Appellate Judge James A. Stewart thinks this is the best TV serial based on a candy bar ever. Still, he hasn't seen the Canadian Mallo Cup series from the 1970s yet.
Our reviews of Literary Classics Collection (published April 5th, 2007), The Three Musketeers (2011) (Blu-ray) (published March 13th, 2012), and The Three Musketeers / The Four Musketeers (published June 1st, 2010) are also available.
"One for all, and all for one!"
Welcome to Paris 1626! You could be challenged to a duel or three by the King's Musketeers, or arrested by the Cardinal's men and taken to some secret prison. Better not have a fleur-de-lis on your back or you could lose your head, since it marks you as a criminal. Samantha Brown, if she'd been alive back then, would have been advising viewers to watch for ladies slipping poison from their rings into your cappuccino as you sit at the outdoor cafe. Take an antidote before you go.
Such was the backdrop for The Three Musketeers, the famous 1844 serial by Alexander Dumas Père. Numerous adaptations have been made of the story of D'Artagnan, the young man who meets up with three of the King's Musketeers as he hopes to join their ranks. In 1966, the BBC made its 10-part serial version of The Three Musketeers.
Facts of the Case
Actually, it's more like Three Musketeers and an Intern, since the trio is seen through the eyes of D'Artagnan (Jeremy Brett, Moll Flanders), who's training to join the Musketeers himself.
As the story begins, D'Artagnan's parents are sending him off to make his way in the world. His father has written a letter to commend him to M. De Treville in Paris, who commands the Musketeers. Soon, though, D'Artagnan stops at an inn and finds himself in a pitched battle. When he's recovered, he finds out that someone has made off with the letter. Undaunted, D'Artagnan approaches Treville anyway. While he's in Treville's quarters, he spies his antagonist from the inn through a window and sets out after him.
As D'Artagnan blunders through a courtyard filled with fencers, he manages to infuriate—and be challenged into duels by—three Musketeers. He loses his quarry, but arrives at the dueling grounds to find the three men together. It's a sorry state of affairs if you've got three duels scheduled and your opponents have to take turns acting as your second, but that's D'Artagnan's position. However, when the four duelists are approached by Cardinal Richelieu's men, who are angry that the four have violated the edict against dueling, they join together to, well, duel with the anti-dueling forces. I suppose the Cardinal's men made themselves feel better by calling this fight a melee, though. Anyway, the Three Musketeers—chocolate, caramel, and strawberry…no, um, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis—take D'Artagnan under their wings.
The villain of the piece is Cardinal Richelieu, the puppetmaster chief minister to the king who wants to control France himself. To gain the upper hand, Richelieu plots to catch the Queen in an affair with the Duke of Buckingham (Simon Oates, Jewels). To this end, he goes after Constance, the Queen's seamstress and confidante, who just happens to be married to D'Artagnan's landlord. Richelieu is aided by his cunning mistress, Milady De Winter (Mary Peach, Cutthroat Island).
You might not be able to find John Wayne's 1933 serial of The Three Musketeers, but the BBC's version plays like the classic theatrical cliffhangers. The story is full of well-choreographed swordfights and action scenes (even if you can tell the swords aren't hitting their targets), and there's always a tense scene with which to end a 24-minute episode.
The acting, alas, has the rough spots you'd expect in a low-budget Republic serial. When you see Jeremy Brett as D'Artagnan reacting dramatically to the gift of a horse from his father, creating a pause in the action, you'll get the idea. His wailing might get on your nerves after a while. The three actors—Brian Blessed, Jeremy Young, and Gary Watson—playing the Musketeers are decent but forgettable in wigs and questionable beards. A few scenes like the one in which all three challenge D'Artagnan to duels raise the question of whether they're playing it straight or with tongue in cheek, since the situations can be comically absurd.
Standing out, though, is Mary Peach as the evil Milady de Winter. Her smile is amazing, since it oozes warmth to other characters and sinister intent to the audience, and is credible on both fronts. Watch as she tries to orchestrate a duel between her brother and D'Artagnan, hoping to get her brother's fortune while revenging herself on Richelieu's foe. She is always portrayed as evil here, but you can see that in her mind, she is the noble seeker of vengeance like the Count of Monte Cristo. Her style of overacting would fit well into a prime-time TV soap of days gone by like Dallas or Dynasty.
The production appears to be a mix of videotaped interiors and filmed exterior inserts, common for British TV in the 1960s. The black-and-white picture suffers from the fading, lines, and dots that you'd expect. The stereo sound does a decent job with the pounding classical-style score, taking listeners back to those thrilling days of yesteryear with a theme not unlike "The William Tell Overture" or "Mars: Bringer of War."
No extras here, not even closed captioning.
By the way, adultery plays a role in many of the plot twists, so you won't want to screen this one for the kids, even if there's no actual sex, just wailing about it.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I haven't seen 'em all, but I'm sure you'll find better versions of The Three Musketeers on DVD, since overacting is as abundant as the swordfights. Still, it can be fun.
While you wouldn't want to live there, 1626 Paris is a nice place to visit through the magic of DVDs, even in a serial that's mostly soundstage interiors.
If you're in the mood for an old-time movie serial, this version of The Three Musketeers fits the bill decently. Otherwise the guilt of the hammy acting and some aged film might be an overwhelming case.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Koch Vision
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