The Three Musketeers (1948)

THE THREE MUSKETEERS—-“To die among friends. Can a man ask more? Can the world offer less? Who wants to live ’till the last bottle is empty? It’s all-for one, D’Artagnan, and one for all.” 

MGM swashbuckled a reported $4,474,000 worth of star-glow and Technicolor into their swipe at Alexandre Dumas’ 1844 classic. After the grand 1973 rollick, this exuberant romp from 1948 is the next best of some two dozen versions that began with the first celluloid escapade of the dashing duelists, done in France back in 1903. 

Gouts of hearty laughter and swigs of brandy are but bridges to hurtle over to the next individual or collective swordfight —I stopped counting at eight—while devious plots from heartless vixens and smirking swine get so complicated you need a jester to kick awake to remind you who’s on first. Robert Ardrey wrote the script, George Sidney directed: the treatment alternates between inspired and awful.

Gene Kelly is ‘D’Artagnan’, attacking the brash Gascon with the enthusiastic goofiness of a high school play. His line delivery choices are…uh…debatable, but the acrobatic leaps and bounds are prime Gene: a lifelong fan of Silent Era idol Douglas Fairbanks ( “I loved playing this part. As a boy I idolized Fairbanks, Sr. and I raised myself to be a gymnast.”), Kelly didn’t hold anything in reserve. Van Heflin gets the “drama” lifting chores as ‘Athos’, while Gig Young (‘Porthos’) and Robert Coote (‘Aramis’) offer loyal smiles and rapier-thrusts. The dastards are embodied, with real verve, by Lana Turner, as the treacherous ‘Lady de Winter’, and Vincent Price,having a Vincent’y good time as ratfink deluxe Cardinal Richelieu. He’s called ‘First Minister’ here instead of ‘Cardinal’ as the studio was not about to affront the Catholic clergy (like the average Catholic would give a Hail) and risk box-office death-by-Protestants. June Allyson is good girl ‘Constance’.  Holy smokes, Lana Turner kills June Allyson! That probably kicked the Blacklist into high gear. *

It takes a good man to prevent a catastrophe, milady, and a great man to make use of one. You and I, my dear, are rare new creatures in this ancient world of impulsive men. We have intellect. We think. And when we think, our impulsive enemies are helpless.”

Dumas’ book was hefty (around 700 pages depending on the edition), and this was the first time a movie tried to cram it all in, thus the pile-on of plot and breathless pace. It worked to better advantage in 1973/4 when Richard Lester filmed it all as one but then split it into The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers.

The ’48 romp must’ve outraged classicists (raise your sword arm if you care), though critics, after dutifully wheezing over “Hollywood duels with Literature”, were forced to untwist goatees and at least acknowledge the energy. Down in the cheap seats, Jacques & Yvette Publique didn’t give three snails about aristocrats gas pains; peasants stormed theaters with $10,900,000, the year’s 3rd-biggest tribute. One Academy Award nomination was bestowed, for Robert H. Planck’s cinematography, with its many glowing closeups of the stars.  Herbert Stothart’s galloping music score makes free use of Tchaikovsky, because—he’s dead and we’re M-G-M!  **

With Angela Lansbury (not much to do as Queen Anne), Frank Morgan (going fuddy duddy as Louis XIII), Keenan Wynn, John Sutton, Patricia Medina, Reginald Owen, Ian Keith and Marie Windsor. 125 minutes.

 * Turner at 26 was at the height of her box-office appeal, with successive hits Weekend At The Waldorf, The Postman Always Rings Twice, Green Dolphin Street, Cass Timberlane and Homecoming. Lana’s chief appeal was her sex appeal, and her discernible hard edge/been around aura worked best when she was a bad girl—‘Postman‘ and ‘Musketeers‘. 

 ** Can we dump guns and bring back swords? Really, isn’t that a more upfront way to fight somebody? (assuming you can’t outjoke or outrun them)  I remember visiting Niagara Falls an eon ago and crossing over to the Canadian side happened upon a sword store ! I bought a broadsword for my friend Jeff and brought it back across the country on Greyhound.

Cutlasses, pals and legendary Frenchmen. Good friend Mike Brickler traces some family lineage thread to Alexandre Dumas. Mike, among his many talents, acts here & there, and in his younger days I could see him having the right touch of zest for D’Artagnan. On second thought, maybe giving Mike a sword and telling him to “play it big” might not be the safest casting decision.

 

 

 

 

 

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