The Three Musketeers (1973)

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Released 11-Oct-2004

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Action Menu Animation & Audio
Rating ?
Year Of Production 1973
Running Time 102:32
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (53:12) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Richard Lester
Studio
Distributor

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Oliver Reed
Raquel Welch
Richard Chamberlain
Michael York
Frank Finlay
Christopher Lee
Geraldine Chaplin
Jean-Pierre Cassel
Spike Milligan
Roy Kinnear
Georges Wilson
Simon Ward
Faye Dunaway
Case ?
RPI $19.95 Music Michel Legrand


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.66:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles Dutch
Portuguese
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    The Three Musketeers is based on the 1844 novel by Alexandre Dumas père (1802-1870). Dumas was a prolific author of popular adventure stories like The Man in the Iron Mask, The Black Tulip and The Corsican Brothers, and achieved considerable fame and fortune in 19th century France despite his origins as the grandson of a Haitian slave (to be fair, his grandfather was a French nobleman). His skin colour and appearance does not seem to have been a hindrance to him in the enlightened culture of Paris, though one shudders to think how he might have fared in the United States. The book was originally published in serial form in a French newspaper and has been a staple of the cinema since the invention of the medium, the earliest adaptation being a short film in 1898.

    Since then there have been dozens of films based on the book. I have managed to see a few of these. Douglas Fairbanks starred as D'Artagnan in his own fine 1921 production of the story, which was a tremendous success everywhere except France. Not because the French objected to an American star in one of their favourite stories, but more because of a home grown serial released in the same year. That serial, restored but with a voiceover narration in place of titles, has screened on television in this country in recent years and is in many respects better than the Fairbanks film. The latter was not released in France for several years as a result. Both of these films are available on DVD, though the French serial is only available in France and has no English subtitles.

    In the 1930s there were numerous and mainly unsuccessful films of the story. One starred the Ritz Brothers, pale imitations of the Marx Brothers, and is quite enjoyable though not of any great note. John Wayne's 1933 serial called The Three Muskeeters is in fact a Foreign Legion story that has nothing to do with Dumas. Later he appeared as one of the Three Mesquiteers in several low-budget westerns, but again these were nothing to do with the original story. The following decade saw a big-budget MGM production, but Gene Kelly is not the best D'Artagnan you will ever see. Lana Turner made a fetching Milady, the sole reason I found this watchable.

    In recent years there have been several attempts to bring the story to the screen, almost all unworthy in my opinion, such as the 1993 version with some very American musketeers, the woeful The Musketeer from 2001 and a minor French spin-off called D'Artagnan's Daughter. There was also a poor 1979 effort called The Fifth Musketeer, unrelated to this film.

    So to the 1973 film, which was produced by Alexander, Michael and Ilya Salkind. The maverick Salkinds caused something of a ruckus (which I can just dimly recall) by paying the actors for one film but releasing what had been shot as two. Several of the stars sued the producers. Nevertheless the first part, subtitled The Queen's Diamonds, was released in 1973. Part two, which one would expect would be released on DVD in due course, was entitled The Four Musketeers and subtitled The Revenge of Milady, and was released the following year. Part one ends with some highlights from the second instalment.

    The film begins with D'Artagnan (Michael York) practising his sword skills with his father (Joss Ackland), who shows him his "secret thrust". D'Artagnan then leaves home to travel to Paris to become one of the King's Musketeers. On the way he crosses paths with the one-eyed Rochefort (Christopher Lee). Arriving at the Musketeer headquarters, he is told that he cannot join until he has served in a campaign or distinguished himself by killing someone. Spying Rochefort from the window, D'Artagnan races downstairs to confront him but manages only to bump into Athos (Oliver Reed), Porthos (Frank Finlay) and Aramis (Richard Chamberlain), each of whom challenges him to a duel. Before his duel with Athos can start, Cardinal Richelieu's guards appear and D'Artagnan fights with the three Musketeers, making them his fast friends.

    D'Artagnan chooses a servant in the local inn (Roy Kinnear) who leads him to prospective lodgings in the house of M. Boniceaux (Spike Milligan). Our hero is not impressed with the room, until he sees Madame Constance Boniceaux (Racquel Welch), who also happens to be a lady-in-waiting to the Queen.

    Meanwhile Cardinal Richelieu (Charlton Heston in a false nose) is plotting against the Queen (Geraldine Chaplin), who has given the enemy Englishman the Duke of Buckingham (Simon Ward) a jewel necklace as a token of affection. Richelieu learns of this and convinces the King (Jean-Pierre Cassel) to throw a ball in two weeks time at which the Queen is to wear the jewel necklace. He also sends his spy Milady deWinter (Faye Dunaway) to London to remove two of the studs on the necklace, so even if returned it will demonstrate the Queen's alleged infidelity. In order to avoid a scandal, the Queen entrusts Constance with a letter to Buckingham asking him to return the jewels, and she gives the letter to D'Artagnan. So he and the Musketeers set off to England, hotly pursued by Richelieu's guards.

