Friday Film Review: The Three Musketeers (1948)
Genre: Romantic swashbuckler
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+