Spoiler warning: sure the essay spoils the entire film, that’s pretty much how these Musketeer Media Monday posts go. But if you’ve been enjoying Musketeer Space without any knowledge of how the second half of the book turns out, this review might reveal a little too much simply because the Richard Lester films represent the most comprehensive adaptation of the original book in all its many fractured glories.
So the first half of The Three Musketeers was adapted by Richard Lester into the film I like to call Musketeers Crack me Up Seventies Style (1973), and the second half screened a year later as The Four Musketeers (1974).
Famously, the actors did not find out that their gruelling marathon shoot was intended for two movies instead of one, and were very unhappy when they found out! It didn’t stop many of them (including at least one whose character dies in this film) signing on for a sequel in 1989, but that’s long in the future.
Things that happened in Musketeers Crack me Up Seventies Style (1973): pretty much everything that usually happens in Musketeer movies, up to and including the matter of the Queen’s diamonds, Buckingham being a fancy clothes horse who can’t keep his lips to himself, D’Artagnan being a D’ork, the Musketeer meet-cute, and a happy ending. If you’ve never seen it and the words ‘Spike Milligan as Bonancieux’ don’t convince you to do something about that, I just don’t know what to do with you.
The opening of the sequel actually gives us a ‘best of’ montage complete with a Doris Day filter to make everything floaty and dreamlike. Based on the soft lens flashback montage, these are the things that the director wants you to remember about the first film:
D’ork looks gormless a lot, Constance bumps into things, that great washing line fight scene shot from above, the Musketeers eating in bed together, the royal party hawking, Milady and Buckingham getting cozy, the Cardinal looks good in red, that one time that Buckingham and D’ork played with diamonds on a pool table, the Queen looking sad with Constance, and everyone wore white to the ball.
Got it? Good.
In case you forgot, the main Musketeer cast is as follows:
Mostly Drunk Oliver Reed – Athos
Surprisingly Old Frank Finlay – Porthos
Disturbingly Pretty Richard Chamberlain – Aramis
Fresh-faced Michael York – D’ork, the artist formerly known as D’Artagnan
Porthos is the narrator, which feels like an odd choice. It doesn’t help that he apparently thinks that all the women in the story are either stupid sluts or just terrible people (okay, he has a point about Milady).
This Porthos is a bit of an arse, actually, did they miss the memo that Porthos is usually the funniest and best Musketeer in all the film adaptations?
One of the main plot points of the film is the ongoing siege of La Rochelle, which is rather nice as most adaptations miss out all the actual military action performed by the Musketeers. To be honest, Dumas kept forgetting about those things too in favour of watching his favourite characters chat to each other in rooms, but that’s not the point.
Once we’re past the montage, the opening sequence is a rather charming action piece which has our Musketeers – well, the three ones who are awesome at stuff, anyway – rescuing the crimson-clad and eyepatched secret agent Rochefort (Christopher Lee) from the firing squad. This is cute because Rochefort has been an antagonist up to now (and will be again) largely because he takes orders from the Cardinal, while the Musketeers answer to the King (sometimes), the Queen (cos she’s pretty), and themselves.
But now, of course, France is at war so they all have to team up, and Rochefort has been caught as a spy for France. I just know the Musketeers will never ever let Rochefort forget about that one time they saved his life.
The absolute best thing about Rochefort being a spy is the fact that he is dressed all in fancy red, up to and including his eyepatch, which makes him basically the least subtle spy in the history of the universe.
The second best thing is the slightly awkward moment when a guard tries to figure out how to get a blindfold on the remarkably tall fellow in the eyepatch, and Rochefort dryly suggests that he closes his other eye instead. TEAM ROCHEFORT.
The rescue of Rochefort shows all three Musketeers and their characters off beautifully, for those who missed or might have forgotten the first film: Aramis is swashbuckling with style, Porthos thinks he is swashbuckling with style but will sacrifice competence to play the comic foil, and Athos is absent for most of it but when he does turn up, he runs rings around everyone.
