Thursday, May 16, 2013

In short: The Three Musketeers (1973) & The Four Musketeers (1974)

(I treat both films as one because there's really no good reason not to, seeing as they were filmed back to back and absolutely belong together).

It is always a dangerous proposition to visit one's childhood favourites again, particularly when those favourites are comedies like Richard Lester's version of Dumas's Three Musketeers. Once, most of us found farts inherently funny, and now - hopefully - we no longer do.

So it is a particular delight when one can watch movies like the ones at hand and come out with the feeling that one was a particularly clever gal or guy when one liked it, already of impeccable taste and with an eye for strangeness.

For strange Lester's film surely is: turning the romantic splendour of the previous versions of the story into a mixture of the comedic, the veracious, and the absurd with the help of "Flashman" writer George MacDonald Fraser does not sound the most - or even fourth-most - obvious way to go about another adaptation of Dumas's novels, but Lester and Fraser really pull it of. A large part of the films' charm is based on the way the often very broad humour and the greater than usual in a swashbuckler authenticity collide, showing off much of what is splendour in other versions of the tale as just as silly as the fashions and mores of our times will look a few hundred years on. The past, the films make clear, was another, quite muddy and rainy (even in undramatic moments), country where people lived and loved and dressed and acted like fools, and where France was overrun with people with - or at least pretending to have - various British accents who were totally unable to agree on a pronounciation of D'Artagnan.

The Three Musketeers could easily have drifted into the realm of deeply cynical deconstruction with this approach, but the film looks at its strange people and times with a look that is as much one of wide-eyed wonder and compassion as it is one of mockery, as if Lester and Fraser had begun with cool distance to their material but soon enough fallen in love with all its inner ironies, its unconscious naiveties, and its sense of adventure that transcends morals.

Add to this a cast of actors like Oliver Reed, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Faye Dunaway, Geraldine Chaplin, Christopher Lee, Michael York, Frank Finlay, Raquel Welch and Richard Chamberlain in a very good mood (well, Welch is absolutely dreadful and has zero comical timing, but that was to be expected), and Lester's hand for heroically ridiculous (or is it ridiculously heroic?) swashbuckling action, and you have a film I'm inordinately proud to already have loved as a little boy.

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