Wednesday, 30 September 2015

The Three Musketeers (1948)

There have been many many film versions of this classic tale by French author Alexandre Dumas, the earliest dating back as far as 1903. This MGM production is probably one of the most remembered adaptations alongside the Doug Fairbanks 1921, black and white silent film.

As I'm sure you all know, the tale follows a young D'Artagnan (Gene Kelly) as he travels to Paris so he can attempt to become a Musketeer for the King, the King's elite guard or soldier. On his journeys in Paris he bumps into the famous trio of Musketeers one by one and ends up challenging them. Of course after some swordplay and fisticuffs with Cardinal Richelieu's men they all become firm friends. What follows are the various missions and scrapes the foursome get into trying to stop Richelieu tricking the King of France into war with Great Britain. This involves racing to England to retrieve some precious jewels the Queen of France gave away to the English Prime Minister, the Duke of Buckingham. D'Artagnan avoiding Richelieu's temptations of becoming one of his guards whilst trying to find his love Constance, who has been abducted by Richelieu in order to bribe him into his service. All the while trying to also avoid the temptations of Milady de Winter who eventually tries to assassinate the young cocky Musketeer.

There is obviously a little more to it than that but I really don't think I need to explain this well known story. Would it be a bit bold of me to claim this is the Gene Kelly version of the tale? that Kelly is the only reason to watch this movie? Well ya of course, because he isn't the sole driving force here, although I will admit I thought he would be. But there is no doubt Kelly is the main attraction with this movie, star power wise. Knowing how athletic and likable the guy is its hard not to think this. On this front you are not disappointed, Kelly leaps and bounds around the fake sets like a grasshopper on a sugar rush. Even today its still impressive how awesome and daring he was when it came to stunts. I presume he did the stunts anyway, hard to tell but I'm pretty sure he did. Of course all this might come across as a tad quaint these days but remember everything you see is real, the balancing acts, the leaps, the rolls, the rope swinging and of course the frenetic sword fighting.

There is one long shot where D'Artagnan arrives at a small house, jumps onto a stone wall, then jumps onto the water-wheel, rides it until he is able to jump onto a tree branch with a bit of acrobatics, and finally swings into the house through the top window. OK there is a small cut before he jumps through the window so we can see a reaction shot from Kelly, but its still a perfect example of how fit, fearless and audacious these guys were. Admittedly I'm not sure it was all Kelly, but still impressive, as he swung through the window the camera followed right behind him, great shot.

To this degree everybody is impressive, the stunt guys take their hits well and thrown themselves across tables like pros. All the main cast do join in on the fights but the focus is often clearly on Kelly who revels in the danger. Most of the cast I am unaware of I will be honest but the inclusion of Vincent Price as Richelieu was genius casting, I don't even have to tell you how good he is in this evil sinister role. In all honesty the only other cast member I knew of was Angela Lansbury as Queen Anne (a smallish role), one of the first times I've actually seen her as a young woman!

Talking about the action, it was very clear to me how much this movie influenced following adaptations. Watching the sword fighting sequences, it dawned on me how similar these sequences appeared to Richard Lester's 1973/1974 movies. I thought to myself, have I seen this before? this style all looks very familiar. Watching the direction, pace and general visual appearance of these sequences at every turn, I am sure Lester copied this movie. I realise both movies are covering the same story so similarities are bound to happen but seriously, I was really shocked at how similar this movie and Lester's movies are when it came to the fight scenes. The actors even seem to move in the same way, as though they had been trained by the same guy.

What I did find slightly amusing was something I actually found out whilst watching a Bluray extra about another classic movie (an Errol Flynn one). Apparently, back in those days they used to paint the scenery so it looked perfect, in other words if the grass wasn't green enough, or the trees weren't red enough, they would spray paint them to get the desired effect. This is so so obvious watching this movie, most of the limited use of actual real outdoor locations (California) are so vividly coloured, overly so. They even, clearly, coloured the water for one small scene, it looks quite toxic actually, not right at all.

As for the sets, well they are undeniably lavish and gorgeous looking as were all sets back then. Whether or not everything is period accurate I don't know, but it sure as hell looks good and authentic to me. Most royal rooms look suitably regal and exquisite, dripping in bold colours and coats of arms. The regular peasant abodes are your standard Tudor-esque/olde worlde English pub look with timber frames, interior timber beams, lots of used candles and cozy open fires galore. Exterior sets are quite realistic looking to a degree, you can tell they are sets but they are charming without a doubt, everything looks so whimsical and angelic. Naturally the costumes and props are all just as glorious as everything else, bright, bold, colourful, and with a hint of pantomime about it all. I should also add that the Musketeer attire (the blue sash) looks almost identical to the Musketeer attire in Lester's movies.

Visually its very pleasing to the eye, I think most would agree with that and would have guessed that from the start. The issue I had was the pacing, it tended to become rather dull when there wasn't any sword fighting going on, a bit smoochy in places, lots of exposition. Then at times things whizz by very quickly, one minute we're in France, then at sea, then England, then back in France, characters zoom about the countryside quicker than you can say fromage. The sequences showing us France at war with Great Britain are basically a few shots of a small group of soldiers on a dark, rainy set which lasts less than a minute.

This is a hard one to judge really, I did enjoy it, but not as much as I had hoped for. I'll be honest, the light-hearted comedy actually let it down for me, it was too stupid, too slapsticky, and seeing Kelly mug for the camera was kinda lame. To be frank I don't think Kelly was the best choice for the leading role, sure he's got the athletic ability, but he hasn't quite got the acting chops, and his comic timing is hokey. The other three Musketeer actors were much better than Kelly, in fact everyone was much better than Kelly, Kelly was too much of a clown (forgive me!). I just didn't get a real rush from anything on screen, I didn't really feel emotionally engaged or intrigued because the movie is a bit too lovey dovey and fanciful. I had a feeling it would be of course, seeing as Kelly was in the lead role. Thusly my favourite Musketeer movie/s must still remain the two Richard Lester epics (not counting the third).