We also get a lovely scene to establish the antagonists – and I do include the king in that, because he might be the focal point of Musketeer loyalty (kind of) but he causes more trouble for them than any of the villains combined.
This Louis (Jean-Pierre Cassel) is a splendid take on the character, with great emphasis on his arrogance and his ego where it comes to his awkward relationship with the Queen. While the battle rages on in the distance, he perches on a horse in his tent, posing for an official victory portrait.
Cardinal Richelieu (Charlton Heston) is understated and sinister as ever – placating the King while making plans of his own. Apart from snarky comments about his Musketeers saving Rochefort’s butt and about his lack of an eye (hey are so not sensitive about disability in these films!) the king doesn’t contribute much, leaving them to it.
The Cardinal sends Rochefort to kidnap Constance (again!) on the grounds that she is abetting the Queen’s traitorous relationship with Buckingham. Fair enough, really.
The kidnapping is an awesome piece of big screen slapstick, involving a gloved hand coming out of the melon display in a marketplace to seize Constance, a giant barrel going over her head, and D’ork falling under a wagonload of potatoes. Even better, Milady rescues him from the potatoes and smothers him in hurt/comfort.
Here is a thing that many people who only know the characters from modern movies do not know about book canon D’Artagnan: he’s a bit slutty. I use this word very deliberately, because it gets thrown around a LOT in this movie (the 70’s are not sensitive to gender relations either), usually in reference to Constance, the Queen or Milady (but mostly Constance), and never to D’Artagnan who is utterly (mostly) shameless in his bed-hopping.
Milady lures our fresh-faced D’ork to her silver parlour, complete with a decorated monkey and a matching gown (on her, not the monkey). He trashes the place by accident, but manages to actually figure out that she is coming on to him, which shows he has grown some manly awareness since his affair with Constance. He still stumbles out of the room without getting laid, which shows that he has at least a small amount of self-restraint. FOR NOW.
Rochefort wins the creepy bath scenes in Musketeer movie sweepstakes by bleeding into Milady’s bath while she is getting undressed, and surprising her with it as soon as she is naked. It’s super gross. Even worse, she rewards him for this icky behaviour by snogging him.
Second creepiest Musketeer bath scene is Tim Curry and Gabrielle Anwar in Musketeers Are All For Love (1993).
The Duke of Buckingham is experimenting with a tiny wooden submersible ship, which is surprisingly steampunk of him. The general outcome is that it’s not much use for war, but possibly might be useful for kidnapping his girlfriend, the Queen of France. He then forgets about it for the whole rest of the movie.
Queen Anne discovers that her dressmaker Constance is missing when she needs a new dress, which shows her priorities. Constance (Racquel Welsh) is going to be missing for most of the film, which sucks considering that her turn in the first one was a work of comic genius, for which she received the Golden Globe.
When Aramis and Porthos discover that D’ork’s mistress is missing, they make fun of him for losing her which is super mean but also quite hilarious, especially when they stop paying attention to his angst altogether, and he pouts about it. A lot of their mocking is because he’s been flirting with Milady while his mistress is missing, which, fair enough. No one has faith in your fidelity, D’Artagnan!
Even better, drunk Athos then rolls down the stairs to talk about D’ork’s romantic troubles. And of course, he is challenged to talk about heartbreak so tells a story which totally happened to some guy he knew and not himself…
Happy past Athos is very fluffy and clean-shaven, right up to the point where he finds the fleur-de-lis brand on his wife’s shoulder (which signifies she is a traitor AND a slut, apparently). At which point he basically strangles her in rage, and isn’t quite sure if he left her for dead or not. “Poor man,” he mutters to himself repeatedly in the present day, which I do not feel is the message of this story. Still, if his aim is to cure D’ork of love, then… no, I don’t feel he’s got that message across, either.
Oliver Reed, I think you are surprisingly charismatic, but your Athos is not that sympathetic.
Milady dresses for her hot date with D’ork, choosing the red necklace previously seen in the flashback with Athos, when they were totally married to each other. It’s almost like she knows they’re friends – oh wait, she does know, doesn’t she? I’m pretty sure she can’t have missed that D’ork is BFFs with her former hubby unless she really wasn’t paying attention in the first movie.
