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D'Artagnan has become a Musketeer. Protestants hold La Rochelle, and the Queen loves Buckingham, who'll soon send ships to support the rebels. Richelieu enlists Rochefort to kidnap Constance, the Queen's go-between and D'Artagnan's love. The Cardinal uses the wily, amoral Milady de Winter to distract D'Artagnan. But soon, she is D'Artagnan's sworn enemy, and she has an unfortunate history with Athos as well. Milady goes to England to dispatch Buckingham; the Musketeers fight the rebels. Milady, with Rochefort's help, then turns to her personal agenda. Can D'Artagnan save Constance, defeat Rochefort, slip de Winter's ire, and stay free of the Cardinal? All for one, one for all. Written by
Don't watch this movie alone. That is, watch Richard Lester's "The Three Musketeers" with it. The two are actually the same film, shot simultaneously (in fact, the cast thought they were making one long movie, to the extent that they were *paid* for one movie; they later sued, as well they should have). In fact, one who hasn't seen Lester's "Three Musketeers" might not understand this movie. Videos and DVDs should be released only in a double-box.
Most "Musketeer" movies are travesties loosely based on Dumas. The 1993 version with Chris O'Donnell is a case in point. It uses little more than the names of characters, and it's woefully inadequate.
The script-writer in Lester's "Musketeers" movies was George MacDonald Fraser, author of the "Flashman" series. And Fraser, unlike writers of all other "Musketeer" movies, seems to have read the book. Some of the wildest things in both movies (for instance, Buckingham's shrine to Anne of Austria) are actually from Dumas. The script, rambunctious and silly as sometimes is, is startlingly close to the book.
Rumor has it that Lester envisioned "Musketeers" as a project for the Beatles. If this is true, he's fortunate he lost them. The cast is uniformly wonderful. Oliver Reed, Richard Chamberlain, and Frank Finlay are perfect in their roles (Finlay is particularly marvelous as he, not a large man, is able to portray the huge, blustering Porthos). Michael York is a fun D'artagnan. Faye Dunaway and Christopher Lee are suitably evil. Rachel Welch, the Pamela Anderson of the late '60s, shows a flair for light comedy that was not often utilized (most of her other movies highlight her . . . ahem . . . other talents). Charlton Heston is the anchor at the center of the film as the scheming Richelieu. He doesn't have much screen time, but his presence dominates the movies, as well it should. Lester also has small parts filled with amazing talents, including Spike Milligan and Roy Kinnear. Keep your eye on a genuine Frenchman, Jean-Pierre Cassel, as the king (and, much later, in Lester's "Return of the Musketeers", as Cyrano); he's a delight in every scene.
Lester's locations are fabulous. His France looks lived-in. One gets the sense of a long, medieval period that has decayed by the time of D'artagnan in the early 1600s, and of a struggling monarchy dominated by the Cardinal trying to rebuild it. Even Cardinal Richelieu, who wasn't really evil, comes off as three-dimensional (compare Heston's subtle performance to Tim Curry's bizarre, anti-historical, one-dimensional inquisitor and fool in the 1993 version).
Being "The Three (Four) Musketeers", there are many sword-fights; Lester somehow is not a great action director, but he somehow manages to make each duel unique, and funny. In "The Four Musketeers" he's given us a duel on the ice between York and Lee that's very funny. And the climactic duel in a church is sublime.
In 1989 Lester released "Return of the Musketeers" with the same cast. Fraser's brief script for that movie (about 100 minutes) gives us the gist of "Twenty Years After", and is quite amusing and a good coda for the series (it's a shame Lester didn't get a chance to do "The Man in the Iron Mask" with a G. M. Fraser script and the same cast. The version with Jeremy Irons and John Malkovich will do, though it's darker and less loyal to Dumas).
On the whole, "The Three Musketeers" and "The Four Musketeers" are the best Musketeer movies ever made. They star men and women who were at the top of their profession at the time. The scripts are superb and there's not a wasted moment. Do not accept lesser substitutes.
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