This is my tenth Musketeer Media Monday post!
SPOILER WARNING: As with Musketeers Break My Heart Seventies Style, The Three Musketeers (1948) is a surprisingly comprehensive adaptation of the original novel, so if you’re enjoying reading Musketeer Space without knowing the narrative beats of the book, this might reveal some revealy things. Also, this essay spoils the hell out of the movie, but that’s what Musketeer Media Monday is all about!
I DID NOT KNOW THIS THING ABOUT THE WORLD WE LIVE IN.
The first thing you need to know about this film, after its mere existence, is that Gene Kelly, in his late thirties, is far too old to play D’Artagnan.
The second thing you need to know is that his performance is basically everything that Kathy Seldon ever said about Don Lockwood in Singin’ in the Rain.
The third thing you need to know is that this D’Artagnan has a hat, though it’s an odd sort of beret with a feather in it.
Buttercup is adorable. This is my favourite film version of D’Artagnan’s yellow horse. It’s all shaggy and silly looking, just the sort of thing that a young man might be a bit embarrassed about. Sadly the horse is not in this movie nearly enough for my liking.
Ten minutes in, I realised that just because Gene Kelly is in something doesn’t mean that it’s a musical. This was devastating, because I had been SO LOOKING FORWARD to a Musketeer musical from the moment I discovered the existence of this one and ordered the DVD. With possible tap dancing.
Oh how I wanted this film to have tap-dancing. And musical numbers. Though to be fair I keep hoping that about The West Wing too, and I’m four seasons in and I don’t think it’s going to happen.
Everything is splendid and nothing hurts. These Musketeers are colour coded JUST LIKE IN THE BARBIE MOVIE.
The three way meet-cute goes about as per usual, with a certain degree of poise and snark. Then the fencing starts and – oh there’s the tap-dancing!
I can’t take my eyes off the costumes. Why are there no Musketeer conventions? This film needs to be cosplayed the hell out of. Oh, the swashing and the buckling and the leaping and the footwork in floppy boots.
It’s so pretty.
Two minutes into a duel that combines slapstick comedy with excellent sword skills, I have forgiven Gene Kelly for almost everything. It’s no wonder that the Musketeers want to be friends with him after that splendid performance.
King Louis, AKA The Cowardly Lion actor Frank Morgan, is outwardly cross at D’Artagnan for humiliating his guards, but then hands over a reward and prescribes a clothing makeover – which leads to a lovely scene in which D’Artagnan rides up to his new digs in fancypants clothes (and an even fancier hat) only to be mocked by random passers by.
If a Musketeer film is willing to mock D’Artagnan when he gets too pompous, I’m pretty happy with it.
But what about the Bonancieux plot? For a start, Constance is his landlord’s “god-daughter” rather than his potentially adulterous wife. Not sure if that bodes well or not for Constance. More importantly, they include the plot point where D’Artagnan spies on his landlord’s apartment through a trapdoor/hole in his floor, which is not a detail most films include.
June Allyson is no Racquel Welch in the comic actress stakes, but D’Artagnan produces enough comedy for both of them. I like her a lot better when she starts laughing at him in the middle of his professions of love. Sadly it’s just about the only moment of humour that she gets.
There’s so much lace in this movie, it’s practically a character in its own right. So the Duke of Buckingham’s lace collar is having an affair with the lace fringing on Queen Angela Lansbury’s saucy nightgown (which looks a lot like a ballgown but slightly more off the shoulder).
Also, the diamond studs that she presents to Buckingham are my favourite diamond studs in all the Musketeer media thus far – they’re like enormous shiny gobstoppers, you could kill a man with them.
Lana Turner (appearing in colour for the first time, go Lana!) adds to the glamorous fashion parade of cinematic Miladies with a spectacular green and black number as she meets Vincent Price’s (YES, VINCENT PRICE) elegant, sinister Richelieu.
Not Cardinal Richelieu, I should add. The “Cardinal” can be implied, but the title was deliberately left out of the script so as not to offend Roman Catholics. So he’s Not-Cardinal Vincent Price. And oh, that voice is delicious.
Off the boys go on their diamond quest! The plot parts of this story are definitely rushed through, to get to the action as speedily as possible. It’s no wonder that people are surprised to find out how much standing around in rooms talking there is in the actual book.
Even when the Musketeers wear their formal blue uniforms (which also come with fancy crocheted lace collars because everyone wears lace always) they wear their colour-coded fancy pants costumes and matching hats. I am never going to quite recover from Porthos’ pink hat. I hope they get one for Howard Charles.
Aramis has a particularly spiky lace collar when they are ambushed by Red Guard on the highway, shortly after he says something about all the fond memories he has of that particular stretch of road, strongly suggesting that he’s had a lot of sex on horseback, or possibly in the back of a carriage.
D’Artagnan loses his compatriots incredibly quickly, which leaves him fighting off basically all the Red Guards ever along a pretty bit of Californian coastline, with a bit of cliff-leaping and rock-hopping that nicely foreshadows That Duel in The Princess Bride.
