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Posted on Oct 13, 2015 by | 0 comments

The Three Musketeers is Richard Lester’s first movie in his trilogy of Dumas adaptations. More camp than adventure film, Lester’s movie has more in common with his own movies starring the Beatles than previous adaptations of Dumas’ Musketeers stories. In fact, Lester originally planned for this adaptation to be a vehicle for The Beatles. For whatever reason that fell through and Lester cast Michael York, Oliver Reed, Frank Finlay, and Richard Chamberlain as the Musketeers. And of course we have Sir Christopher Lee (the underlying reason for this post being written and posted on WTLE) as Count De Rochefort. Unfortunately, Lee isn’t given much to do in this movie aside from being d’Artagnan’s nemesis.

The movie begins with d’Artagnan’s quest to become a Musketeer after leaving his rural home. Upon arriving in Paris, he makes a series of faux-pas which then leads to three duels with each of the Musketeers. The duels are interrupted by the Cardinal Richelieu’s (Charleton Heston’s) guards who attack the Musketeers. d’Artagnan comes to their aid and informally hooks up with them.

The rest of the movie proceeds through a series of sight-gags and sexual jokes involving the Queen of France (Geraldine Chaplin), Milady de Winter (Faye Dunaway), and Constance Bonacieux (Raquel Welch). de Winter works for the Cardinal and flirts occasionally with de Rochefort while appears to be attracted to d’Artagnan. Constance is married to a horny blacksmith but is in love with d’Artagnan and sends him on a quest to find the diamond necklace in London so the Queen doesn’t get in trouble from her husband for losing it.

Even though Lester has made this into a camp exercise, the period detail and cinematography are quite top-knotch compared to previous adaptations. The movie was photographed in Spain and the cinematographer — David Watkins — paid special attention to period detail. Furthermore, the fight scenes were choreographed by a swordsman named William Hobbs to give them an extra dose of verisimilitude. The expert choreography is used to make the sight-gags and silly jokes all the more pronounced when they appear.

Lester tries to make some politically subversive moments a la Pasolini’s Western European literature adaptations (i.e. The Decameron (1971), The Canterbury Tales (1971), Salo, or the 120 Days of Salom. (For example, in one scene the King watches a large chess game being played by domestic animals. The spectators of the event are are sleeping in their seats. In another scene we see the King eat a bite of some dessert only to through the rest away without any feelings of guilt for being a glutton. In another scene the King and the Cardinal nonchalantly walk through a hallway full of men in torture bird cages.

Unfortunately, the story only goes so far in this first movie. Originally, Lester and the Salkind’s planned to fit the entire plot of the first novel into one feature length movie but soon realized they couldn’t. The Salkind decided to shoot all of the footage and then break it into two releases. This pissed off the actors and crew members who were getting paid for one job not two and resulted in a squabble with the producers. This issue was resolved but it resulted in the creation of what is now know as the “Salkind Clause” which was issued by the Screen Actors Guild. The clause stipulated that the contract for one production cannot extend into work for another movie even if it is part of a franchise. So we have the Salkind’s not so crafty attempt to exploit their poor workers for progressive labor laws in Hollywood and European movie production.

Back to the Sir Lee factor. De Rochefort and d’Artagnan have an extremely love-hate relationship in the Dumas novels. They begin as enemies but eventually are forced to work together as ordered by the Cardinal. Over time they become good friends. Rochefort is then sent to the Bastille for many years and then joins the Frondeurs only to be accidentally killed by his old friend in battle. We see only a glimpse of this character and his stroy with d’Artagnan in Lester’s first Musketeers movie. However, Lee reprises his role in The Four Musketeers (1974) and The Return of the Musketeers (1989).

Cody Lang
Avid film watcher, film critic, and amateur film maker. Currently working on a book of film criticism dealing with American neo-noir in the seventies
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