12 April 2011 | Bunuel1976
THE THREE MUSKETEERS (Andre' Hunebelle, 1953) **
Alexandre Dumas's classic tale is one of the most filmed epic adventures; in fact, yet another version is upcoming from a dried-up-of-ideas Hollywood! Emanating from France, that country obviously produced its own adaptations over the years – but, when stacked against the best of the English-speaking renditions, this 'foreign' one definitely comes up lacking!
For the record, I own a 1942 Mexican film by the same title (where the story was, however, tailored for comedian Cantinflas) and should also be checking out THE FOUR MUSKETEERS from 1963 (which also promises to be heavy on the comedy). That said, I was impressed with Vittorio Cottafavi's MILADY AND THE MUSKETEERS (1952) – which, as the overseas title suggests, had presented the familiar events from the perspective of Milady De Winter.
The main reason for the failure of the film under review, it seems to me, is that the script basically chose to deal with only the skeleton of the narrative – which, coupled with the thoroughly uninspired handling, makes for an overlong and, frankly, tedious outing! In fact, the tale's nominal villains – the afore-mentioned Milady and Cardinal Richelieu – are pretty much kept in the background, so that the ensuing action (with the swordplay seldom rising above the adequate anyway!) and drama lack suspense because a sense of real danger is never actually felt throughout!
Even if the extensive cast does include a handful of familiar faces (Georges Marchal's overage D'Artagnan, Gino Cervi's Porthos, Yvonne Sanson's sexy but, as I said, ineffectual Milady – also unaccountably saddled here with a buffoonish husband! – and Bourvil's Planchet – whose comedy relief overshadows even the romance and intrigue!), few of the famous characters ever truly come to life!! While one could have argued against it being in black-and-white (since the two most popular versions i.e. 1948 and 1973/4 were in color), it is worth noting that some of the very finest swashbucklers were filmed that way too! For the record, both star and director would often return to the genre over the years: the latter most notably with LE BOSSU (1959), but he also made concurrent spoof versions of the source material here to counter Richard Lester's own "jokey" revamps(!), and the former's include two semi-sequels in 1954's THE LAST MUSKETEER and 1962's THE SECRET MARK OF D'ARTAGNAN (in both of which, however, he played different parts!) – incidentally, I should be watching 4 more of his Epic efforts during the course of this Easter marathon.