Case Number 19000


Lionsgate // 1973 // 214 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Jim Thomas // June 1st, 2010

The Charge

[The Three Musketeers come over a wintry hilltop and hear swordplay.]

Porthos: "Who on earth would fight in weather like this?"
Athos: "Only an idiot."
Aramis: "You mean there's a chance that D'Artagnan's involved?"

Opening Statement

A standard clause in SAG contracts specifies the number of movies being made. That clause exists because of the defendant. The initial plan was to make a four-hour version of The Three Musketeers, complete with an intermission; that's what the cast had been told, anyway. However, at some point -- whether it occurred during or after filming remains a matter of speculation -- producers Ilya and Alexander Salkind had an inspiration: One snip of the scissors, and they had two movies. There was even a perfect breaking spot halfway through, when the three musketeers become the four musketeers. The Salkinds decided to release them one after the other, retain the plot in all its glory, and, best of all, make twice as much money!

The cast didn't quite see it that way, particularly given the grueling twenty-four-week shoot (The only actor who didn't consider himself slighted was Charlton Heston, who had been well-paid for what was essentially an extended cameo). Bitterness ensued, recriminations were made, lawyers were engaged. Two things came out of the aftermath: the cast received additional compensation, and the aforementioned clause -- referred to as "the Salkind clause" because a contractual fixture.

Meanwhile, both movies were released to great acclaim. Their first DVD release came in 2003, in a nice Anchor Bay edition. The rights were recently transferred to Lionsgate, which is rereleasing the set. It is still "All for One and One for All," or does this double dip get consigned to the Bastille?

Facts of the Case

The Three Musketeers

It is the mid-seventeenth century, and young D'Artagnan (Michael York, Logan's Run) has just arrived in Paris from Gascony. Full of fire and ambition, he hopes to make a name for himself in the King's Musketeers.

D'Artagnan's ability to find trouble manifests itself in short order; within the span of a day, he has run afoul of Rochefort (Christopher Lee, The Curse of Frankenstein), the living blade of Cardinal Richelieu (Charlton Heston, Planet of the Apes), and found himself dueling first against, and then alongside, three musketeers cum reprobates: The brooding, haunted Athos (Oliver Reed, Gladiator), priest in waiting Aramis (Richard Chamberlain, Shogun), and the boisterous Porthos (Frank Finlay, The Pianist). As the three older soldiers attempt to mentor the youngster in the ways of the world, they find themselves caught up in a web of intrigue as Richelieu, Rochefort, and the treacherous Milady De Winter (Faye Dunaway, Network) plot to bring down Queen Anne (Geraldine Chaplin, Chaplin), the wife of the somewhat immature King Louis XIII (Jean-Pierre Cassel, Pret-a-Porter). Right in the middle of the whole mess is D'Artagnan's newfound love, Constance (Rachel Welch, Fantastic Voyage), Queen Anne's dressmaker. It will take a mad dash to England and back to save the Queen, with the cardinal's men hunting them every step of the way.

the three musketeers

The Four Musketeers

As the second film opens, a group of rebel Protestants have taken up arms against King Louis, with Queen Anne's lover, the Duke of Buckingham (Simon Ward, Hitler: The Last Ten Days), threatening to send aid to the rebels. With D'Artagnan newly appointed as a musketeer, our four gallants are off to war. However, Milady DeWinter, incensed that her plans were foiled, is out for revenge, even managing to enlist the support of Cardinal Richelieu. Once again, our heroes find themselves dodging assassins at every turn, culminating in a shattering, tragic climax and a swordfight for the ages.

the three musketeers

The Evidence

While these are two movies, they were conceived and filmed as a single film; accordingly, this review, apart from a few isolated comments, will treat them as a single film.

This is one of those rare instances in which all the pieces fell into place. To begin with, the screenplay by George MacDonald Fraser, author of the Flashman books, recognized the essentially lighthearted tone in Dumas' novel and enhanced that tone without straying into parody. Director Richard Lester (A Hard Day's Night) encouraged the actors to downplay the humor, making it more natural (for the most part).

The cast is, simply, magnificent. Each musketeer has a strong, distinct personality (compare that to the 1948 Gene Kelly version, in which Porthos and Aramis are all but nonexistent). Oliver Reed in particular stands out as the brooding Athos. Christopher Lee turns in another villainous performance, but here he has more charm and style than in other roles. Charlton Heston commands the screen as Richelieu; he isn't on the screen long, but his presence hangs over most of the movie. Special note must be made of Frank Finlay. Rewatching the film, I couldn't help but think that, by all rights, his performance is so over the top that it shouldn't work. However, Finlay plays it so straight, without any sort of tongue-in-cheek self-awareness, that it not only works, but works well, particular set against Athos' melancholia and Aramis' nonchalance.

