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The Three Musketeers (1973)
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,The Three Musketeers

The Three Musketeers (1973)

Every generation has its own screen adaptation of The Three Musketeers. In 1921 there was Douglas Fairbanks as D'Artagnan. In 1939 the Alexandre Dumas novel became a musical comedy starring Don Ameche and the Ritz Brothers. An all-star cast including Gene Kelly, Lana Turner, June Allyson and Van Heflin brought the tale to life in 1948. And most recently, in 1993, the brat pack made their own Musketeer movie with Charlie Sheen, Kiefer Sutherland and Chris O'Donnell. So what does the 1973 version of The Three Musketeers have to recommend it?

Comedy, for one thing. The screenplay was written by George MacDonald Fraser, who would go on to write the Bond flick, Octopussy (1983). Fraser stuck more closely to the Dumas story than many of the other screen adaptations. And his script added a dash of slapstick to the swashbuckling adventure. Director Richard Lester also brought his unique talents and sense of humor to the project as well. Lester was best known for his work on The Beatles' movie, A Hard Day's Night (1964) and for what actor Michael York called his "irreverent, freewheeling style of screen humor, a cine-cynicism." This same half-winking tone makes The Three Musketeers a lighthearted romp.

The 1973 adaptation also had an amazing array of acting talent. Playing the Musketeers were: Oliver Reed as Athos, Richard Chamberlain as Aramis, and Frank Finlay as Porthos. Add to that Michael York as D'Artagnan, the bumbling youth who wants to join the musketeers, not to mention Faye Dunaway, Raquel Welch and Charlton Heston to round out the cast.

Lester didn't let star power stop him from making stuntmen out of his actors. He liked to film rehearsals and have a camera running continuously to capture anything unscripted that might happen. Lester also shot with multiple cameras (sometimes up to five) on one take, rather than in typical single camera style. So instead of using stand-ins for the long shots and moving in for a close-up of the star, Lester would film the entire scene (from close-up to master shot) at the same time. So, stuntmen were used only when absolutely necessary. In his autobiography Accidentally on Purpose, Michael York recalls "leaping onto horses whose saddles were deliberately unfastened only to revolve instantly underneath amidst dust and prancing hooves." Such was par for the course on the set of The Three Musketeers.

Between fight scenes and duels, almost every member of the cast was injured by the time the movie wrapped. Michael York had his leg cut in one duel and almost lost an eye in another. Oliver Reed took a sword to the hand. Frank Finlay was struck in the face by a two-by-four and burned in separate fight scenes. Christopher Lee fared better than most of the cast, getting off with just a sprained knee and a pulled shoulder muscle. The women got in on the action, too. Raquel Welch and Faye Dunaway worked with trainers to make their big fight scene "as physical and brutal as Lester wanted," recalls Dunaway. The rehearsals went fine, but when Dunaway pushed Welch for real, Welch lost her footing, fell and sprained her wrist. It got so bad, that at one point, York remembers doubling for his injured stunt double. He later resorted to stuffing his script inside his clothes for protection.

Richard Lester also exploited some beautiful European locations for The Three Musketeers. More than fifty locations and one hundred sets were spread across Spain. The crew made use of small towns, like Salamanca, where the local magistrate said he collected enough fees off the film's production to feed even the poorest person in the town for a year. And they had access to several castles, such as the beautiful Arnjuez Palace, often called the Versailles of Spain. But despite the gorgeous scenery, the spring and summer weather in Spain was grueling because of the heat. On one day of shooting at Arnjuez (the scene where D'Artagnan is inducted into the Musketeers), the temperature reached 122 degrees Fahrenheit. A reported 7000 bottles of water were said to be consumed by the large cast and crew necessary for the elaborate scene. The sets for The Three Musketeers were also closed and the European press didn't like it one bit. But Lester was concerned about having his ideas stolen as four other adaptations of the Dumas classic were also in production at the time (two Italian, one French and one animated).

He needn't have worried because his version of The Three Musketeers is non-stop fun and it has a great back-story. It turns out that Lester shot two pictures for the price of one. The cast knew nothing about a planned 1975 sequel called The Four Musketeers. The first time they became aware of the follow up film was at a preview screening of The Three Musketeers. During the closing credits, a trailer for The Four Musketeers appeared. And to all the actors' surprise, the trailer boasted that it would feature the entire original cast, supposedly from extra footage. Of course this caused an uproar from the actors, all of whom felt they'd been cheated and paid for one film instead of two. They threatened to sue. Their legal action, along with Lester's need to fill in some gaps with new Musketeers footage, won the cast additional pay. Still, it wasn't as much as if they'd been paid for two separate pictures. In his defense, Lester maintained his innocence, saying that he'd never intended to make two movies, but that in the editing process he realized that he'd shot too much film. So instead of cutting it down and losing so many great scenes, he decided he'd rather chop the footage in half and make two films. It's quite possible that it happened just this way. But, as Dunaway says, Lester's explanation was highly suspect.

Producer: Michael Alexander, Alexander Salkind, Ilya Salkind, Pierre Spengler
Director: Richard Lester
Screenplay: George MacDonald Fraser, based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas
Production Design: Brian Eatwell
Cinematography: David Watkin
Costume Design: Yvonne Blake, Ron Talsky
Film Editing: John Victor-Smith
Original Music: Michel Legrand
Principal Cast: Oliver Reed (Athos), Charlton Heston (Cardinal Richelieu), Raquel Welch (Constance), Faye Dunaway (Milady), Richard Chamberlain (Aramis), Frank Finlay (Porthos), Michael York (D'Artagnan), Christopher Lee (Rochefort), Geraldine Chaplin (Anna of Austria), Jean-Pierre Cassel (Louis XIII), Spike Milligan (M. Bonancieux), Roy Kinnear (Planchet), Simon Ward (Duke of Buckingham), Joss Ackland (D'Artagnan's Father), Sybil Danning (Eugenie).
C-107m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.

by Stephanie Thames