constance’s work environment and what she comes home to.
Lester brought the Jean de La Bruyère quote to life cinematically, in other words2.
Well, you had a wonderful mix of American and British talent, and sublime characters actors to do it justice. Michael York as D’artagnan, and a suitably drunken Oliver Reed stealing scenes as Athos. Raquel Welch‘s surprise knack at physical comedy as the wife of Bonancieux, among her notable other charms. Geraldine Chaplin (Queen), Richard Chamberlain (Aramis), Frank Finlay (Portos), Simon Ward (Duke of Birmingham) and Roy Kinnear (Planchet) also superb.
Opposing this lot, Faye Dunaway as the Countess DeWinter, the late, great Christopher Lee as the lethal Rochefort, and good old Moses himself, Charlton Heston, in one of greatest villainous turns as the magnetic and not to be underestimated Cardinal Richelieu. Each provided the mustache-twirling takes in the film. The best villainous trio ever put into a costumed rollick like this. Dunaway, in fact, proved the other two sat around plotting way too much, and had decidedly more fun doing so.
“And you mark this: you kill Buckingham or have him killed, it’s no matter to me. He’s an Englishman and an enemy. But you touch one hair of D’Artagnan’s head and I swear, as God is my judge, I’ll break you on the wheel with my own hand.”
While The Three Musketeers film ends with D’Artagnan becoming a Musketeer, it’s the second half of the epic fable that may be my favorite of the two. The character establishment can be disengaged somewhat, and the intrigue and manipulations kicked up substantially. Especially the action sequences. With Spain standing in for France and Britain for the most part, the set pieces in The Four Musketeers brought the tale to a rousingly emotional, if bittersweet, conclusion.
Luckily, this was not the typical sequel conjured up by studio execs we’ve come to know too well these days, unfortunately. Merely where the Dumas’ story was supposed to bring this mighty cast3 to, through George Macdonald Fraser’s screenplay. A deft and rather sly distillation, granted your mileage may vary if you’re seen the 1948 film starring Gene Kelly and Lana Turner, or heaven forbid the Disney-Brat Pack ’93 adaptation. Poor you, if you missed this.
The other standout aspect with this featured pair was the startling swordplay on display that hadn’t been seen prior to this. A realistic, effort-filled style more true than typical movie staging back then. One that utilizing whatever end of the sword to beat your opponent with. Needless to say, leather gloves and boots a must. Credit the great William Hobbs4, with a fine assist by Mr. Lee himself5 for bringing off this wilder and more dangerous swordfight choreography onscreen6.
The Christopher Lee, Michael York D’Artagnan vs. Comte de Rochefort final sword duel has to be a highlight in its authenticity in how to vanquish a skilled opponent by whatever means necessary.
The Four Musketeers offered a more somber conclusion to this classic tale than audiences expected, given comic elements infused with the first film. Surely, it was more fitting for the tempestuous period of its release, and a nonpareil wake-up call for unsuspecting moviegoers. Its wry humor more telling, as was Heston’s more heavy presence that grounded this with less frivolity. Compared to what we get these days, its audacious social commentary and intelligence was refreshing, and remains so.
This really should have been the epic as intended, guess we could now think of the time between release dates as merely one very long intermission.
Parallel Post Series
- 52 Pick-Up
- Life of Pi
- The Laughing Policeman
- The Joy Luck Club
- Like Water For Chocolate
- Edge of Tomorrow
- – 2015 posts
- – 2014 posts
- – 2013 posts
- – 2012 posts
- – 2011 posts
- – 2010 posts
- Originally intended as a three-hour epic it was determined the film couldn’t make its release date in that form. So producer Alexander Salkind decided to split it into two shorter features. Thus, following an incensed (and stiffed) cast and crew, and a Screen Actor’s Guild lawsuit, the “Salkind Clause” (you can’t do that without actor’s consent) came in effect. ↩
- “Life is a tragedy for those who feel, and a comedy for those who think.” ↩
- Richard Lester at one time thought this could have been another Beatles vehicle, having The Lads portray our four musketeers. ↩
- Hobbs has choreographed some of the finest sword fights in film history, including The Duelists, Flash Gordon, Excalibur, Ladyhawke, The Count of Monte Cristo (2002), and my personal favorite Rob Roy. ↩
- The 6-foot 5-inch thespian, who enlisted in the Finnish army to help repel the Soviets prior to WWII to become a British commando during that war, was also an accomplished fencer in real life. Lee likely appeared in more on-screen sword duels than any other actor. ↩
- The stunt people were terrified of Oliver Reed due to his sheer ferocity when it came to fight scenes. Even he was severely injured, almost dying, when accidentally stabbed in the throat during the windmill duel scene. Michael York had his leg cut in one duel and almost lost an eye in another. Frank Finlay was struck in the face by a two-by-four and burned in separate fight scenes. Actors actually doubled for their injured stunt doubles in spots. ↩