    You may guess by some of the casting that this film is not entirely serious. In fact it is an at times hilarious romp, exciting as an adventure story as well as full of inventive comedy. Director Richard Lester, who had made two enjoyable films with the Beatles in the 1960s, brings a similar sensibility to the story, which moves at a fast pace and has lots of both subtle and obvious jokes as well as pratfalls and slapstick. The dialogue by George Macdonald Fraser has to be listened to carefully, especially some of the pithy comments by minor characters. And the King's hors d'ouevres waiters are a hoot. At times it feels like something out of Monty Python, at others like a film from the so-called "Golden Age of Hollywood". The production design is realistic and impressive, shot on location in Spain, with the squalor of the streets well contrasted with the splendour of the palaces. The fight scenes are well directed, but perhaps audiences used to more modern action films will find the editing a bit slow.

    The cast is extraordinary as well. Perhaps not all of them were top stars at the time, but there are some inspired bits of casting. Michael York is a perfect D'Artagnan, and Oliver Reed is just as good as Athos. Frank Finlay would not seem an obvious choice as Porthos, but he carries it off well. Richard Chamberlain is somewhat less distinctive as Aramis. Charlton Heston and Christopher Lee are excellent as the villains, though Faye Dunaway's role is small compared to what it would be in the second film. Racquel Welch is very funny as the terminally clumsy Constance and Spike Milligan is hilarious as her randy husband. And Sybil Danning makes an all-too-brief appearance.

    In 1988 the director, writer and many of the cast members were reunited for a third film called Return of the Musketeers, which sadly did not recapture the magic. Roy Kinnear died during the production of that film after falling from a horse while filming a stunt.

    In my opinion this is just about the best version of this story that has been filmed, though I have not seen anywhere near all of them. An excellent escapist film that bears repeated viewing and is well worth the cost of this DVD.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The film is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is 16x9 enhanced. The original aspect ratio seems to have been 1.66:1.

    This is an excellent transfer of the film, very sharp and clear with a lot of detail visible. Shadow detail is not perhaps quite as good, with some murky indoor scenes, notably the opening scene with D'Artagnan and his father. Happily this is not much of an issue, as most of the film is in good light levels. Contrast is fine, and colour is very good, with solid reds and blues. Blacks are also solid except in low light levels, where there is a faint sheen of white. Flesh tones are mostly accurate, though again in some of the darker sequences faces tend to be a little dark in colour. I suspect that this was how the film looked in the theatres.

    There were one or two instances of aliasing, where swords and whips held diagonally appeared jagged, but apart from that the film is free of introduced artefacts. There are almost no film artefacts either, with occasional flecks the only distraction. There is some excessive grain at 36:40.

    Subtitles are provided, but only in Dutch and Portuguese. These cannot be selected during playback of the film. They can only be selected from the menu, and the disc does not allow the film to be resumed from the menu after the subtitle selection has been changed - that is, the film will play again from the beginning. This would have been more annoying if there had been English subtitles present. The absence of such subtitles is disappointing, as some of the dialogue is very quiet and may be unclear to some.

    This is an RSDL-formatted disc with the layer change at 53:12, positioned at a cut and only slightly intrusive.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There are three audio tracks available, the default English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono and two tracks dubbed into Dutch and Portuguese respectively. I listened only to the default track.

    The audio track is very clean and therefore the dialogue can be heard. Some of the dialogue by minor characters is very quiet, so the volume needs to be turned up. However, I found that I could understand all of the dialogue if I listened intently. There is a lot of obvious post sync work, so audio sync is not perfect. For example, there is a single word inserted into Joss Ackland's dialogue at 3:20, and Jean-Pierre Cassel is entirely dubbed by another actor.

    The film was originally released with a mono soundtrack, and while it is quite good I found that it lacked body in the upper frequencies. There was no sign of distortion or hiss.

    The music score is by Michel Legrand. Part of the score seems to be in the style of the 17th century period in which the film is set. Legrand has also used some music from Verdi's Aida, somewhat disguised, and there was one instance where I thought it was about to launch into Stravinsky's Firebird. In any case, this is a fine score which fits the action well.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    Not much in the way of extras here.

Main Menu Audio and Animation

    You can listen to some of the score while watching excerpts from the film on the menu screen. There is also a short introduction prior to the menu with footage from the film.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    I seem to have been reviewing a lot of films lately where the US Region 1 equivalent was released by Anchor Bay, and this is no exception. The film was released on a two disc set with The Four Musketeers. Judging by the reviews of this release, the transfer quality is the same as the Region 4. However, there are a few extras on The Three Musketeers which Region 4 misses out on:

    The production documentary includes interviews with surviving cast members, and is spread across the two films (and discs). The film also features subtitles, and there is a 1.33:1 transfer on the reverse side of the disc.

    The UK Region 2 release appears to be the same as the Region 4, except that it also includes a trailer.

    Based on the extensive extras and presence of subtitles, I conclude that the Region 1 is the most desirable release, particularly as it comes with the second film. If you are on a budget though, the Region 4 makes a nice consolation prize.

Summary

    A fine comedy-adventure film, this is rousing entertainment.

    The video quality is excellent.

    The audio quality is very good.

    Sadly, the extras department is lacking.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Monday, October 11, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony 86CM Trinitron Wega KVHR36M31. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player, Dolby Digital, dts and DVD-Audio. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony TA-DA9000ES
SpeakersMain: Tannoy Revolution R3; Centre: Tannoy Sensys DCC; Rear: Richter Harlequin; Subwoofer: JBL SUB175

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