The Three Musketeers June 9, 2016
I find it hard to resist the Hollywood Golden Age when it’s at its most decadent. I can scoff at run-of-the-mill musicals characterized by expensively luscious Technicolor photography, and I can turn a blind eye away from shit shows of the Cecil B. DeMille brand. But films like 1948’s The Three Musketeers, which are grandiose, star-studded, overwrought, ludicrous, expensive, and full of themselves, are as rich and velvety as a layered tiramisu, fattening to consume but dangerously enjoyable in their essence.
I know The Three Musketeers is shallow, and I know that it was made more for the money than it was for the love of filmmaking. But it’s a sensuous blending of artificial romance, tempestuous melodrama, playful humor, and punchy action — it’s a quintessential precursor to the modern blockbuster, to be savored not for its cinematic mastery (though it does perfect what it means to be popcorn entertainment) but for its efficacious ambience of fun.
Its story has been told for centuries, and yet I don’t think its galvanic detours risk souring any time soon. This ’48 rendition stars a top-of-his-game Gene Kelly as legendary action hero d’Artagnan, a young French swordsman on his way to Paris to join the King’s famed trio of musketeers. Wily and athletic, d’Artagnan makes up for his lack of experience with impressive wit on the battlefield — to outsmart an opponent is second nature to him, despite his scrappy upbringing.
Though his placement next to the King’s best men, Athos (Van Heflin), Porthos (Gig Young), and Aramis (Robert Coote), is initially met with skepticism, his natural skill provides him with speedy respectability. Quickly into his integration are he and his cohorts tasked with saving the queen (Angela Lansbury) from potential disgrace — she’s unwisely given a set of diamond studs to her lover (John Sutton), whose presence could signify downfall for the kingdom.
Romantic appeal comes in the form of Constance (June Allyson), a friend of the queen with whom d’Artagnan falls in love at first sight, and villainy is embodied by the slinky Countess de Winter (Lana Turner), whose vampy persona could spell trouble for these group of courageous but easily tempted heroes.
Shot in sparkling Technicolor and given a budget high enough to ensure that the 17th century costumery and set design is as luxurious and glittering as possible, The Three Musketeers is visual eye candy matching in its story-based suavity. This is an adventure in its most basic form, all delivered in designer packaging that appeals to beauty for beauty’s sake and not so much to our intelligence. Here, it hardly matters that its intermixing of British and French characters all speak in shameless American accents; what matters is that the swordplay is stupefying and that the tonal qualities are sweeping.
The Three Musketeers’s confident mindset doesn’t work for the majority of Hollywood blockbusters, as proven by the modern sort that takes pizazz more into consideration than human interest, but within the 1948 that it was released, it does work. It’s a reminder that, with the right director (here, it’s George Sidney), the right cast, and the right artistic team, wonders can be done, regardless of content. It’s all very likable and it’s all deliciously put together — The Three Musketeers is escapism of chintzy attractiveness that seduces us with its unbreakable conviction. B+