Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Three Musketeers


I am exceedingly upset. My mascara, not being the waterproof variety, has been running all morning. I look like a coati mundi after a three-day binge. Those fickle politicians! I have been replaced. The Democratic Party has replaced me as their candidate for the City of Beverly Hills animal control officer with some gnome of a man with no public following and an even worse toupee than the Republican. The party leaders called this morning and told me that my having accepted hard cat food on camera during the last debate makes me ‘suspect’. They are afraid that the makers of Meow Mix may have undue influence over me in my choice of condiments served to the inmates of the local pound. I am just desolated. However, I did not become an Oscar winning actress by dwelling on my failures. I shall just dust myself off and move on, leaving animal control to be the battle of the balding. Personally, I would never allow myself to go on camera with plastic hair.

Norman is doing slightly better this week. He's had enough energy to go out a few times, duly chaperoned of course. I will have no repeats of the instances where I have had to rescue him from the county drunk tank. Nurse Tameka is keeping a watchful eye on him. He’s talking about working again and I've suggested he contact his agent about a possible comeback role. If Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy could do it, I don't see why Norman couldn't. Perhaps he and Abe Vigoda could team up in a remake of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid .

As a way of dealing with my trauma, I perused the sale rack at the local DVD outlet and happened across Richard Lester's 1974 version of The Three Musketeers with Michael York, Oliver Reed, Richard Chamberlain, Raquel Welch and Faye Dunaway. I lobbied long and hard at the time to be cast as the queen, Anne of Austria, but the part went to Geraldine Chaplin. I would have looked better in those gowns and brought a sense of Hollywood royalty to the role, but even Lester family feeling was not enough to convince Richard to award me the part.

Every generation remakes The Three Musketeers in its own image from the days of the silents, to Gene Kelly and the MGM crew in the late 40s to the limp version of several years ago with Chris O'Donnell and Kiefer Sutherland, to the recent chop-sockey version starring no one of interest. This version, however, is the one that most closely captures the romantic joie de vivre of the story, which Alexandre Dumas first penned in the mid 19th century. The well known plot involves the country bred D'Artagnan (Michael York) coming to Paris to seek his fortune in King Louis XIII's royal musketeers and falling in with three musketeers, Athos (Oliver Reed) the brooding rebel aristocrat, Porthos (Frank Finlay) the lover of good meals and fine clothes, and Aramis (Richard Chamberlain) the almost priest. D'Artagnan falls in love with the lovely Constance (Raquel Welch), dressmaker and confidant to the queen and becomes involved in a series of intrigues, manipulated by the evil Cardinal Richelieu (Charlton Heston) and his henchwoman, the ruthless Milady de Winter (Faye Dunaway). This version revels in the fun of the swashbuckler genre and the script, by George Macdonald Fraser of the Flashman novels, sets up dozens of comic situations as well as the sword fight set pieces that give the film its verve and motion.

Lester and Fraser set about to make a definitive film of the story and cram so much incident into it that they ultimately had to make two films; the sequel, unimaginatively entitled The Four Musketeers , covers the events after D'Artagnan's induction into the force. The fight scenes are imaginatively staged and make terrific use of location, especially a battle in the palace laundry and one where the musketeers, broke after an indiscreet wager, fight in a tavern as a cover for snatching a meal or two. The performances are hokey fun, especially Raquel Welch as an incredibly klutzy Constance and Frank Finlay as the rotund, egotistical Porthos. There are a number of eye-popping visual moments as the movie makes wonderful use of lavish sets and period buildings (Spain stands in for France) and the costumes, especially on the women, are gorgeous. An audience that has been raised on MTV flash editing may find the fight scenes somewhat slow going as there are not as many jump cuts and other tricks to heighten the experience, rather, you get to watch the artistry of the swordplay more slowly unfold.

The DVD has no extras but keeps a wide screen ratio. The sound is clear but not remastered. Some of the colors seem to have faded with time and some scenes, especially interiors in dim light, are a bit muddy. It comes as a set with The Four Musketeers that I will review later.

Costume balls. Carmelite nuns. Dog chess sets. Royal merry-go-rounds. Diamond studs. Gratuitous Spike Milligan. Shirtless Michael York. Window leaping. Falling in wells. Comic relief servants. Gratuitous Raquel Welch breast joke.

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