the three musketeers

Then there are the fights. There may be more elaborate swordfights out there, what with all the wirework they're doing nowadays, but you won't find better, more realistic swordfights anywhere. Back in the 1650s, there was no Code Duello or any nonsense about proper form; swordfighting was brutal, physical business, and that exactly what you get here. Sword Master William Hobbs (who also choreographed the fights for Rob Roy) stages a wide range of fights, with the actors doing almost all their own fighting; almost all of them ended up with some scars. The amazing thing is that the fights don't blur together, but instead each has its own distinctive character. There are several classics, including a pitched battle in a laundry (in which the musketeers don't hesitate to fling a wet shirt into an opponent's face), a nighttime clash between D'Artagnan and Rochefort, both with a sword in one hand and a lamp in the other, a fight on a frozen lake, and of course, the climactic battle at a convent, culminating in a final showdown between D'Artagnan and Rochefort.

the three musketeers

While some of the fights have humorous aspects, the humor never overshadows the very real danger (a major failing of the 1993 Disney stinker, along with Chris O'Donnell's hair). The sight of Constance and Milady fighting in elaborate, cumbersome gowns is definitely amusing -- but one look at Milady's face and there's no doubt that she's out for blood.

Video is...acceptable. There is considerable grain, as well as a fair number of nicks and scratches. Images are sharp enough in closeups, but things get a little fuzzy as the camera pulls back. On the plus side, colors are surprisingly strong. The mono sound track, again, is merely good enough; dialog is clear, but the looped dialogue is poorly mixed. The music in particular needs some work -- it wasn't recorded very well in the first place. In short, this is a set that deserves a proper restoration; a remastered soundtrack, even just in stereo, would open up the film tremendously.

the three musketeers

The extras are slight, but good. There's a lot of older stuff -- trailers, picture gallery, and whatnot -- but the highlight is "The Saga of the Musketeers," a 50-minute documentary made for the 2003 Anchor Bay release. Michael York, Christopher Lee, Racquel Welch, Charlton Heston, and Frank Finlay are interviewed, along with producer Ilya Salkind and a few others. There's a wealth of material from preproduction (at one point, the Salkinds were considering casting The Beatles as the musketeers) through post-production and the aftermath of the splitting of the movies. My only real complaint about it is that I would have loved to hear from the other surviving cast members, and it would have been fascinating to hear what Hobbs could say regarding the fights.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

If you own the 2003 Anchor Bay release (The Complete Musketeers), don't even consider upgrading; this is the exact same set, down to the menus. It's a good set, technical issues notwithstanding, but there is so much that Lionsgate could have done to make the set better, either by restoring the film or by adding the 1989 follow-up, The Return of the Musketeers. Based on the Dumas novel Twenty Years After, this movie reunited most of the cast and crew, and while it isn't as good as the original movies, it would still complement them nicely. Hell, they could probably improve things by simply getting rid of the pan-and-scan versions and reducing the compression on the widescreen versions.

For the first film, composer Michel LeGrand had a mere ten days to score the film. Despite that insane deadline, his score is glorious, featuring cues that are by turn rousing, playful, and ominous. In comparison, Lalo Schifrin's score for the second film is generic and uninspired.

Finally, while the movie generally keeps the movie in check, there are a few instances in which it gets a bit too broad. It's more noticeable in the second film. The second movie's conclusion is also quite rushed, with an artificially jaunty mood (via a voiceover from Porthos) that clashes with the movie's darker tone.

Closing Statement

If you want to capture the essence of these two films, look no further than the concluding sequence of the first film, in which D'Artagnan finally becomes a musketeer. It's a masterfully edited sequence, highlighting the friendship, the intrigue, the romance, the humor, and the imminent danger, all set to a glorious musical cue.

The court has seen quite a few versions of The Three Musketeers, and this one is, hands down, the best -- even if it did take them two movies to do the story justice.

A new movie version is due out in 2011; it will be shot in 3D, and will feature, among others, Cristoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds) as Cardinal Richelieu and Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale) as Rochefort. I got all excited at those two casting choices, but then saw that Paul W. S. Anderson (Alien vs. Predator) is directing. Is there no God?!?!?!?!?!

The Verdict

You know that whole bit about justice being impartial? Screw it. I love these movies. Lionsgate gets a fortnight in the Bastille for not even attempting to spruce the set up, though.

Not guilty.

Review content copyright © 2010 Jim Thomas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Video: 85
Audio: 80
Extras: 85
Acting: 94
Story: 90
Judgment: 93

Perp Profile
Studio: Lionsgate
Video Formats:
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)

* None

Running Time: 214 Minutes
Release Year: 1973
MPAA Rating: Rated PG

Distinguishing Marks
* Featurettes
* TV and Radio Spots
* Image Gallery
* Bios

* IMDb: The Three Musketeers

* Wikipedia: The Three Musketeers

* IMDb: The Four Musketeers

* Wikipedia: The Four Musketeers