D’ork promises to be faithful to Constance but no one believes him. Sure enough, the next day he’s calling around Milady’s place with a giant flowerpot as a courtship gift. She’s not in, so he flirts with her maid Kitty, who lets slip that Milady is putting it around a bit. All very canon compliant, though it would have make him a little more sympathetic if they showed Kitty revealing that her boss is a criminal mastermind, too.
The point of this visit IS to prove Milady’s guilt and not just to prove she’s a scheming wench who might be willing to sleep with you, right, D’Artagnan? RIGHT?
Milady comes home to find Kitty very dishevelled. D’ork is half-naked in the maid’s room, because he is a terrible person who was bored for five minutes, or maybe he was rewarding the maid for information received? He leaps out the window with his flowerpot and has a second go at entering the building by the proper doors, this time ending up in bed with the right woman.
Now the super subtle investigation commences. First, he has sex with Milady. Then, when they’re all post-coital and naked, D’ork surprises Milady with a question about Constance’s whereabouts, and tries to strangle the information out of her. Much subtle. So tact.
Milady is perfectly capable of wrestling him out of bed, and goes after him with a poisoned acid dagger, a stabby dagger, and finally a pillow fight, before he’s able to get his sword. It’s amazing he’s still alive.
Wearing only a sheet, D’ork trashes Milady’s bed, (the maid’s bed already broke from over-use so he’s 2 for 2), nicks her ruby necklace and flees.
D’ARTAGNAN YOU CAD.
This is the only instance I know of that the shagging-the-maid-and-the-mistress subplot has appeared in any of the film adaptations I have seen, which generally tend towards not portraying D’Artagnan as a sex pest. I am particularly disappointed not to have seen it in the Barbie movie.
After achieving nothing much except getting laid multiple times, D’ork goes back to his friends, waving around the red necklace. Athos seizes hold of it and the two of them figure out remarkably quickly that the hot evil lady in both of their lives is the same hot evil lady.
It causes no jealousy or angst, just a gentle male bonding moment. Aww and also, a bit ew.
Athos is pretty sure that now Milady knows that D’ork knows her secret, he’s going to get completely and utterly killed and should make a run for it now, but D’ork is determined to keep looking for Constance. You know, I’m pretty sure “looking for Constance” should not be a euphemism for “banging the kidnapper” but what do I know?
I miss Racquel Welsh rather a lot in this movie.
At one point he hides in a water trough breathing through a reed Robin Hood style, which would have been an awesome getaway if a Red Guard wasn’t standing over the trough as all the water leaked out, leaving our hero looking wet and silly. D’Artagnan, you are a tool.
Cardinal receives the wet and bedraggled D’ork and make an offer of employment, offering his hand of friendship quite literally and not withdrawing it even when D’ork refuses to shake it.
Come on, D’ork, don’t leave a bro hanging.
CONSTANCE IS MY FAVOURITE AND MY BEST. It’s ages since we’ve seen her, but she hasn’t changed a bit. We get a lovely sequence in which she is chained to a wall in the chateau where she’s being imprisoned. She flirts with the jailer when he brings her food, beats him up, frees herself, and is only stopped when she realises there are fierce dogs in the yard outside.
Do you know what this movie has been missing, apart from Constance? A random bathhouse scene. So Kitty the maid turns up while the boys are enjoying some private time in the steamy pools (it’s nice to know that they were considerate of the slash fans in the 1970’s) and reveals where Constance is being kept prisoner. Okay, I will concede that D’ork putting it around has proven to be useful to the plot.
It’s good to know he has a skill.
The Three Musketeers volunteer to rescue Constance for D’ork, because that’s what you do for friends, and he’s due at the siege of La Rochelle for general fighting purposes. We then get a lovely coda to the previous ‘Constance is awesome at escaping’ scene in which Aramis sneaks up on her in disguise as a jailer and gets kicked in the nuts for his trouble.
