There have been many films that have brought all or part of Alexandre Dumas’ classic swashbuckling tale The Three Musketeers to the screen, but George Sidney’s 1948 effort brings not only a star-studded cast to the fore but tremendous verve and action-packed excitement as well.
The Production: 4/5
There have been many films that have brought all or part of Alexandre Dumas’ classic swashbuckling tale The Three Musketeers to the screen, but George Sidney’s 1948 effort brings not only a star-studded cast to the fore but tremendous verve and action-packed excitement as well. Its ambitions are great: to bring the entirety of the narrative to the screen in one film (it took Richard Lester two films to accomplish this feat almost a quarter of a century later), and while much has been omitted and the pacing sometimes lags, the brilliant Technicolor and the slate of familiar faces occupying the classic roles make this version a tremendous amount of fun.
Cardinal Richelieu (Vincent Price) may only be the chief minister to King Louis XIII (Frank Morgan) in France in 1625, but he is in fact the power behind the throne determined to engage in a war with England and set himself up as master over both countries. Enter Louis’ beloved musketeers to do the king’s bidding in constant attempts to keep Richelieu’s power in check by regularly battling with his chief commander Rochefort (Ian Keith) and his men. The three best swordsmen among the musketeers are the often-drunk Athos (Van Heflin), the courtly Porthos (Gig Young), and the spiritual Aramis (Robert Coote), and they have recently been joined by the swashbuckling country lad D’Artagnan (Gene Kelly) whose athletic prowess and way with a foil are unmatched. The quartet find themselves at odds not only with Richelieu but with an even deadlier cohort of his, the wicked Lady de Winter (Lana Turner), who can use her feminine wiles to insert herself into the British political situation and woo D’Artagnan away from Queen Anne’s (Angela Lansbury) innocent handmaiden Constance (June Allyson) to get what she wants.
Robert Ardrey’s screenplay adaptation hits all of the novel’s high points while George Sidney’s direction mirrors the novel’s alternating tone: high-spirited and rambunctious in its first half and darker and more sinister in the second half. If one is averse to swordplay, this is not the movie to view as it’s crammed to the gills with it: early encounters with Rochefort’s men (where especially Gene Kelly’s acrobatic maneuvers are marvelously high flying and impressive even after all these years), the escape from de Winter’s chalet (where movie fans will quickly realize that scenes in this sequence were lifted out of the film to be used as moments in The Dancing Cavalier in Singin’ in the Rain), and the climactic trap at an inn set for the musketeers. Sidney also films beautifully from a series of angles a spectacular stunt as Kelly scales stone walls and palace turrets to return the diamond studs to Queen Anne before Richelieu embarrasses her before the court. There is also a brief war montage, quite evocative and just long enough to show that Richelieu’s plans have again been thwarted.
It’s Gene Kelly’s film despite only earning second billing: his D’Artagnan gives the famous silent enactment by Douglas Fairbanks a run for its money and was clearly meant to match him stunt for stunt and jump for jump. It’s pretty much a photo finish, but there are likely those who will prefer Doug’s interpretation. Lana Turner is astoundingly beautiful in her Walter Plunkett gowns and finery as Lady de Winter, but her treachery seems more surface than deeply inbred (she’s hampered, of course, by the Production Code which didn’t allow us to see her actually murdering a succession of people). Vincent Price was born to play the wily, snake-like Richelieu which he does with great glee. June Allyson is all sweet innocence as Constance. Angela Lansbury (who years later made it known she had pleaded for the role of de Winter but was denied) is pretty much wasted as Queen Anne while Frank Morgan is properly weak and befuddled as King Louis. Van Heflin acts Athos to pieces burying his heartbreak and regret in flagons of wine while Gig Young and Robert Coote are fine as the other two, less well-defined, musketeers. In smaller roles, Keenan Wynn is reliable as D’Artagnan’s servant Planchet, John Sutton is a stalwart Duke of Buckingham, Ian Keith is oily fun as Rochefort, and Patricia Medina has some strong moments as Kitty. Yes, that’s Marie Windsor looking gorgeous in the non-speaking role as Richelieu’s mole serving as the queen’s lady-in-waiting.
3D Rating: NA
The film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.37:1 is faithfully rendered in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Warner Archive has done another brilliant job bringing out the true Technicolor look in this gorgeous image. Hues are rich but always under control with flesh tones especially luscious in this transfer. There is not a speck of age-related anomaly to be seen anywhere, and you’ll be captivated by how superb the image is in all of the varying light levels throughout the presentation. The movie has been divided into 32 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix offers outstanding aural fidelity. Dialogue has been exquisitely recorded and has been superbly blended with Herbert Stothart’s background score (which borrows heavily from Tchaikovsky in all of the D’Artagnan-Constance scenes) and the multiple sound effects. There are no traces anywhere of hiss, pops, crackle, or flutter.
Special Features: 2.5/5
Looking at London (10:09, SD): a James Fitzpatrick TravelTalk.
What Price Fleadom (6:57, HD): a Tex Avery animated short
Radio Promo (14:04): Lana Turner gives some brief comments about the movie which then features audio clips from some of her earlier films.
Theatrical Trailer (1:56, HD)
MGM spent over $4 million bringing Dumas’ classic novel to the screen, but they had MGM’s second biggest hit of the year with it (outgrossed only by Easter Parade), and it’s all on the screen to clearly be seen in Warner Archive’s outstanding new Blu-ray release of this very entertaining spectacle. Recommended!
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