This is undoubtedly the most complete and faithful adaptation of The Three Musketeers ever filmed. It's also a pleasure to watch and succeeds in translating a plot-heavy book into a handsome set of moving images. Director Henri Diamant-Berger worked with the benefit of a lavish budget and many hours of screen time, since his film was released as a 12-part serial.
The authentically 17th century costumes and the sets are impressive (though the sets are too clean). The script retains almost everything from Dumas's novel, though it simplifies and abbreviates a few parts (including D'Artagnan's wooing of Milday and her seduction of Felton). It removes suspense by spelling out several events more than Dumas and also devotes excessive time to comic relief scenes with M. Bonacieux or Planchet.
Diamant-Berger's direction is assured though not especially stylish. He has a good eye for outdoor locations (this is definitely not a set-bound film) and action on horseback, but his interior staging is rudimentary. By 1921 filmmaking had benefited from the innovations of D.W. Griffith but hadn't reached its pinnacle of sophistication and style during the late 20s, exemplified among literary adaptations by Henri Fescourt's dazzling Monte Cristo (1929).
Casting is a mixed bag. The Musketeers look like they stepped out of the novel (especially Aimé Simon-Girard's amusing D'Artganan) but the villains are disappointing. Édouard de Max's Cardinal Richelieu is a little too campy (he likes having kittens frolic on his desk) while Claude Mérelle's underplayed Milady is more businesswoman than femme fatale. She doesn't project the intensity of the original, just as the movie lacks the intensity of the book.
The only DVD of the film is a region 2 French release--I ordered a copy from Amazon.fr and watched it on my all-region DVD player. Though the only surviving film print had English inter-titles, these were eliminated from the French DVD. But since the film is such a faithful adaptation, you'll understand almost everything if the book is still fresh in your head.
The DVD, supervised by Diamant-Berger's grandson, remains controversial. To shorten the film, the inter-titles have been completely replaced by subtitles and narration. And not only has a symphonic score been added, but also Foley sound effects! Every hoof-beat, every rustle of the trees, and every clack of swords has been dubbed in. The clattering sound certainly keeps you awake (not that the film has many longueurs), and the pace is artificially swifter without inter-titles, but the new subtitles go by too quickly. That said, the film looks terrific--better than most other silent DVDs--and the surviving print must have been in pristine shape.
The Three Musketeers was one of the most successful films of the 1920s in France, and Diamant-Berger followed it by filming Dumas's sequel Vignt Ans Apres, now lost. He also filmed a sound remake of the Musketeers in 1932--a documentary among the DVD's special features includes excerpts. Since an English-language version of the 1921 film already exists, I hope an enterprising DVD company like Flicker Alley will make it available to American audiences. There have been many good and bad films of this book, but none more comprehensive than Diamant-Berger's. It has remained too little known for too long.
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