“Don’t let him get the key!” Athos shouts as Aramis fights the guards, and Constance promptly puts it down her corset. Aramis rolls his eyes “No, WE need it!” and so while the boys fight with swords, she busily shakes herself until the key finally falls out again.
Actresses are so respected in this industry, I can’t even tell you.
Best rescue ever.
D’ork receives a letter from his friends. Oddly it doesn’t mention anything about them rescuing his girlfriend, just that they got super drunk and got arrested and can he bail them out? Here’s some wine to sweeten the deal.
“Now thats what I call real friendship, to think of me when they’re drunk.”
The choice between drinking the wine and bailing his friends out is a tough one, but D’ork makes the honourable choice eventually – shame that it’s a TRAP.
He is cornered on a frosted, snow-lined highway beside a frozen lake. What follows is one of my favourite fencing sequences ever. I love that every major sword-fighting scene in this ridiculously pretty film has a different visual gimmick or style choice, to freshen it up and keep everyone interested. I also love the combination of humour and slapstick to liven up the fencing, so that comedy and death are constantly hand in hand.
In this case we get Rochefort and D’ork fencing on a frosty highway, and then the surface of a frozen lake, slipping all over the place in their high heels and still trying to kill each other. So adorkable.
Our three Musketeers arrive on the horizon and guess that the fight involves D’Artagnan on the grounds that it’s the stupidest place to have a duel ever. They are not wrong.
Porthos ends up in the drink with D’ork as Rochefort makes his escape. D’ork then escapes on his own, leaving Porthos wet and cold. Polystyrene ice is involved, and also a bunch of dead Red Guards.
Alarmingly, as they all warm up by the fire, Athos proves to be horribly good at torturing the chap left behind by Rochefort. I do not like this fact about you, Athos. It’s D’ork who inadvertently kills the prisoner, though, with the wine he was sent earlier that turns out to be poisoned.
The tavern at which they stay next is a beautifully designed multi-level set, which allows us to see into upper and lower rooms at the same time. This is used for a clever scene of Athos eavesdropping from above as Milady and the Cardinal arrive and discuss their evil plot to dishonour the Queen. If it doesn’t work, he wants her to put an end to Buckingham.
Milady doesn’t want him to think she goes around killing Dukes for just anyone, and her price is the death of D’Artagnan, and by association, Constance, in exchange for killing Buckingham. The Cardinal refuses to actually help her kill anyone…
“I will not assist you in private murders, madam.”
But he does provide the paperwork, a nicely vague warrant which allows Milady (or anyone else holding the piece of paper) to get away with literally anything. I wonder if that’s going to be something he comes to regret signing his name to?
Athos divides their forces up thus: Aramis and Porthos get to go protect D’ork, and he will stay and have an angsty confrontation with Milady. He sends no one to protect Buckingham on the grounds that he’s an Englishman and no one cares if he dies.
This is such a book canon perfect representation of Athos that I can’t even tell you.
OH THE ANGST.
Milady and Athos gaze scorchingly at each other, acknowledge that they both basically tore each other’s hearts out and ate them, and barely manage to stop ripping each other’s clothes off right there and then.
Athos would do anything to protect D’ork, and threatens Milady so convincingly that she hands over the warrant. He doesn’t kill her, but storms away. She’s pretty pissed off now, shaking with rage and humiliation. Is it worth mentioning at this point that the subtitle of this movie is “the Revenge of Milady”?
But in case we forgot, the Musketeers are at war and really shouldn’t be thinking about these minor duels of honour. Cut to the French army camp. Aramis sends his boots to be washed and they come back full of water, while Porthos has a maid picking lice out of his hair. How they suffer.
Athos bets another soldier that he and the Musketeers can have breakfast up on the bastion, a ruin halfway up the hill between the castle they are besieging, and the main camp. He makes Planchet pack cold chickens, bread, oysters and wine (champagne, Porthos insists) for their picnic!
They make their way up, with a whole bunch of shooting and sneaking, and Athos takes the opportunity to let D’ork in on his recent information. D’ork does not approve of the whole “Leaving Buckingham to be killed because he’s an Englishman and we don’t care” part of the plan.
