Thursday, July 21, 2011


Next to pirates and Robin Hood, one of my absolute favorite swashbuckling properties is The Three Musketeers. I just about went nuts when I heard that Shakespeare Santa Cruz will be mounting a live-acton production of the Akexandre Dumas classic this summer—outdoors in the Redwood Glen, yet! Consider the possibilities for dueling, romance, and general rollicking. I can't wait!

The show opens this Saturday, but in the meantime, let's get in the mood by revisiting some previous incarnations of this durable tale. First and best, of course, is the book, which I devoured in college about the time the Richard Lester movie came out (see below). Written in 1844 and originally published as a magazine serial, the novel is set in the court of Louis XIII. The exploits of the upstart young Gascon, D'Artagnan, and his initiation into the ranks of the King's Musketeers explode across the page with swordplay, wit, honor, pathos, hairsbreadth escapes, illicit trysts, and excellent food and wine (as only a Frenchman could describe them). For all its dramatic and tragic plotlines, it's also a very funny book, highly recommended.

For my money, the adaptation that most closely captures the joie de vivre of the original is Richard Lester's 1974 film, The Three Musketeers. It's a delirious take on Dumas, bursting with fabulous costumes, excellent swordfighting, kinetic slapstick comedy (don't forget, Lester directed the first two Beatles movies), and buoyant camaraderie. Michael York makes a stalwart D'Artagnan, and the great Oliver Reed is a brooding Athos; Richard Chamberlain, at his prettiest, is the romantic Aramis, and Frank Finlay provides comic relief as fussy epicure Porthos. Raquel Welch proves herself an adept comedienne as Constance, the queen's lady-in-waiting (and D'Artagnan's beloved), who involves the swordsmen in palace intrigue. Charlton Heston and Faye Dunaway are terrific villains as scheming Cardinal Richelieu and his accomplice, Milady De Winter.

(A so-called sequel, The Four Musketeers, came out in 1975, but both were shot together, intended to be a single film. When the running time soared to three hours, the footage was chopped into two films, but watch both films together to get Dumas' whole story.)

It's not a singing-dancing role, but Gene Kelly in his prime makes an impossibly athletic, charmingly naive, and thoroughly stout-hearted D'Artagnan in the lavish, 1948 MGM version of The Three Musketeers. All-American June Allyson, however, is severely miscast as Constance (just look at her '40s page-boy hair-do!), and Ven Heflin, Robert Coote and an embryonic Gig Young play the Musketeers with varying degrees of success.

But Lana Turner is an interesting femme fatale as Milady DeWinter, and Vincent Price makes a fine and ruthless Cardinal Richelieu. Well worth seeing for its rich Technicolor cinematography and Kelly's outrageous acrobatics.

In The Man In the Iron Mask (1998), it's a great treat to see savvy screen veterans Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich, Gerard Depardieu, and Gabriel Byrne as Aramis, Athos, Porthos and D'Artagnan in the autumn of their lives. Leonardo DiCaprio is fun too, in the dual role of bratty young King Louis XIV and his mysterious, noble-hearted double, the masked prisoner who becomes the catalyst for the aging Musketeers' last adventure together. Writer-director Randall Wallace (Braveheart) overdoes the comic buffoonery a bit, but he constructs his story with economy and care, and the finale packs an emotional touché. Byrne is wonderful as a haunted and poignant D'Artagnan, but the entire terrific ensemble brings these familiar characters exuberantly to life in this rich adaptation of the last of Dumas' three Musketeer novels.

I'm also looking forward to a new version of The Three Musketeers due onscreen this coming October. Logan Lerman seems a bit young, even for D'Artagnan, but I love the idea of Matthew Macfadyen (Darcy in the most recent Pride and Prejudice) as Athos, and Luke Evans (the sexy handyman in Tamara Drewe) as Aramis. Not to mention the deliciously sinister Christoph Waltz as Richelieu.

This is not a comprehensive list, by any means. The less said about Peter Hyams' 2001 The Musketeer, the better, with its unfortunate attempt to graft trendy Hong Kong action-style stunts onto a western swashbuckler, and its ineffectual puppy of a DArtagnan (Justin Chambers). I opted out of ever watching the 1939 Three Musketeers starring (shudder) Don Ameche and the Ritz Brothers. Ditto the 1993 update with Chris O'Donnell, Charlie Sheen, Kiefer Sutherland, and Oliver Platt. (Young Swords, anyone?) (Although I have heard good report of Tim Curry as Cardinal Richelieu.) Barbie and the Three Musketeers? Oh, please.

But I must admit, I'm curious about the 1939 version of The Man in the Iron Mask directed by that great moody stylist, James Whale (Frankenstein). I'll try to catch up with it one of these days, and let you know.

Meanwhile, sharpen your blades and cock your hats, and I'll see you in the Glen!

No comments:

Post a Comment