At one point, he duels Jussac to death over some uneven rockpools, while dodging ocean spray. As you do.
The Marquis de Wardes! Films almost never include him, because he looks like a throwaway character and hardly appears but that doesn’t mean he’s not important. Well, he’s a Count here rather than a Marquis, but still. He arrives at Calais at the same time as D’Artagnan, wearing some fierce hot pink gloves, and his permission note from the Not-Cardinal comes in mighty handy.
It is retroactively implied that D’Artagnan beat up De Wardes and stole his letter… but also his hot pink gloves. Make of that what you will.
Okay, my new favourite thing about Lana Turner’s Milady is not her semi-Elizabethan collar (English fashions, madame?) or her spectacular hats. No, it’s the fact that she wears fake beauty spots and puts them in DIFFERENT PLACES ON HER FACE depending on her outfit.
Somebody give Lana Turner’s heart-shaped beauty spot an Oscar.
The trip to England might be remarkably quick but to my utter delight, the journey home takes longer and we get a proper reunion scene between D’Artagnan and Porthos (who is recovering from a butt wound) who reports that Aramis has renounced the world (“But it’s only been a few days!” protests D’Artagnan). Best of all, they give us the bit with a drunk Athos confessing his tragic backstory in the cellar. You all know how much I love that bit, right?
This might be a jolly and lightweight version of The Three Musketeers, but I can’t fault its narrative priorities. Poor, miserable Athos.
There’s some nice use of actual guns, mostly hand-pistols rather than muskets, but it’s refreshing considering how many later films eschew gunpowder for pure swordporn. There’s none of the slow attention to detail with powder etc. that we get in the BBC 2014 version, but it’s better than nothing.
In the returning-to-the-Palace sequence, D’Artagnan climbs a wall. Gene Kelly should always wear those trousers and floppy boots. Its’ a good look on him. Even if I keep forgetting he’s not actually the Dancing Cavalier…
Seriously, one dance number, would it have killed you?
Though him trapezing his way from the bridge to the roof and almost rolling off it, light on his feet like a cat pretending he totally didn’t do that – that was pretty awesome.
And when he comes in the window to Constance, he brings half the curtains down with him.
I also like the detail that she didn’t “have time” to have the studs made wearable, because they’re not brooches but a box full of shiny rocks. What was she supposed to do, balance them on her nose?
Oh, and when D’Artagnan is starstruck that “I kissed the Queen’s hand” after she thanks him, I do like Constance’s slightly acid “have you no higher ambitions?” I was wrong before, she has two funny bits.
To my surprise, the movie isn’t actually over at this point – instead, Constance is kidnapped. And when D’Artagnan confronts the Not-Cardinal about it – this is the best bit, I can barely type it I’m so excited – RICHELIEU IS STROKING A CAT.
Seriously. He has a cat on his lap. Is this the first filmic example of a villain stroking a cat while explaining his evil plan? Is it???
Because we have already established that Not-Cardinal Vincent Price is not subtle, he offers D’Artagnan Milady on a plate, as part of his proposed salary package for being a Lieutenant in the Guards. This version of Richelieu really, really wants to headhunt D’Artagnan.
Later, D’Artagnan is shirtless in bed when the Three Musketeers turn up. I feel I should mention this because it is the earliest example I have seen of the long and honourable cinematic tradition of D’Artagnan being shirtless. He updates them on the situation and they tease him about spending time with the mysterious Countess De Winter (“Has anyone ever met her?” muses Athos. Ha, dude, you have no idea why that’s funny but later in the movie you’re going to – no, you probably still won’t find it funny) while Constance is kidnapped. He claims, however, that his time with Milady has only been spent in polite conversation.
Once they find out he’s also been flirting with Milady’s maid, they tease him even harder. And fair enough, too.
I’m quite delighted by this Kitty, who shows a bit of backbone (or at least sarcasm) when she huffs to D’Artagnan about him not being remotely interested in her. And then my Musketeer fangirl radar is pinged so hard when I realise that they are actually doing the whole Marquis/Count De Wardes “All Cats are Grey in the Dark” chapter, in which D’Artagnan seduces Milady while pretending to be someone else. (Yes, he basically double dates her as De Wardes and himself)
He even wears the hot pink gloves.
Athos and D’Artagnan fight furiously when they discover Milady’s true identity, which is a little disappointing (don’t sink my ship, MGM, Athos/D’Artagnan platonic friendship is my OTP), but I do love the scene that follows, in which Aramis helps D’Artagnan write a mean breakup note to Milady on behalf of De Wardes, so he can then go and seduce her for a second time, as himself. Nice to know Aramis is contributing something to the story.
D’Artagnan’s and Milady’s boudoir outfits match, in scarlet and gold. Now, that’s planning.
I’m so impressed that they’re using all the screwball comedy aspects of the book which are so often left out of the film adaptations – it’s like Dumas meant this story to be a Gene Kelly/Lana Turner vehicle.
Seriously, though. Where are the songs?