Their picnic breakfast turns into a violent skirmish, because Musketeers have style, damn it. Their enemy invents a rudimentary grenade launcher, which makes things difficult, but D’artagnan invents Baguette Baseball to knock the spiky grenades back out of range, and Aramis employs champagne spray to douse the spark when the baguettes just don’t cut it any more.
They pause the skirmish by pushing a bunch of rocks on to their attackers, and high tail it back to camp just as the rest of the French soldiers are setting out for the actual battle. Nevertheless, the chap they had the bet with is pretty impressed.
“I know it’s against your principles, Athos, but have a drink.”
Milady does her usual flirt and infiltrate thing with Buckingham, but miscalculates when he arrests her as a would-be assassin. She is to be imprisoned in the Tower and shipped out to the colonies. At least she’s beautifully dressed for the occasion. White satin goes with everything, even rat-infested cells…
She’s up to her old tricks almost immediately, convincing her jailer that she is being persecuted for religious reasons, and begging him to bring her faith-related consolation. While heaving her bosom quite a lot. It is a mighty espionage bosom.
D’ork tells the Queen about the plot to kill Buckingham, and Constance’s super secret location. One of the Ladies in Waiting take special notice of this information, which possibly makes her evil.
Milady continues her dance with her jailer Felton, pretending to be terribly religious wherever he can see her, and letting him look down her dress when he thinks she’s not aware of it. She works her way up on to swooning on him, whispering desperately at how badly she is treated by Buckingham.
She seeds the idea that Buckingham is going to betray the French for love of the Queen, and heaves that espionage bosom like whoa until he gives in. Not only does she not have to row her own escape boat, but thanks to her snogging skills, she doesn’t have to assassinate her own Duke, either.
Poor old lovestruck Felton does it for her… and that’s it for Buckingham. Fun fact: Felton was indeed the name of the Duke of Buckingham’s historical assassin.
It’s kind of cute that they enjoy swapping gossip so much. He tells her about how one of his men was sent to do away with Constance, currently taking refuge in a nunnery, only to “bungle” it – that is, to not realise that Constance is a walking talking slapstick cartoon and if you try to stab her in the confessional, the confessional will end up falling over and taking out all the other confessionals too.
THIS IS HOW CONSTANCE WORKS, SHE IS A FORCE OF NATURE.
Also, the war is over, but frankly that is an anti-climax thanks to the Constance thing.
The Musketeers are going to reclaim Constance now the battle is over, but they have to get drunk first, obviously. D’ork throws some water over his head because he hasn’t been in a wet shirt for a while, and they prepare for some serious drinking and general good cheer.
Until, of course, Rochefort and Milady ride through in their Carriage of Unsubtlety and D’ork gets nostalgically angry, trying to fight the carriage, and then the horses, and yelling a lot. Athos, cool as a cucumber, leaps on a horse from a balcony thing (sir, there’s no saddle on that horse!) and they all race off after the carriage which is absolutely going to reach the nunnery before them.
It is an enormous nunnery.
It’s also, of course, a trap.
Red Guards shoot at the Musketeers as they approach, while the nuns quietly go about their business. In the midst of a speeded up swordfest with giant feathers on hats and stray sheep and goats all over the place because it’s a barnyard, Athos and Rochefort have a very serious duel. It ends with Athos a bit wounded and Rochefort in flight.
Some stuff gets set on fire, you know how it is.
Porthos ends up balanced on a plank in the upper level of the burning barn, with a Red Guard after him. His immediate reaction is to call for Aramis, which is a bit adorable, I’m not going to lie. Aramis chucks him a sword and otherwise gets on with his own duel.
Apparently Constance can’t recognise people she has had cat fights with in the past when they are wearing wimples. This is a little disappointing. Mother Superior Milady tells her D’Artagnan is coming, and they will wait for him together, whatever you need, girlfriend, I’m here for you. DON’T TRUST HER, CONSTANCE!
In case you were in any doubt that Milady is evil, her weapon of choice is a rosary. She uses a rosary to strangle Constance while dressed as a nun. Oh book canon, sometimes you and I are not friends.
