30 July 2008 | Bunuel1976
MILADY AND THE MUSKETEERS (Vittorio Cottafavi, 1952) ***
Although I’m planning to make next month a “Euro-Cult” marathon, I chose to watch this very stylish Italian swashbuckler now to augment my viewing of Allan Dwan’s musical version of THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1939) since the former is a prequel to (and an alternate take on) the classic Alexandre Dumas tale. I’ve always been partial to spin-offs of famous yarns myself and, as a matter of fact, the film takes the viewpoint of Milady De Winter (where we’re even told of her life before acquiring that title). Dumas himself would utilize his famous Musketeers characters in at least three other novels – “The Man In The Iron Mask”, “Twenty Years After” and “The Executioner of Lille” which is what this film is an adaptation of and was indeed the film’s original Italian title (although it was changed internationally to make the connection with the popular swashbuckling classic that much more clearer); incidentally, back in Hollywood they were contemporaneously filming in Technicolor an adaptation of “Twenty Years After” under the title AT SWORD’S POINT with Cornel Wilde and Maureen O’Hara!
Vittorio Cottafavi is a prolific and largely unsung genre director with a distinctly pictorial style which is well in evidence here, right from the arresting pre-credit sequence that cleverly gives a foretaste of a crucial moment from the climax: the entrapment of Milady in a barn by the titular executioner and the four musketeers. Atypically for swashbucklers, therefore, the events leading up to her capture then unfold in flashback. The film proves interesting in both plot (a compelling and largely unfamiliar narrative laden with romance, intrigue and action – but where characterization is still given its due) and execution: Cottafavi’s use of shadowy lighting and mobile camera-work is particularly effective, while giving the whole a breathless pace.
Nominal male star Rossano Brazzi is belatedly introduced as the Comte De Fer who immediately falls for Milady (formerly Anna de Beuil and soon-to-be Duchess of Buckingham) and later pursues her as an embittered but dashing Athos of the King’s Musketeers. Sensual brunette Yvette Lebon is perfectly cast as the cold-blooded woman who escapes her life of drudgery in a convent by enslaving every man she meets including the executioner’s younger brother (Armando Francioli) who hangs himself in a prison cell when she abandons him for a life of political intrigue under the direction of Rochefort (Massimo Serato) who’s often bemused by Milady’s audacity and resourcefulness.
Jean-Roger Caussimon as the Executioner of Lille is the only man able to resist her and for this she demands Rochefort for his life. His lovely young daughter (Maria Grazia Francia) not only sees her uncle destroyed by Milady but also her own fiancé and, during the afore-mentioned opening, she herself is at the mercy of Milady’s dagger before the latter’s timely come-uppance. While Richelieu is often mentioned throughout, he doesn’t make a personal appearance this time around and, similarly, the other famous musketeers get very little mileage here (where D’Artagnan is, besides, unaccountably presented as both blond and fey!); incidentally, another peculiar historical detail is the English army’s depiction as a bunch of kilt-wearing Scots! The whole exhilarating brew is propelled by a fine score, alternating between moody and rousing, by Renzo Rossellini. Unfortunately, the VHS copy I watched (culled from a late-night Italian TV screening) suffered from yet another spell of distracting extraneous noise on the soundtrack!