The Three Musketeers
directed by Richard Lester
(20th Century Fox, 1973)

Anyone who thinks Disney's 1993 remake of The Three Musketeers was a spoof may be surprised to learn that the definitive 1973 version, directed by Richard Lester, is every bit as funny. A strong tale, lush costumes and settings, expert fight choreography by the eminent William Hobbs, and an incredible cast of stars make this a keeper even decades after its release.

Michael York is the central figure in this dramatic comedy. He is D'Artagnan, a blundering young swordsman hoping through dueling to earn a place among the royal musketeers of 17th-century France's King Louis XIII (Jean-Pierre Cassel). But his road is never easy, even after befriending the heroic Three: Athos (Oliver Reed), Aramis (Richard Chamberlain) and Porthos (Frank Finlay), all of whom bring a rough-hewn bravado to the roles. These aren't spotless, flawless heroes by any stretch; they bumble, they grumble, they bicker and steal. And, of course, they always win.

D'Artagnan is drawn into intrigue, first by falling in love with the wife of his landlord, the old and oafish Bonancieux (Spike Milligan). Madame Bonancieux (a gorgeous, if clumsy Raquel Welch) is a dressmaker to Queen Anne (Geraldine Chaplin), and she is also the queen's confidante in the matter of her secret love for England's gallant Duke of Buckingham (Simon Ward). When the queen's honor may be comprised through the machinations of the sinister Cardinal Richelieu (Charlton Heston), D'Artagnan attempts to save the day despite the best efforts of the cardinal's minions, the one-eyed swordsman Rochefort (Christopher Lee) and the beautiful temptress Milady de Winter (Faye Dunaway). The young hero is of course aided by his three allies and lucky, plucky servant Planchet (Roy Kinnear).

It's a sterling cast, and they approach the material with a brilliant mix of sobriety and silliness. Dramatic duels blend with chaotic slapstick and pratfalls and, oddly, it all manages to fit together without awkwardness. The story could be tighter, but overall this is a winner which is undimmed by time.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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