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Friday Film Review: The Three Musketeers (1948)

The Three Musketeers (1948)

Genre: Romantic swashbuckler

Grade: D+

Am I the only one who doesn’t like this version? True it’s not the absolute horror of the latest Musketeers x steampunk movie. And I liked it better than the Charlie Sheen one – never could get past my feeling that I was watching those actors play the parts rather then forgetting them as actors and just sinking into the action. But…but…but this version just didn’t wow me at all for a number of reasons.

After a few adventures, young D’Artagnan (Gene Kelly) arrives in Paris determined to become a musketeer. Soon he meets and is befriended by Athos (Van Helflin), Porthos (Gig Young) and Aramis (Robert Coote). Love finds him in the form of Constance (June Allyson), his landlord’s niece, who is a dressmaker to the Queen (Angela Lansbury). The evil Richelieu (Vincent Price) lurks about plotting the downfall of the Queen using Lady de Winter (Lana Turner) to assist him. Can our brave Musketeers save the day and thwart his dastardly plans?

Just from the plot description, knowledgeable readers will realize that there were some changes in this MGM version. Constance has to be pure and thus is changed from adulterous wife to unmarried niece. Richelieu is not a Cardinal but a generic First Minister, Constance and D’Artagnan get married and somehow she ends up as Milady’s jailer – in England! – before Milady takes her revenge. Despite all that though, most of the rest of the film is fairly true to the basic plot of the book. But I still had more problems.

Listen for the anachronistic music including the lush “Romeo and Juliet” by Tchaikovsky. Then there are the costumes. They’re actually period in design but ye Gods the musketeers end up looking like Technicolor Easter eggs. Pink, peach and lavender with lush lace that the poor, cash strapped men could never have afforded. And they just look too neat and clean, as if they just got the suits back from their dry cleaner. Also the generic European village back lot – oops, I mean streets of Paris – must have had street sweepers coming by on the quarter hours.

What is The Three Musketeers without sword fights? Not nearly as good a movie so the powers that be at MGM must have decided that if a few fights are good then long, extended ones – including one on horseback – must be the best. Gene Kelly certainly does the choreography proud with his usual flair but it’s obvious that his fight with Jussac has been lengthened solely to allow him to showboat. It’s also more slapstick in nature. I never thought I’d be one to say cut some swashbuckling but here I am saying it. And despite the fact that this film covers the entire events of the book in slightly over two hours versus the Richard Lester films that took twice as long, this one had sections that seemed to drag endlessly. Yes, I did employ FF. I also didn’t care for the whiplash changes from comical to dead serious and back again. The ending of the book is bittersweet but our four musketeers have somewhat goofy grins on their faces as they leave the presence of the King. Weird, I tell you.

The casting leaves so much to be desired. Kelly is fine and Price is deliciously malevolent. But just about everyone else seemed sadly miscast. Turner is more vamp than evil seductress. Frank Morgan as King Louis is too old and far to much the grinning buffoon. Gig Young and Robert Coote are wasted in their roles. All they do is laugh outrageously – often in moments when nothing actually funny is going on. Another head scratcher is Angela Lansbury as the Queen. She would have made a wonderful Lady de Winter but instead she barely has any screen time.

But the two worst, IMO, are Allyson and Heflin. I’ve read that June Allyson tried to get out of being in this film and I think she was on to something. She’s too tomboyish, too all American sweetheart though I will admit that my image of her could be tarnished by the adult diaper ads she used to do in the 1980s. Van Heflin is an actor who has never appealed to me at all and here is no exception. He plays Athos as the drunkard the character is but as a boor rather than as tragic.

This version has lotsa action, eye poppingly colorful costumes, romance and dazzling sets. Unfortunately, for me, all of these actually add up to a fail. If I’d seen this version before the 1973/4 ones, I would probably have bought its campy charm. As it is, I’ve seen better versions. I will say this for it, at least the other three valets besides Planchet are actually in it. D+

~Jayne

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

21 Comments

  1. Angela
    Sep 14, 2012 @ 07:35:20

    I haven’t seen this one, but absolutely agree with you regarding the latest Musketeers movie. It was so awful as to be sad.

