The Three Musketeers (1973/74 Spain/Panama/UK)

61163_Raquel_Welch_0_The_Four_Musketeers_16_122_34Of the countless screen versions of this classic French tale, this one (paired with the sequel “The Four Musketeers”) comes closest to the vision and spirit and story of the novel. There are still some variations, but, for the most part this succeeds very well, even improving on things occasionally. Director Richard Lester pulls off a marvelous adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’s venerable classic cloak and dagger novel.

It retains the adventure and epic nature of the story, but has been sprinkled with delightfully subversive humor and occasional slapstick. It’s a mystery as to why this sumptuous, heavily detailed, dazzling film did not receive any Oscar recognition (especially for the magnificent, eye-popping costumes and the rousing score, spirited score which Legrand came up with in ten days!) The settings are perfect. The flavor and feel for the times is unusual and intriguing. A game, cracker jack cast is one of the best in history. Michael York does a memorable job as D’Artagnan, all wide-eyed eagerness and full of dashing adventure. He is ably supported by the famed trio of musketeers, each with his own traits and look.

Oliver Reed is a pure delight with his boozy, surly attitude and rough-hewn good looks (and those smouldering eyes), Chamberlain is appropriately demure and chivalrous while Finlay (short and ugly) is quite witty. Cassel is perfect as the self-involved King and Chaplin is surprisingly effective as Queen Anne. Raquel Welch does her most charming and effective work as the gorgeous and well-endowed klutz Constance. On the villainous side is the imperious, imposing Charlton Heston as Cardinal Richelieu and his henchman Rochefort, played to perfection by Christopher Lee. Finally, the monumental Faye Dunaway is most icy and profoundly wonderful as Milady de Winter.

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The entire cast is hard to beat, but the one that lingers most in the memory is Dunaway – although her real showcase is the second film. The film is peppered with a host of interesting British character actors (take a bow, Roy Kinnear) and oddly amusing voice-overs to bring comedy to some of the more mundane moments. The film caused quite a stir when it was released because the actors had signed on to do one movie, but the producers decided to fill it out into two! A lawsuit finally resolved some of the financial issues of that, but the mess of having one great epic story divided into two halves remains.

The films make so much more of an impact if viewed back-to-back, yet because they have each been padded with lengthy sword fights to each have an appropriate number of thrills, it becomes oppressively long that way. The best case scenario would be a reedited three hour version, but that isn’t likely to happen. The previous versions and remakes all have certain flaws which keep them at a lower level of excellence. Though it was not in the book, the wrestling match between Dunaway and Welch and the entire sequence with the diamonds is a highlight. Just a glimpse of the set and costumes for the masquerade ball is worth the price of rental or purchase. This is a splendid, thoroughly enjoyable experience.

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Comments

  1. This one won’t be topped. The cast and tone is pitch perfect. Dear Ollie was made for these on screen adventures though his off screen ones make for exhilarating stories.

    Liked by 1 person

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