Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers. There have been one adaptation after another over the years, an estimated 200 for Dumas' career work. Well, that's add another review from that list, 1973's The Three Musketeers.
It's the 1620s in France, and a young, poor and idealistic Frenchman, D'Artagnan (Michael York) is on his way to Paris to become a Musketeer. Without the experience necessary, D'Artagnan is quickly turned down and turned away. In the span of a few hours, he manages to insult three different Musketeers, agreeing to duel with each of them at three different times back-to-back. When he meets them later, D'Artagnan ends up fighting at their sides, including Athos (Oliver Reed), Aramis (Richard Chamberlain) and Porthos (Frank Finlay), against the Cardinal's guards. While he's not officially a Musketeer, young D'Artagnan is welcomed by the friendly trio, especially when they are thrust into some intrigue between the French queen and an English lord while Cardinal Richelieu (Charlton Heston) seeks to gain more and more power over the inept French king.
Ready to get your mind blown? This movie was originally intended for.....The Beatles!!! Director Richard Lester had worked with the famous British rockers in Help! and A Hard Day's Night, but the Musketeers a la The Beatles never came to fruition. Instead, we get this entry, a solid action-packed story with a great cast and some funny physical humor that works surprisingly well. With a ton of attention to period detail, 'Musketeers' shot on location in Spain (a nice stand-in for France, kudos to cinematographer David Watkin) and features a fun, big, fast-paced score from composer Michel Legrand. It isn't the cleaned-up, glossy vision like the 1948 version or even the 1993 reboot. I can't speak for the the newest take on Dumas' iconic characters from 2011. Lester's version though? It seems to be the favorite of all the versions, so good that most of four hours of footage was shot, Lester deciding to make one film into two. Yeah, the cast was less than pleased. Paid for one film, turned into two. That's good business.
Go figure, the high point of this 1973 take is the Three Musketeers. I haven't seen much with Michael York in it other than the Austin Powers trilogy so it was cool to see him in a part like this. Playing D'Artagnan, he just goes for it, committing to bringing the almost hyper-active, goofy, idealistic young man to life. He also falls for the lovely Constance Bonacieux, played by Raquel Welch, and that's never a bad thing. York fits in well with Reed, Chamberlain and Finlay as the three established Musketeers who all come to respect young D'Artagnan, originally thinking of him as one of their own. If anything, the group is underused through much of the 105-minute movie. I wanted to see more of them. Of the three, I was most impressed with Oliver Reed as the fiery Athos, the unofficial leader of the trio. Reed defined on-screen intensity in the 1970s, and his Athos is just a cool character, waiting for an enemy to make his mistake and unleash an attack. Also look for Roy Kinnear as Panchet, D'Artagnan's hired servant who becomes an unofficial fifth member of the group.
If there's a weakness, it's that Dumas' novel just has so much going on. A ton of characters, a fast-moving story, it's a lot to handle in a movie that's 15 minutes short of 2-hours, and that's including a credit sequence. There's a ton of talent here, but it gets lost in the shuffle at times. Heston is underused as Cardinal Richelieu, the treacherous papal official looking to take over France, Faye Dunaway playing his gorgeous spy, Milady de Winter, and Christopher Lee as Rochefort as the head of the Cardinal's guards. As for the French royalty, look for Geraldine Chaplin and Jean Pierre Cassel. Rounding out the cast is Simon Ward as the Duke of Buckingham and Spike Milligan as Bonacieux, Constance's dimwitted husband.
But what are the Musketeers all about? Sword fighting. Lots of sword fighting. Master swordsman William Hobbs choreographed some great fight scenes that are big and all over the place with four and five swordsman on either side. The highlight is a great extended fight at a quiet countryside convent, a group of laundry women working away when the Musketeers arrive to fight a group of the Cardinal's guards. The action features some great physical gags, rope swings that don't quite reach where they're needed, trips and falls at will. Kinnear provides some good laughs too, always ready to hit some baddies over the head with a blunt instrument while the Musketeers duel away with their swords. Fun throughout.
Because it was decided post-production to turn one movie into two, the ending is just sorta there. A tad disjointed to say the least with not much resolved. I hope to check in with the follow-up soon. In the meantime, this one was pretty good. How can you pass up a movie where Roy Kinnear walks around dressed up as a polar bear who can juggle and then causes massive amounts of havoc? Or a catfight between Raquel Welch and Faye Dunaway. I submit that you CANNOT.
The Three Musketeers (1973): ***/****