    But the Disney version (1993) with Kiefer Sutherland, Charlie Sheen etc is my favorite. It’s not that I totally fall into the movie and forget it’s a movie, but it’s just so much – nearly campy – fun.

    Which is your favorite version?

  2. Jayne
    Sep 14, 2012 @ 07:59:45

    @Angela: Oh, definitely the Richard Lester 1973/1974 movies titled “The Three Musketeers” and “The Four Musketeers.” These are the Oliver Reed, Michael York, Richard Chamberlain, Charlton Heston, Raquel Welch, Frank Finlay, Roy Kinnear, etc versions.

  3. Caro
    Sep 14, 2012 @ 08:21:41

    Three/Four Musketeers are definitely my favorites. They catch the tone of bravado quite well, plus move along at a marvelous pace.

    Piece of trivia: Some of the footage from this film was re-used in Singin’ in the Rainfor the fight sequence from “The Royal Rascal” that’s the premiere Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont are attending at the beginning of the film. New sequences were filmed for the start and end of the sequence, but if you look carefully, there’s a moment when a woman is coming out of a door and it’s Lana Turner, not Jean Hagen.

  4. sao
    Sep 14, 2012 @ 08:26:41

    Years ago, I was an extra in a b-grade French movie with Sophie Morceau, before the US had heard of her. Since the restaurant scene I was in didn’t entail any food, there were no crumbs and they didn’t sweep between takes. However, Sophie Marceau’s hair was combed and her make-up examined and, if need be, touched up between every take, which was a lot less than fifteen minutes.

    My hair (and nothing else) was visible for about 30 seconds. 20-odd years after I was in Descent Aux Enfers, I saw it on TV in Russia, dubbed of course. My husband blinked and missed my historic appearance on film with Sophie Morceau.

  5. Jayne
    Sep 14, 2012 @ 08:46:53

    @sao: OMG, I think I’ve seen that movie. Marceau is D’Artagnan’s daughter, right? At Netflix it’s listed as “Revenge of the Musketeers.”

  6. Germaine
    Sep 14, 2012 @ 08:54:28

    I loved those ’70’s versions. Charlton Heston as Cardinal Richelieu — one of the great villains of all time. My favorite musketeer was Oliver Reed as Athos — enough angst and mystery to last a lifetime.

  7. DS
    Sep 14, 2012 @ 09:28:54

    This must have never made it to Saturday Afternoon Adventure Theatre where I saw most of the pirate and historical films of the first half of the 20th century. I have never sought out any of the 40’s Hollywood remakes of classic swashbucklers. They seemed to lack the flair of the 30’s movies.

    Agreed about the 73/74 movies. Saw them in the theatre and they were fantastic.

    Also saw the Charlie Sheen version in the theatre. We called it the Teenaged Mutant Ninja Musketeers.

  8. Castiron
    Sep 14, 2012 @ 09:38:19

    I enjoy the Disney version as long as I’m thinking “movie about four guys with swords” rather than “Dumas adaptation” — Tim Curry is hugely fun. Haven’t seen the most recent one; sort of want to just to see how horrible it is.

    (The most faithful adaptation of The Three Musketeers et al. I’ve run across in the past twenty years is Steven Brust’s pastiche The Phoenix Guards and sequels — no, they aren’t a direct retelling, but they feel far more true to the spirit of the originals than most of the movie versions.)

  9. LeeF
    Sep 14, 2012 @ 10:01:44

    This version is a classic MGM “who isn’t working this week- let’s put them in a film” kind of thing. Truly some of the worst casting of well-known actors of that time and place.

    And there is something about Gene Kelly that makes me think of Mandy Patinkin years later in Princess Bride.

  10. SAO
    Sep 14, 2012 @ 10:43:00

    @Jayne
    This wasn’t a 3 Musketeers thing. It was set in Haiti and I don’t think it ever made it to English. I think the only thing that made the movie stand out was that Sophie Marceau was playing the wife of Claude Brasseur, who was rumored to be her real life father, and they had a lingering embrace scene on the sand where she was naked and he wasn’t wearing much.

