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The Comte de Gonzague schemes against his cousin, the Duc de Nevers, even though he is the Duke's heir and will inherit his estates. The Count has kept secret the existence of the Duke's bastard, recently born. When the Duke learns of his child, he journeys to wed the mother, a baron's daughter, in her father's isolated chateau. The occupants of the castle are surprised and murdered by the Count and his men. The only ones to escape are the Duke's friend, the skilled swordsman Lagardère, and the infant, a girl, now the rightful heiress to the Duke's vast fortune. The Count believes the pair to have drowned, when in fact they have been concealed by a travelling troupe of Italian players. Twenty years pass. The Count has discovered that the two survive and seeks to have them slain. But Lagardère gains the confidence of the Count, and employment as his bookkeeper, through his clever disguise as a hunch-back... Written by
Alexandre Dumas made a reputation for himself writing stories chiefly about the uncommon man who had to rise to the occasion in extraordinary circumstances. Arguably, THE THREE MUSKETEERS and THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO stand as some of the best literature of the ages, and the film adaptations have created some of the most incredibly swordplay put to the silver screen.
The little heard of and rarely seen ON GUARD ("Le Bossu," 1997, from the French novel by Paul Feval of the same name), by far, features some of the most exciting swordplay with a story that compares to Dumas' best work in many ways.
Daniel Auteuil stars as Lagardere, a budding swordsman who can't back down from a fight. One evening, upon trying to best the Duke of Nevers, he inadvertently falls into the duke's good graces and joins him -- as a sidekick -- on a journey to rescue the man's infant daughter, Aurore. However, as the duke is soon murdered by his villainous cousin Count Gonzague (played with ample creepiness by Fabrice Luchini), Lagardere escapes with the infant and, along with the help of a traveling circus, raises her as his own child for sixteen years ... until Aurore takes up the sword and performs a move only her real father could've known, alerting the now-in-power Gonzague to the fact the the daughter has survived. Now, Legardere is faced with the ultimate challenge of devising a masterful plot to put the woman back on the throne and into her position of prominence!
Much of the film is pure plotting and humor, some of which can only be the product of the French ("Ever try sodomy, my friend?"), and I'm quite certain several of the jokes might be lost on an American audience. Still, Auteuil as Lagardere is the film's masterful stroke; he proves himself capable of a Musketeer-like defender, a loving father, and a pining lost soulmate to the lovely Aurore, all the while maintaining his sense of duty coupled with a great sense of humor.
The film is presented widescreen, filmed on beautiful locations, and the sound is very crisp and vibrant. ON GUARD is a wonderful adaptation that deserves to be discovered by a much larger audience.
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