While it’s not often you get two for the price of one, this wasn’t supposed to be the case with these films. You see, when the two of them were shot simultaneously, there was only supposed to be one film, as that’s all the actors’ contracts stated, and their pay was based upon that. Then, at some point either before, during, or after filming, a decision was made to split the story into two halves, these ‘halves’ typically called “movies” as they were released a year apart (or 18 months apart in the case of the UK). “Let’s not bother telling the actors, as they’re all busy doing other films now, and have enough to worry about already, the poor dears.” It was at this point, according to my dear friend John Llewellyn Probert (who told me that I should see these, as it was his favourite adaptation of the stories), “legal hilarity ensued”, with the result of the actors winning, albeit not receiving as much money as they would have if they were paid separately for both films. The result is that now producers must state in advance how many films are being shot as part of the contract wording, something which is referred to as “the Salkind Clause” in honour of the producing father-and-son team Alexander and Ilya Salkind named in the suit. I know of at least one actor’s contract for The Hobbit which has them contracted for three instalments, probably as a way of “covering all eventualities”, based solely on Peter Jackson’s habit of shooting films of incredible length and making them damned good as well.
Well, that’s a lot of information to explain why there are two films, isn’t it? Do you need a lie down now? I might, actually. What about a glass of something, or some tea? Can I get you a sandwich perhaps? No? ‘Head straight to the films, please’, you say? Right then!
While I’ve read all of The Count of Monte Cristo, I admit that I’ve not read the source material of The Three Musketeers, or Twenty Years After, or even The Vicomte of Bragelonne: Ten Years Later (which I suspect wasn’t included in the plot of either of these films, although its details seem so similar to some of the first two stories’ it’s tough to tell, really).
These are daft, sillly, and damned fun. Everything you could want from a film about these characters is here: bawdy humour, oodles of swordplay, lovably ill-behaved heroes, and enthusiasm about everything good in life: rescuing people, serving your sworn ruler, romance, food, wine, love, and waving a rapier around as often as possible. If, during the films, you feel like shouting Huzzah! or similar terms, I think that’s just fine as well, if not outright recommended.
The title sequence for the first film is incredible, showing us a swordsman’s moves in a pseudo-stop-motion effect and electric blue colour, predating both The Matrix or Tron. While stylish and magnificent, the tone is far more apt to a film of an art-house than what we get. Both approaches are appropriate to the material, and both are very well done, it’s just a bit of a confusion to the viewer who is now expecting a “Great Work of Serious Art” rather than what they get: a “Great Work of Dedicated Romp”. Again, let me say that both the title sequence and the film are exceedingly good, it’s just they don’t quite match each other.
The bodies of the two films – or, more appropriately, the “bawdies” of them – are filled to the rim with slapstick fun, much of which involves that wonderful symbolic use of “extra-long loaves of bread and bombs” as representing “phallus and testes” way they do so well. Swashbuckling fun for all! *
The cast is made-up of a “who’s who in early-’70s cinema’, with the evil Rochefort played to ever-so-oily perfection by Christopher Lee; M. Bonacieux, d’Artagnan’s landlord, is performed with energetic glee by Spike Milligan (and we see nothing of him in the second film, which is a damned shame), and his wife Constance de Bonancieux, the Queen’s Seamstress (but who also seems to be her confidant and adviser at times) by Raquel Welch; and the scheming Milady de Winter by an incredibly stunning Faye Dunaway. Rounding out the cast of other characters are a host of others literally too numerous to mention.
One who deserves special note by myself is Charlton Heston as incredibly refined and restrained Cardinal Richelieu, thus proving my point about his work being uncontrollable being ill-considered. Considering the complete lack of restraint by most of the cast when going over-the-top with slapstick a-plenty, it would have been easy for him to fall in line with the others (although I’m not sure how it would have been appropriate to his character, frankly). Thus, my earlier comment about his work being uniformly of the “lookit me! LOOKITME!” sort was obviously too hasty. While I doubt I’ll see much more of his œuvre, I’ll not be approaching it with the same expectation or resistance I might have before finally seeing these films.
There’s some frankly bad sound dubbing in these due to the “shoot pictures first, record audio later” approach to things, but it being the style of the time it’s not too bad in the circumstances. The first film doesn’t allow too much in the way of character development, but there’s an awful lot of characters to simply get introduced here, so there’s little time left to develop any of them as a result; this is left to the intricacies of the second film, which was known as “The Four Musketeers: Milady’s Revenge” in the USA, and variants of it in France, West Germany, Brazil, Italy, Greece, and in Hungary’s ‘long title’. It would seem that the Lady de Winter has a secret and is happy to take revenge upon a few others while she’s keeping the status of that secret. INTRIGUE!
The camera-work for this is uniformly good, if a tad uniformly wide but, given the amount of the sword-waving and running-about going-on inside the frame, it’s certainly justified. The stock used seems a tad grainy but, again, the requirements of detail in night and shadowed scenes, couple with the amount of running around needing some extra depth of field means little else is possible for use.
The story, had it been shoved into one film of about 2⁄3 the length of the two of these combined, would be too much detail to handle. director Richard Lester was wise to split them into two film, thus allowing the narrative to have sufficient elbow-room for the silliness and action that makes both of the films work so very well. He was, on the other hand, damned stupid on a contractual basis to have done it. Re-negotiating with the cast afterwards would have been not only have been intelligent a choice on a legal standpoint, it would have simply been the right thing to have done.
If you see these available for your viewing pleasure, rest assured it will be one.
The Three Musketeers (1973) & The Four Musketeers (1974)
an Alexander, Michael and Ilya Salkind Production for
Este Films and Film Trust S.A.
Directed by Richard Lester
Written from the novel by Alexandre Dumas père
with a screenplay by George MacDonald Fraser
Trailer for The Three Musketeers (1973)
Trailer for The Four Musketeers (1974)
* NOTE: the author of this post is well aware of what a buckler actually is, and will not be making any jokes based on “buckling a swash”, as this would be wrong. More apt would be to “swash a buckler” which is, in fact, where “swash buckling” comes from. So belt-up. [ RETURN ]