  11. Lynne Connolly
    Sep 14, 2012 @ 11:01:50

    Totally agree. Big Gene Kelly fan, but despite that, this film is horrid. Also totally agree that the best version is the one Richard Lester directed, with Michael York as D’Artagnan. The fights in that, and the action, are brilliant.
    The Disney version was a weak copy of the Lester version. You can tell they shadowed it.
    I’m a huge fan of Frank Finlay, who played Porthos in the Lester film. One of my Saturday jobs when I was at school was working behind the coffee bar at the local theatre while Finlay was playing Jesus in Dennis Potter’s “Son of Man.” It was one of those informal theatres where the actors mingle with the public after the performance, but because of who he was playing he didn’t want to do that. There was one scene at the end of the first act when he wasn’t onstage, and sometimes, I’d see him streaking across the bar area, wearing only a loincloth, grabbing the whisky that was waiting for him on the bar, and streaking back again. Occasionally he’d grab a coffee, too. I always had one poured out for him. I was shocked to get a Christmas card from him. He’d gone to the trouble to ask for the names of all the staff, so he could send us his thanks. Nice man.

  12. Jenn
    Sep 14, 2012 @ 11:04:05

    I saw about 15 minutes of this a few weeks ago. I turned it off – I just COULD NOT buy Gene Kelly as D’Artagnan. I think it was the American accent.

  13. P. Kirby
    Sep 14, 2012 @ 13:20:54

    @Jenn:

    Heh, that reminds me of Leonardo DiCaprio as Louis XIV in The Man in the Iron Mask. Besides the rather flat performance, his American accent combined with sorta-not exactly period syntax was just bizarre. Other aspects of the movie were okay, namely the older D’Artagnan played by Gabriel Byrne.

  14. Ann Somerville
    Sep 14, 2012 @ 19:48:58

    Aw, this is the film that gave me my Gene Kelly crush 35 years ago.

    Wouldn’t dare watch it now. But I remember thinking D’Artagnan was sooo hot :)

  15. Estara
    Sep 15, 2012 @ 05:53:55

    I saw this first as a child and I just loved it. I especially enjoyed the long-drawn out fights and was heart-broken when Constance died. But my father’s love of jazz, swing and old Hollywood musicals had already made me a fan of Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire before, so I was not an objective viewer anyway ^^.

  16. KarenH.
    Sep 15, 2012 @ 06:10:10

    Yeah, as much as I love a good vintage flick, this is not a good vintage flick. Charlie Sheen’s version wasn’t perfect, but it had Keifer Sutherland AND Tim Curry and that’s always a win :)

  17. Jayne
    Sep 15, 2012 @ 06:44:06

    @SAO: Oh, ick. This makes me want to scrub my brain with bleach.

  18. Jayne
    Sep 15, 2012 @ 06:46:00

    @Germaine: I preferred Michael York in my naive early youth but as I got older, I began to see the fantastic-ness of Reed as Athos.

  19. Jayne
    Sep 15, 2012 @ 06:48:19

    @Lynne Connolly: I saw Finlay in one of the later “Prime Suspect” seasons as Jane’s dying father. It was so nice to see more acting depth from him than he was allowed in the Musketeer movies.

  20. Jayne
    Sep 15, 2012 @ 06:51:20

    @Ann Somerville: Oh, Kelly was absolutely the best looking of the four. No argument on his cuteness.

  21. Anna M
    Sep 15, 2012 @ 10:15:42

    Ah, the forties version..Love Vincent Price and his villanious stroking of a cat..But the rest..meh. Lana Turner had it in her to be a great Milady..but the script wouldn’t quite let her. Prefer the seventies version..perfect casting and directing. Michael York is such a great, wet-behind the ears D’artagnan and Reed is the perfect Athos. Also love how the Cardinal is not quite a villain, but a pragmatic man ready to do anything for his country and king. (and to gain more power for himself)

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