Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Three Musketeers (1948)

The Three Musketeers (George Sidney, 1948) Every few years, a new generation has to put their imprint on Alexander Dumas' adventure tale on the chicaneries and hidden agendas during the rule of King Louis XIII and Cardinal Richelieu, when it seems everyone was challenging the rule of theocracy masquerading as monarchy.  Every time, a group of four actors can be found to collaborate rather than hog the show, a new version is produced and a different spin is put on the first part of the d'Artagnan Romances, telling of a sword-skilled Gascony bumpkin who goes to Paris to join the King's Musketeers of the Guard—knights on the cusp of a new technology who prefer their battles to be sharp and personal—and learns the ways of the world in love, loss, and politics and how they all cross swords.

My favorite version is still Richard Lester's one-and-a-half film epic The Three Musketeers: The Queen's Diamonds and The Four Musketeers: Milady's Revenge for their bawdy humor, down and dirty sword fights and occasional stunt-casting, breezily written by George MacDonald Fraser, lovingly photographed by David Watkin, and (for the first one) cheekily scored by Michele LeGrand in his mock heroic style.

But there have been so many others, going back to the silent era.  One of the oddest, despite being a fairly straight adaptation is the Technicolor M-G-M version from 1948, starring Gene Kelly as d'Artagnan, high in the step and long in the tooth, where the fights are choreographed more as dance in natural settings.  All movie fights are choreographed to some extent, but the '48 version of "3M" has a particularly dancerly feel with Kelly.  There's a "lark" aspect to the whole thing, with a winking feel as if to say "isn't this all preposterous?"  It feels even more so in Kelly's love scenes with June Allyson playing Constance, confidante to the Queen (Angela Lansbury) and daughter (in this one) of his landlord.  Their scenes have a campy, artificial leaning, layered over with a version of Tchaikovsky's "Romeo and Juliet" theme, which was probably a cliche for love in '48.  It makes any emotional investment in the romance so much embarrassing vapor.

Impressive cast, though, with Lana Turner top-lined (probably to assuage her fears that it was a secondary role) as the villanous Milady deWinter, Vincent Price is finely oily as Prime Minister Richelieu (evidently he was defrocked for the film, owing to pressure from the Catholic Church), Van Heflin a good, but not great Athos, Gig Young as Porthos, and Keenan Wynn providing comedy as d'Artagnan's servant Planchet.

And it has one scene that makes the highlight reels—Kelly's tribute to Douglas Fairbanks, vaulting over French roof-tops to rescue his lady-love.  It's nicely staged athleticism, marking a sharp contrast to the play-acting of the rest of the film.

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Smith Alice said...
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