Sony // 1979 // 104 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Bill Treadway (Retired) // November 4th, 2004
Pure adventure is back for the fun of it!
For the past twenty years, D'Artagnan (Cornel Wilde, The Naked Prey) and his Musketeer pals Athos (Jose Ferrer, I Accuse!), Porthos (Alan Hale, Jr., Gilligan's Island), and Aramis (Lloyd Bridges, Airplane!) have raised young Phillippe (Beau Bridges, The Fabulous Baker Boys) in the confines of the forest with the knowledge of Colbert (Rex Harrison, My Fair Lady). One fateful day, Phillippe is seized from the Musketeers and imprisoned in the Bastille. Unbeknownst to him, his twin brother, King Louis XIV (also Bridges), has decided to use his twin as an assassin's target while receiving his Spanish bride.
The 5th Musketeer is based in part on the Alexandre Dumas novel The Man in the Iron Mask. The finished film retains the characters and a few key plot points from the Dumas novel. Sadly, however, it pretty much jettisons the flavor and tone of Dumas in favor of the more comedic approach that Richard Lester took with his two 1970s Musketeer films. I still fail to understand why most Dumas adaptations choose to take a comical tone. The original novels were more political and pointed in tone while retaining exciting action set pieces. A wholly faithful adaptation could make a fine film. As a matter of fact, such a film already exists: The Mask of Dumas (1999), adapted and directed by William Richert, director of Winter Kills.
However, one must judge a film like this on whether or not it succeeds as entertainment. To be honest, one could do worse than check out The 5th Musketeer. It is a robust, energetic entertainment that manages to keep the viewer involved for most of the running time. Filmed in 1977 but released two years later, The 5th Musketeer has two serious flaws but manages to get by on charm and whimsy.
The first serious flaw lies in the casting. The international cast as a whole is a mixed bag; some roles are well cast while others are less than convincing. Cornel Wilde and Jose Ferrer are convincing and authentic as D'Artagnan and Athos, but Lloyd Bridges and Alan Hale, Jr. are simply present for the comic aspects of the story. I hate to say it, but they almost seem too American for the roles. What works in their favor is the breezy charm and humor they give their performances. It goes a long way in this film. Beau Bridges is excellent in his dual role as the foppish Louis and brave Phillippe; he is the best thing about the picture. Rex Harrison has so little screen time that it is hard to see any semblance of a performance. It does appear that he had a good time, though. The weakest element of the casting lies in the two female leads. While Ursula Andress and Sylvia Kristel are stunningly beautiful, they cannot act their way out of a paper bag. Dumas wrote well-rounded characters that had real emotions. Here the women are essentially eye candy, and that is no good.
The second serious flaw is in the screenplay itself, which is credited to David Ambrose, "based on the novel The Man in the Iron Mask by Alexandre Dumas and a screenplay by George Bruce." The unevenness and lack of structure suggest that this was a troubled production, as do the sudden shifts in tone. On the basis of the finished film, I suspect that Bruce's original screenplay was a more serious, sober affair but was rewritten by Ambrose as a comedy after Richard Lester's Musketeer films became huge international successes. The film begins as a light comedy, then switches to serious action and keeps changing with no letup. The last third is wall-to-wall action, during which some of the Dumas novel resurfaces. The set pieces are well done but seem out of place in comparison to the rest of the film. The script also lacks focus, weaving several story threads together with little or no setup.
Columbia presents The 5th Musketeer in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The image has been anamorphically enhanced. Video transfers have been an Achilles heel for Columbia in the past, but I am happy to report that this is one of their best efforts to date. With the recent Castle Keep controversy still fresh in my mind, I am grateful to have the film in widescreen. The overall quality of the transfer is excellent. Colors are bold and natural looking, a great improvement over the washed-out look on prior VHS releases. With the exception of a few scenes, grain is extremely light. There are very few blemishes present, other than a scant few specks and scratches. This is probably the best The 5th Musketeer has ever looked
Audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono. It is the usual mono mix, no better or worse than many catalog items. There are no serious defects or imperfections. The sound is clean and crisp, and you can understand the dialogue.
Extras are confined to several theatrical trailers. Columbia stays true to form by not including the original trailer of the feature presentation. What else is new?
I really cannot recommend The 5th Musketeer for a purchase. It is too unfocused and messy to bear repeat visits in the future. If you are a Dumas buff, you'll be put off by the massive changes made to the original story. Those who adore the three Lester films will probably like this film. A rental is the best way to go. However, if you want to see a great Musketeers film, get a copy of William Richert's The Mask of Dumas. You can order the VHS via his website, a link to which I have included here. A DVD release of his film is imminent, and a review will certainly be forthcoming. Watch it and see how well this story can be told.
Review content copyright © 2004 Bill Treadway; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 104 Minutes
Release Year: 1979
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Theatrical Trailers
* William Richert Site