Hilariously, D’Artagnan actually confesses to the whole De Wardes farce, possibly because he’s a bit shocked she hasn’t worked out he’s the same dude. This revelation turns Milady homicidal, and gives him an excuse to pull her sleeve down and check out the fleur-de-lis brand that Athos warned him about. Then, finally, sword fighting as he makes his escape.
Worth noting that at no point did he try to extract any information about Constance from her at all, which suggests that he has forgotten the point of the exercise. BAD ESPIONAGE THAT D’ARTAGNAN.
Somehow D’Artagnan finds Constance despite his abominable spy skills, thanks to the Queen (so presumably could have found her without all that elaborate Milady shagging?) and then secretly marries her, which is a new twist on the story! Constance is sent to Buckingham for safekeeping which is… odd considering that England and France are at war.
Then there’s a war montage. I’m not even kidding, they’re squeezing EVERYTHING into this movie. Richard Lester with your lazybones telling it over two separate films? MGM thumbs its nose at you.
Before we get to the climactic end they also fit in:
1. The Musketeers eavesdropping on Milady and the Cardinal in a tavern
2. The plot to kill Buckingham
3. The carte blanche signed by Cardinal Richelieu
4. A bunch more cute Milady frocks
5. Confrontation between Athos & Milady in which he calls her Charlotte (she calls him Robert, what the actual hell?) and kisses her senseless until she makes the mistake of trying to kill him with his own sword. Then he gets cranky.
6. Planchet vs. Milady as an intelligence test for the Duke of Buckingham
7. Buckingham’s bright idea to make Constance Milady’s jailer on the grounds that she can’t be seduced like a fella can.
8. Even D’Artagnan can spot the flaw in this plan, which is that seduction is not the only weapon in Milady’s arsenal.
9. Athos proves his friendship when they both risk being charged for desertion by hopping a boat to England. The side benefit of this is that Athos wears a silly metal hat the whole way there. You know how I feel about Musketeers in hats.
10. A killer (literally) speech from Milady while wearing a surprisingly lace-free men’s dressing gown.
11. Psychological warfare between Milady and Constance, in which the good girl makes a surprising turn to the dark side.
12. The inevitable tragic consequences, which my nine-year-old looked forward to with UNNATURAL GLEE. What have I raised?
13. Surprisingly gruesome and yet subtle interpretation of the final fates of Constance, Felton, Buckingham and Milady. Blood-stained fingers, you say?
14. A return to Athos’ home estate for the final reckoning.
With all this plot jam-packed into the story, it’s hard not to notice that it’s not a Three Musketeers movie any more – Aramis and Porthos have been all but forgotten as the Athos-D’Artagnan bromance is solidified through the bonding experience of dealing with Milady and, as a secondary character, Athos’ angst.
Milady’s final outfit as she takes the long walk to her execution, includes a bright purple veil and scarf arrangement over an aqua gown, a combination which would not look out of place on Olivia De Havilland’s Maid Marian, nor any of the Golden Girls. None of this humble white shift bullshit that other movies have to offer. Those bloodstains are going to clash!
Elements of this scene were obviously hugely influential in the later Richard Lester take on Milady’s execution, and I’ll admit that I’m a lot less impressed by Faye Dunaway’s Milady now that I know how much she was borrowing the interpretation that Lana Turner brings to the party here.
Lana Turner is a goddess, basically. Accept no substitution.
Aramis and Porthos are miraculously there in silhouette after this, pretending they have been with Athos and D’Artagnan the whole time, and not sloping off to flirt with widows in churches or whatever instead.
AND THE MOVIE STILL ISN’T OVER. This movie. I can’t believe they put all the book in it, and it’s not even squeaking at the seams.
One more big fight, of the
Jets vs. The Sharks Musketeers vs Red Guard. All the tricks are pulled out, because our boys want to impress us, so there’s sliding over bars, cutting down chandeliers, hanging people on hooks, and defenestration.
It all ends in a court intrigue in which
Mummy and Daddy fight in front of the children the King and the Cardinal squabble in open court over who holds the power in the country.
And then – there’s the thing with the ending which is just.
I can’t even.
See, the sad thing about The Three Musketeers, the part that’s genuinely upsetting is that it’s not the beginning of the story so much as the middle of the story, and we find out both through epilogue and later through sequels that the Four Best Friends Ever only had a handful of years together before Porthos and Aramis slipped off to their respective retirement plans (rich widow over here, religious service over there) and while Athos and D’Artagnan serve together a while longer before Athos peels off to his own post-Musketeer life plan as an aristocrat, the writing is already on the wall: it’s D’Artagnan who will become the career Musketeer, sticking around for decades, while his friends leave him.
But they still have some time, at the end of the first book. It’s not done yet. So the fact that this movie, which has got so many details genuinely right, which fitted so much of the damned plot into a single narrative, now turns around and kicks the so-called “Inseparables” off to their retirement plans IMMEDIATELY, and presents this as some kind of happy ending just because the Not-Cardinal knows when he’s beat, that’s…
I need to take a moment.
It might be time for me to rewatch the BBC Musketeers again, you guys. THEIR EPIC FRIENDSHIP WILL NEVER END.
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)
Musketeers Break My Heart Seventies Style (1974)