. . . One for All and All for Fun!
Dumas’ work has been filmed many times to varying degrees of success, but only in rare instances has any attempt been made to film anything beyond the first half or so of the original novel. 1973’s The Three Musketeers and the follow-up entitled creatively enough The Four Musketeers make one of these attempts.
The two films were films simultaneously and sport a stellar cast. Michael York is D’Artagnan, the young upstart who moves from a moronic and oft dueling village idiot to the newest musketeer. For the original musketeers we have Oliver Reed as Athos, Richard Chamberlain as Aramis, and Frank Finlay as Porthos.
And outside of the musketeers themselves we have Raquel Welch as Constance, Faye Dunaway as the Queen, Christopher Lee as the evil Rochefort, and Charlton Heston in a cameo as Cardinal Richelieu. Not bad, eh? Reed is particularly brilliant, although to be honest playing a drunken sot may not have been such a stretch for him.
This, coupled with opulent production values, rich sets, and great cinematography should have made for a good picture. (You can see where I am going now, can’t you?) Sadly, the movie doesn’t work- at least not for me.
Although Dumas’ novel features many swordfights, is light spirited, and in many areas quite humorous, the adaptation here borders on buffoonery. It became so comical that watching the second installment almost didn’t happen, though thankfully the second part actually is the stronger of the two.
Many critics killed the films but the populace seems to enjoy them; just check out the imdb.com pages and you will get an inkling of what I mean. The Four Musketeers, in dealing with the darker second half of the novel, seems to have more semblance of a plot- more substance if you will. The Three Musketeers, in contrast, seems to be more derived at simply having a good laugh at itself.
That being said, there are redeeming qualities about both of these films. They are shot wonderfully and some of the humor is funny, as much as I feel it is overdone. Richard Lester is one of the better – and often overlooked- directors of comedy.
And again the casting is superb and they seem to knock props and each other over just for the fun of it. Welch is a bit vapid and surely is here purely for visual enjoyment, but the true stars are Michael York, Oliver Reed, Christopher Lee, and yes- Charlton Heston.
York perfectly apes his character and is believable both as a broken sword wielding youth and as a full fledged musketeer. Reed, as mentioned above, is a wonderfully emotionally damaged drunkard. It is Heston, however, who nearly steals the entire show, even with his extremely limited screen time.
It was a break for Heston, who had been doing strenuous and very physically demanding roles at the time. Here he is the devilishly brilliant Richelieu, who is anything but outwardly violent. Rather Heston projects such a subtle but powerful aura of sheer malevolence that we know that although he is thwarted today, he will always regroup to fight again another day.
Action abounds as well as does sexual innuendo and related comings and goings that you no longer see in pictures today. This more realistic depiction- along with pigs, grime, sheep, falling in wells, etc. all make a strong point for the picture. High art this surely isn’t but the first film is fun and filled with daring do.
And yes, even some of the smaller things add to the picture. There are little things that usually go unnoticed, like the hysterically comical blessing of the cannons, the submarine (!), and the sheer ridiculousness of the chess game are truly priceless.
Ok, so perhaps I’ve changed my mind….somewhat.