The Four Musketeers
directed by Richard Lester
(20th Century Fox, 1974)

Where The Three Musketeers was dominated by swashbuckling hilarity, Four finds the wit overshadowed by touches of tragedy.

The four musketeers -- Athos (Oliver Reed), Aramis (Richard Chamberlain), Porthos (Frank Finlay) and young D'Artagnan (Michael York) -- are still the grand heroes of legend, whose bravery and skill always win out despite overwhelming odds. Well ... almost always. For Four doesn't show them always winning the day, and people die whom they meant to save. One might argue their state is worse, not better, by film's end, but they're still alive and in fairly good circumstances, which beats the alternative planned for them by the conniving Cardinal Richelieu (Charlton Heston) and his lackeys, the swordsman Rochefort (Christopher Lee) and the seductress/assassin Milady de Winter (Faye Dunaway).

There are priceless scenes in this film, such as the duel on ice and the musketeers' picnic on an enemy's bastion. The climactic battle between Rochefort's men and the musketeers is also prime choreography.

Some members of the previous film return in their roles but have relatively little to do this time around. Among them, D'Artagnan's mistress Constance (Raquel Welch), King Louis XIII (Jean-Pierre Cassel), Queen Anne (Geraldine Chaplin) and the English Duke of Buckingham (Simon Ward). D'Artagnan's servant, the comic Planchet (Roy Kinnear) also has relatively little screen time, but it's time well spent.

There is a shadow over this film, which was apparently made under some false pretenses. At least, cast members did win a suit against director Richard Lester after the one film they thought they were making was released as two ... but the rift was not so great that it prevented most of the actors from returning to their roles 15 years later for a reunion film.

Still, The Four Musketeers, like its predecessor, holds up as a fun movie to pass a lazy afternoon.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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