Poor old D’ork is the one to find her. I know that this death happens in the book, but I LOVE the fact that the movies almost never kill Constance, and this was such a good Constance, I am most upset. Damn you, canon compliance! (My gruesome nine-year-old, for those of you who follow these things purely for her reaction, thought that the unexpected death of Constance was brilliant and made this the best Musketeer movie ever. I… have no words)
As Milady makes her escape, Athos stops her with a pistol, while D’ork goes after Rochefort. That’s probably for the best, really, given that D’ork is so not capable of finishing off Milady.
He and Rochefort take their duel into the church, despite a bunch of disapproving nuns, and fight in the glowing light of the sunshine streaming through stained glass. It’s gorgeously filmed, like everything else in this damned movie. Seriously, the cinematography is amazing.
The duel with Rochefort is a nasty, dirty scuffle, with D’ork’s hand cut open, and both of them sweaty, and grimy and miserable before they’re even halfway through. Rochefort breaks the end off D’ork’s sword and D’ork stabs him anyway, running the broken sword up through his body and into the bible. Because a sword is still a weapon without its pointy bit.
If Constance is the character whose death is most often written out of the films (though Buckingham can also give her a good run for her money in that one, most movies don’t bother to kill him either), then Rochefort is the one whose death is most often written into the story, and it’s hard to argue that it works thematically, especially with him so flat out evil in this movie.
Christopher Lee dies so well.
Though I note that the 1989 sequel to this, which I have to hunt down because it features Kim freaking Cattrall as the daughter of Milady, features Christopher Lee as Rochefort despite him very clearly dying right here. Rochefort is a vampire, you heard it here first.
Or possibly he just had such a big fanbase that someone started a Twitter hashtag #RochefortLives to bring him back in his own spin off series with a bus full of secret agents? They had Twitter in the 80’s, right?
Nah. vampire makes more sense.
Why couldn’t Constance be a vampire, she would be brilliant, all tripping over people and sinking her fangs into naughty places completely by accident. I want that sequel.
In a forest, the four Musketeers all grimly pronounce Milady guilty and have her executed. The only one who wobbles about it is D’Artagnan. The executioner rows Milady across a river, cuts her head off, then comes back and bitches about how rowing is not in his job description.
So that’s both the awesome ladies gone, then. And the Queen was given next to nothing to do in this one. Damn it.
It’s all very grim, and definitely outside the bounds of what is legal and reasonable for the Musketeers to do, so it’s fair enough really that they promptly get arrested by the Red Guards and hauled before the Cardinal.
D’ork does his best to stand up to the Cardinal but the Charlton Heston factor is pretty hard to overcome. In particular, the Cardinal’s problem with D’ork is that he has rid him of his two best agents, and is basically “too expensive for France.”
“By my hand and for the good of the state, the bearer has done what has been done.”
Even Cardinal Richelieu knows when he’s beaten. He promptly provides D’ork with a commission as an officer in the Musketeers – but the name is left blank, which means he gets to pick whether to give it to himself or one of his friends.
That’s weirdly sinister, I wonder if Richelieu and Treville have a bet going on the outcome.
In any case, the film closes on our D’ork trying desperately to convince his friends that they are all more worthy than he of the commission, and them all fobbing him off because frankly, they can’t be bothered with the responsibility.
I will never again complain about a movie adaptation of The Three Musketeers going off book.
Oh, who am I kidding, I totally will.
This Musketeer Media Monday post is brought to you by the paid sponsors of Musketeer Space, all 50+ of them. You guys rule! Previous posts in this series include:
Musketeers in an Exciting Adventure With Airships (2011)
Musketeers Are All For Love (1993)
Looks Good in Leather: BBC Musketeer Edition Part I (2014)
You Can Leave Your Hat On: BBC Musketeer Edition Part II (2014)
It’s Raining Musketeers: BBC Musketeer Edition Part III (2014)
Mickey Mouse the Musketeer (2004)
Musketeers Crack Me Up Seventies Style (1973)
Musketeer in Pink (2009)