The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Three Musketeers (1948)

First appearing as a serial in 1844 from French author Alexandre Dumas, The Three Musketeers have become some of literature's most popular, most famous and most well-liked characters in the history of the written word. That popularity has transitioned to film in countless efforts (ok, you can count them, but there's a lot, HERE), including 1948's The Three Musketeers.

Leaving his home and family behind, a young Frenchman named D'Artagnan (Gene Kelly) heads for Paris with hopes and dreams of joining the Musketeers of the Guard, the men who protect the King. He almost immediately meets three musketeers, Athos (Van Heflin), Porthos (Gig Young), and Aramis (Robert Coote), getting on their bad side and agreeing to duel to the death with each. Their problems are thrown by the wayside though as they see they must work together to save France from the treacherous prime minister, Richelieu (Vincent Price), who wants to start a war with rival England. With spies and traitors all around, the Musketeers -- plus D'Artagnan -- must fight for each other, for France, and for love.

Above all else, the cast here is truly impressive, a long list of recognizable names. That doesn't mean they're necessarily great performances, but well, the names are there! Not a great start, but Kelly is miscast as young D'Artagnan. He's just not believable other than his physical ability. Heflin is the only one of the three Musketeers to make any lasting impression, Young and Coote wasting away in the background. Price sneers and connives as Richelieu as only he can, but the best villain is the stunningly beautiful Lana Turner as Lady de Winter, Richelieu's most trusted agent. There's also parts for Angela Lansbury as the French queen, Anne, June Allyson as Constance, the Queen's maid and D'Artagnan's true love, Keenan Wynn as Planchet, D'Artagnan's servant, John Sutton as the Duke of Buckingham and Frank Morgan as King Louis.

What plagues this movie is something that affected so many movies in the 1940s and 1950s. It is interested in the spectacle of what's going on on the screen, and the truly impressive scale. It is intended to 'WOW!' the audience, and it does. The Technicolor technique has the action jumping off the screen, and visually it is an amazing movie to watch. The sets, the costumes, the detail. It's all there, but it's a shallow movie. Even knowing who the Musketeers were and the outline of the story, I was bored to tears. It took multiple viewings and a week-long break to even finish this one. There's no heart, no real interest in the characters. Rather than developing those bonds and the characters, we get countless fight scenes, lots of Musketeer carousing that goes nowhere.

Like anything, something good is best in small doses. The fight scenes here are a prime example. An early introduction has D'Artagnan fighting at first against and then with his new Musketeer buddies. The sword-fighting is a sight to behold, and then it keeps going....and going....and going. Kelly was a dancer first and foremost, and a talent with an incredible physical ability, but enough is enough. He jumps, he twirls, he flips, oh, and then he kills some guys. We get it, Mr. Kelly, you're extremely talented. Almost to a fault, the action -- whether it be hand-to-hand or with swords and pistols -- starts off well but doesn't know when to stop. It gets tedious, and with impressive sequences like this, that's never a good thing. Director George Sidney had to know when to pull the plug. Instead, he tries to wow the audience and ends up overdoing it. 

Now even with the thinly drawn characters and tedious action, this movie certainly has its pluses. When the story does get serious toward the end, dropping all the comedic carousing and shenanigans, wouldn't you know? The story significantly improves. As Lady de Winter, Turner especially shines, a snake waiting in the shadows to strike. There is a darkness to it as characters are killed, betrayals are unleashed, and allegiances tested. With a movie that runs at over two hours at 125 minutes, it just takes too long to get there. A darker, more straightforward Musketeers movie with this cast could have been a classic, but this 1948 version struggles to find a consistent tone. The last half hour is that good, but the build-up unfortunately is not. Still, there is too much positive going on here to not give it an at least partially positive review. Just know it's a mixed bag.

The Three Musketeers <---TCM trailer/clips (1948): ** 1/2 /****

No comments:

Post a Comment