At Sword's Point (1952)
Claire: "I am no lady when I fight!"
Those lines of dialogue from At Sword's Point (1952) just about sum up the enormous appeal of Maureen O'Hara, who had been variously described as the "Queen of Technicolor" (for her stunning looks and gorgeous red hair) and the "Pirate Queen" (for her swashbuckling vitality and her ability to wield a sword or shimmy down a ship's mast as well as any man). O'Hara could be every inch a woman -beautiful, sensual, romantic - and yet completely hold her own in feisty matches with the likes of Errol Flynn and John Wayne (in fact, she was just about the only woman to stand so firmly toe-to-toe with Wayne). Although this unique position did little in the 1940s to earn her the kind of meaty dramatic roles offered her near contemporaries Stanwyck, Davis, and Hepburn, it made her an immensely popular heroine in the type of adventure movies that generally attracted boys (and boys at heart), at once an object of desire and a worthy ally in any fight.
Nowhere was this appeal used more fully than in this Three Musketeers tale filmed in 1949 but held back from release until 1952 (typical of the Howard Hughes-run RKO studio of the time). The story concerns the tribulations of the aging Queen Anne, beleaguered by a sinister, plotting duke. As before, she must depend on the Musketeers to help her, but because the original foursome are too old to be of much use, they send their children - three sons named, like their fathers, Athos, Porthos, and D'Artagnan, and Aramis' daughter Claire, who proves to be the men's absolute equal in courage, smarts, and fencing.
Although little seen today and never in the list of landmark American motion pictures, the movie captured the attention of film historian Jeanine Basinger: "The significance of At Sword's Point is that it clearly presents a woman as the equal of men in a man's world," Basinger wrote in A Woman's View (Wesleyan University Press, 1995). "She is, from the very beginning, both a woman and a swordsperson, and she doesn't have to stop being a woman to be good at dueling. No big deal is made of this, and in that fact lies the importance of At Sword's Point, a movie in which the genre is feminized more or less by just turning one character into a woman."
Much of the credit for this can be given to O'Hara, who usually did her own stunts while continuing to look ravishing. It's not surprising that she was John Ford's favorite actress. They made five films together between 1941 and 1957, including two of her most memorable performances, How Green Was My Valley (1941) and The Quiet Man (1952). Three of the Ford films were with John Wayne, and she made two others with the action star, including McLintock! (1963), appropriately a rambunctious comedy Western with strong echoes of Taming of the Shrew.
Some interesting Musketeers trivia around this picture: Alan Hale, Jr. (later seen as the Skipper on Gilligan's Island) plays the son of Porthos here. His actor father, Alan Hale, Sr., played Porthos in The Man in the Iron Mask (1939), and Hale Jr. played that character in The Fifth Musketeer (1979). In that movie, the role of the aging D'Artagnan was played by Cornel Wilde, who plays D'Artagnan's son in this picture. Finally, Moroni Olsen, who plays the aging Porthos in At Sword's Point played the character in his younger days in The Three Musketeers (1935). You get extra points for keeping that straight; after all, there have been more than a dozen versions of the story filmed throughout the last century.
Director: Lewis Allen
Producers: Sid Rogell, Jerrold T. Brandt
Screenplay: Walter Ferris, Joseph Hoffman; story by Jack Pollexfen and Aubrey Wisberg, based on the work of Alexandre Dumas
Cinematography: Ray Rennahan
Editing: Samuel E. Beetley, Robert Golden
Art Direction: Albert S. D'Agostino, Jack Okey
Original Music: Roy Webb
Cast: Maureen O'Hara (Claire), Cornel Wilde (D'Artagnan), Dan O¿erlihy (Aramis), Alan Hale, Jr. (Porthos), Gladys Cooper (Queen Anne).
C-82m. Closed captioning
by Rob Nixon