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Paul W.S. Anderson
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A parodic remake of the story of the young Gascon D'Artagnan, who arrives in Paris, his heart set on joining the king's Musketeers. He is taken under the wings of three of the most respected and feared Musketeers, Porthos, Aramis, and Athos. Together they fight to save France and the honor of a lady from the machinations of the powerful Cardinal Richelieu. Written by
Jim Beaver <email@example.com>
The movie has charm...but how well you like it may depend on how well you like the Ritz Brothers
Darryl Zanuck does to The Three Musketeers what Mr. Joyboy does to the loved ones at Whispering Glades Mortuary. They sure look well groomed and well cared for, but I wouldn't want to embrace them enthusiastically. They're just a little...well, stiff. The story goes that Zanuck in 1939 thought the time was right for a movie full of laughs, slapstick and songs, all done on the cheap but looking good. What else could have come to Zanuck's mind than Dumas' The Three Musketeers, especially since there were no rights to pay for. There's still the skeleton of the story. The Queen of France (Gloria Stuart) has given an emerald brooch to the Duke of Buckingham as a remembrance token. Cardinal Richelieu (Miles Mander) discovers this and sets up a nasty surprise for her which will ensure his power over the King. But that young man from Gascony who is eager to become a King's Musketeer, D'Artagnan (Don Ameche), learns of the plot while falling in love with one of the Queen's attendants, Lady Constance (Pauline Moore). He enlists the three Musketeers he was going to duel with and off they go to retrieve the brooch, save the Queen, foil the Cardinal's plan and frustrate the Cardinal's beautiful agent, Lady de Winter (Binnie Barnes).
However, the real three musketeers are given about three minutes of screen time. Taking their place in mistaken identity are three lackeys...the Ritz Brothers. Although Don Ameche makes a likable enough fighting and singing D'Artagnan, this Three Musketeers lives or dies on how funny you think the Ritz Brothers are. They were big stuff in the Thirties, but faded fast in the early Forties. They were loud, anarchic and could do some fine precision dancing. In this film, their stomping routine with metal plates strapped fore and aft is first rate. Since the movie only lasts about 72 minutes, there's a lot of the Ritz Brothers.
Ameche is assured, pleasant and, as he was throughout most of his career, bland. He was a popular leading man in the Thirties and Forties, but never quite found a firm grasp on top stardom. Everyone liked him, he went home at 5 p.m. to his wife and kids, didn't drink and he always knew his lines. By the time the Fifties were underway he was doing a lot of television and had a success on Broadway as the lead in Cole Porter's Silk Stockings. He was largely forgotten until, improbably, he hit stardom in the movies one more time. With Trading Places in 1983, Cocoon in 1985 and Things Change in 1988, Ameche, now as an older star character actor, was on top again. He stayed there until his death in 1993 at age 85. It's a nice story.
Ameche is both blessed and cursed in the movie. He's blessed because he has a chance to show what a skilled singer he is, from the Musketeers' march to an odd traveling song to his declaration of love for Lady Constance. He's cursed because these are some of the most mundane songs imaginable. Here's Ameche singing with his head through a hole in a wooden door to Constance:
And if my song could make you say you love me, / Then heaven would be bright above me.
With words and music straight from my heart, / My song would tell my love for you, my lady.
While he's singing this song, Pauline Moore as Constance looks as if d'Artagnan must have had too much garlic on his escargots. It's an awkwardly acted and staged scene.
But here's a toast to Lady de Winter, a spy to die for. And she'll help you. de Winter is one of the great characters in the book and she usually steals the scenes she has in the many movie versions. Lana Turner and Faye Dunaway were memorably murderous and stunningly beautiful as Milady. With Lady de Winter's fondness for causing others to die and with her cool delight in using men's lust to achieve her ends, one can only assume that she never had enough love as a child. Binnie Barnes plays her and does a great job. Barnes is blond and beautiful, and her de Winter would just as soon skewer D'Artagnan as make love to him. Binnie Barnes said once, "I'm no Sarah Bernhardt. One picture is just like another to me as long as I don't have to be a sweet woman."
How well you enjoy this movie probably depends on how well you enjoy the Ritz Brothers. The movie is dated, the humor is broad, the songs aren't very good. Still, The Three Musketeers has a lot of good natured charm.
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