The Four Musketeers (1974)

Milady's Revenge

The Four Musketeers is the second half of Richard Lester’s adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ Les Trois Mousquetaires, and was filmed at the same time as The Three Musketeers (1973).  If you haven’t seen the earlier movie or read my previous review, I suggest you do so now.  It will save me from a lot of recapping, and it’s the way the films were meant to be seen and discussed.

Go ahead.  I’ll be here when you get back.  (Time passes… whistling… ukulele strumming… a click is heard)  Oh good, you’re back.  Let’s start; shall we?

 

After a bit of expository narration, which would not have been needed had the films been released as a single epic, the story picks up with D’Artagnan (York) as a full-fledged Musketeer.  However, things don’t go smoothly for the new recruit.  Cardinal Richelieu (Heston) is still intent on ending the affair between the Queen (Chaplin) and enemy-of-the-state Buckingham (Ward); and he enlists the Count de Rochefort (Lee) to kidnap Constance (Welch), the Queen’s confidant, who also happens to be D’Artagnan’s bedmate.  You with me so far?  At the same time, Milady De Winter (Dunaway) is intent on revenge against D’Artagnan and Constance for upsetting her plans in the first half of the story, while hell-bent on covering up a scandal of her past, which involves Athos (Reed) in the time prior to his joining the Musketeers.  Oh, and all this time the Musketeers are supposed to be at the battle of La Rochelle, fighting the Anglo-French War.

The Four Musketeers still contains dollops of slapstick and derring-do that filled the previous film, but on the whole, things are much more serious in the follow-up.  Dark secrets are revealed, the swordplay is more vicious, and major characters die.  Due to the darkness of the second film, many prefer the first.  However, I love the The Four Musketeers even more than The Three Musketeers, as much more of the focus is on Athos, played magnificently by Oliver Reed, and the higher stakes make the whole story more engrossing.

As with previous film, the direction, acting, and script are all top notch, and the action scenes are expertly choreographed.  In fact, the final sword fight, set in a convent, is one for the ages.

Part of me wishes that The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers had been released as a single roadshow epic, because watching the two films back-to-back improves the viewing experience of each.  However, the one upside of the split is that we get two different soundtracks.  Michel Legrand composed the score of the first film, while Lalo Schifrin wrote the music for the second.  I dearly love both scores, and I’d hate to give up the additional tracks on my iPod for the chance to see Richard Lester’s Musketeer movies as a seamless epic.

With home video and streaming options, it is now possible to watch both films in a single viewing, and I suggest that is exactly what you do.  En garde!

 

USA/C-106m./Dir: Richard Lester/Wr: George MacDonald Fraser /Cast: Oliver Reed, Raquel Welch, Richard Chamberlain, Michael York, Frank Finlay, Christopher Lee, Geraldine Chaplin, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Faye Dunaway, Charlton Heston, Roy Kinnear, Simon Ward, Michael Gothard, Nicole Calfan 

If You Like: Fans of the humorous swashbuckling in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) and The Mask of Zorro (1998) should also enjoy The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers.

Video: The Lester Musketeer films have only been offered on DVD in the U.S., most recently as The Three Musketeers/The Four Musketeers (Two-Movie Collection). However, The Three Musketeers / The Four Musketeers - 2-Disc Set Blu-ray from the U.K. is region-free.

Streaming: At the time of the writing of this review, both The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers are streaming for a limited time on Filmstruck.

More to Explore: Lester got the gang back together 16 year later for The Return of the Musketeers, a loose adaptation of Dumas’ Twenty Years After.

Trivia: Producers Ilya Salkind and Alexander Salkind were sued by the actors, because they were hired and paid to perform in single film, but the production made twice the box office by splitting it into two.  Not only were the actors awarded compensation; all SAG actors’ contracts now include the “Salkind Clause,” which stipulates how many films are being produced.

For More Info: You can’t go wrong with Dumas’ original novel.  The best English translation is by Richard Pevear, released as The Three Musketeers (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition).

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