Three Musketeers, The (1973)

Reviewed By iF Magazine
Posted 02/24/01 16:16:07

"A Criminally Overlooked Classic!"
5 stars (Awesome)

To my way of thinking Richard Lester’s funny, exciting, intelligent and inspired THREE and FOUR MUSKETEERS films form the ideal 213 minute epic entertainment. Released as two films but shot as one (prompting all the actors to sue the producers and win) THE THREE and FOUR MUSKETEERS originally hit the big screen in 1974 and 1975.

Based on the classic novel by Alexander Dumas, the Musketeers saga has been brought to screen (at least) a half dozen times with everyone from Gene Kelly and The Ritz Brothers to Gerard DePardieu and the Brat Pack drawing their swords for king and country. Lester’s gritty, funny take on the old chestnut remains the best. The reasons are numerous starting with the wise and knowing script by novelist George MacDonald Fraser.

The story of 17th century France offers just about everything a drama could offer: political corruption, warring countries, adultery, religious treachery, class wars, sword fights and battles writ large by an enormous cast of corrupt royals and downtrodden peasants.

At the center of all the intrigue is D’Artagnan (Michael York), a country bumpkin who journeys from farm to Paris to join the Musketeers, the fabled personal guards of the king. Along the way he makes enemies aplenty and before long is aiding the Musketeers in saving their queen from the grips of the evil Cardinal de Richelieu (Charlton Heston). The ensuing action involves dozens of characters, two countries and countless adventures.

Recently released as a two pack DVD from Fox Lorber, this marks the closest this forgotten gem has ever got to respect. Long unavailable on video these pristine transfers make up for Live Video’s woefully muddy versions released in the ‘80s.

Modern retelling of period pieces tend to be either too reverent and boring (see most Merchant Ivory films) or too anachronistically modern and unbelievable (see the Disney Chris O’Donnell version, if you can make it through without gagging.) Fraser’s take is literary while poking fun at the times, the politics, the filth and fury.

Lester, coming off his duo successes with the Beatles (A HARD DAYS NIGHT and HELP) and several films that gingerly mixed comedy and drama (HOW I WON THE WAR and PETULIA) imbues the swashbuckling legend with just the right balance of drama and comedy.

The international cast, all performing at the peak of their powers, include York as the brash and naïve D’Artagnan, Oliver Reed as the ferocious and troubled heart of the Musketeers Athos, Christopher Lee as the one-eyed villain Rochefort and a prosthesis wearing Charlton Heston as the hissable Cardinal de Richelieu.

Never before (or after) has York been so dashing, Reed so complex and heroic, Lee so three dimensional and Heston such a revelation (he really should have played more bad guys.)

And these are just some of the standouts. The entire cast is game and noteworthy from a hilariously clumsy Rachel Welch to Faye Dunaway as the ultimate femme fatale Milady de Winter. Add in Simon Ward, Geraldine Chaplin, Frank Finlay and Lester regulars Ron Kinnear and Spike Milligan and you’ve got cause for repeated viewing (this plus Lester’s trademark near offscreen throwaway lines).

The real question here is why have these two films been so criminally overlooked over the years. In their day they were fairly popular box office draws, but ultimately dismissed as slapstick comedies.

Anyone who’s seen the two films knows better. While the opening hour of THREE MUSKETEERS is keen on sword fights, humor and scant bloodletting by the end of FOUR MUSKETEERS heroes have died, innocents sacrificed and one woman beheaded (by our heroes).

Humorously even these discs mark the disrespect the films continue to garner. The cover art looks generic and half-baked and Frank Finlay and Faye Dunaway’s names are misspelled on the (drab) back cover. Extra features are non-existent (there must be a making of featurette gathering dust somewhere) and for some reason the opening credits of THE FOUR MUSKETEERS are in French. And while AMC has recently shown the THREE MUSKETEERS in 1:85 letterbox format, on these discs they’re rendered at 1:66 and 1:33 respectively (according to who also mistakenly listed these PG features as Rated R).

My suggestion: get Criterion on board to get these babies done up right. Lester, a funny fellow in his own right, would be great for some director’s commentary, find that missing featurette, letterbox these properly and to promote the fact, re-release the films in theaters. And in the meantime check these out now and jump on the bandwagon.-- Paul Zimmerman

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