Monday, 20 May 2013

The Three Musketeers (US/UK 1973)

Probably the best version of the classic historic adventure by Dumas and directed by the controversial Richard Lester. Controversial you say? why yes, not only was he brought on board to radically change (reshoot) the already half made 1980's 'Superman II' without current director Donner knowing anything about it. He also made this film in its entirety but upon realising he had tonnes of filmed  material he decided to split the film in two, thus creating the sequel and upsetting his entire cast.

A few things jump out at you straight away with this film. Firstly the visuals are pretty darn good, very epic, very lavish and very grandiose (need more epic-like words). Filmed mostly on location within Spain (I believe) everything has really been given an extremely rustic classical style that looks exactly as it should for this 17th Century adventure. It looks as if real historical/heritage buildings have been used for various locations in the story which really does give a sense of realism to the film. Add to this a full wave of near perfect looking costumes, wigs, props, weapons, sets, carriages, plenty of beautiful horses etc...the effort, craftsmanship and love put in is clearly visible.

Secondly the action and swashbuckling. This production is like a stuntman's bible, it virtually has everything you could want in an old fashioned romp. Scaling towering heights, riding horses at full charge, jumping onto moving horses, jumping from heights, devilishly dangerous swordplay, large scale multiple battles, gymnastics, acrobatics etc...there is no CGI, no tricks and no bluescreen, this is all the real deal just like in the good old days of Errol Flynn. The film is chock full of daring action but at no point do you ever see any blood, gore or even death really (not much). Its all edited and acted in a way that everyone can enjoy without getting upset, this is one reason the film is such a joy.

Thirdly the humour. This is something Lester masters so well for this series, some may say the humour is childish...and they would be right, it is. There are a lot of pratfalls, slapstick, silly visual gags, silly dialog etc...many of the stunts are pratfalls really, daring but purely for laughs. Much of the amusement actually comes from dubbed voice work added on later in production. All the time you hear funny little bits of dialog which are clearly dubbed in (no one has tried to hide that fact) coming from the background, supposedly the background characters. Usually very silly simple babyish comments, typically British Carry On type humour that adds a whole other dimension to the film.

Lastly the cast. Oh boy the cast, its like one of Hollywood's old silver screen classics where they have jammed in as many star names as possible. The film is epic and the casting is just as epic. An international mix of all star players await you here. The four Musketeers are played by the stoic and reliable Oliver Reed who fits the drunken role of Athos to a tee, Frank Finlay as the portly buffoon-like Porthos, Chamberlain as the slim athletic Aramis and a very young skinny York as d'Artagnan. All four are absolutely superb in their roles and I have never seen another person play them as well. What I like is the fact they're not muscle bound pretty boy sex icons, they look very regular, scruffy and laboured yet at the same time they all have that perfect aristocratic sense about them which fits the period beautifully.

The rest of the cast is so blindingly good its just scary, Christopher Lee is caddish to the hilt as Count De Rochefort, almost like a live action Dick Dastardly. Heston plays Cardinal Richelieu with the manly presence he was known for and Dunaway is like a black widow spider and strikingly beautiful in her white period dresses as Milady de Winter. But then you have smaller roles that are just as good if not better! who can forget old Roy Kinnear as the bumbling Planchet giving us such brilliantly funny physical comedy and Simon Ward as the Duke of Buckingham, this guy looks so good in his getup its like he was zapped in a time machine from the 17th Century! Its all in the facial hair.

This is old time film making right here folks, the whole approach is grand in scale and highly impressive to watch. The way Lester went about this as a kind of Chaplin-like comedy, historically accurate in appearance and high on heroic, flamboyant, Fairbanks-esque daredevilry deserves much kudos and respect. The fact he pulled this off is even more impressive! I'm sure to read this on paper you could be forgiven for thinking it wouldn't work.

This first chapter in the trilogy leaves you gagging for the sequel (even though there wasn't suppose to be one but anyway...), a rip roaring start that puts many modern films to shame.