The Three & Four Musketeers – UHD Review

When The Three Musketeers was made by A Hard Day’s Night and Help! director Richard Lester in 1973, the idea had been around for a while. The original plan was for The Beatles to be the musketeers, but obviously that did not happen, because they were no longer a band by the time this happened. By the early 70s, Lester had also fallen out of favour to some extent, having done a couple of films that were not very successful (How I Won the War, Petulia and The Bed-Sitting Room). As a result, he had gone back to doing a fair bit of advertising, incorporating his trademark quick cuts to commercials. That made it a comeback project after his popularity with the Beatles films and The Knack (which was not a good film, but was a success) had faded.

He assembled a very starry cast—the cream of the crop of early ‘70s actors—including Michael York (d’Artagnan), Oliver Reed (Athos), Frank Finlay (Porthos) and Richard Chamberlain (Aramis) as the eventual four musketeers. They are joined by Raquel Welch, Geraldine Chaplin and Faye Dunaway, with Charlton Heston as their nemesis Cardinal Richelieu and Christopher Lee as his minion, the Count de Rochefort. Lester wanted Malcolm McDowell in the d’Artagnan role—that would have been a very different movie! Chamberlain, always an underrated actor, is quite good here. York was a solid leading man around that time, with a nice little run that included Cabaret and Logan’s Run.

The script by George MacDonald Fraser was a little more faithful to the Alexandre Dumas book, who was brought on mainly because Lester had been trying to make a film based on Fraser’s Flashman series. It has most of the beats of the story, including the conspiracy, political intrigue, swashbuckling and romance that you would expect from a Three Musketeers movie, and it’s considered a definitive take on the characters by many. There’s enough of The Goon Show-style humour that Lester emerged from to keep it light, and Spike Milligan is also in the cast.

There’s some great swordplay, but Welch and Dunaway don’t have much to do in the first film. They come into their own in the second film, The Four Musketeers, which came out in 1974. The sequel is very much a continuation of the story, and has more of a Gilliam-esque take on the story. Gilliam has said he admired what Lester did with these films.

The two movies were actually shot as a single long film, and that became a bit of an issue. The initial plan was for it to be a roadshow epic with an intermission but the edit was taking too long so it became two films. The producers did not completely inform the actors that it would end up being two films, although Heston has written that he was told about the plan. The others didn’t know, and some of them ended up suing the producers because they’d only been paid for a single film.

The Three Musketeers is a bit more kid-friendly: for one thing, no one really dies in the film. A lot of people die in The Four Musketeers, which is a little darker and more interesting, with more depth and some actual stakes. There’s also more Oliver Reed in the second film, which is good because he’s the most interesting person in the film, as is usually the case. Reed playing an alcoholic musketeer was not really much of a stretch.

The films were a nice counterpoint to what Hollywood was churning out in the early ’70s: a family-friendly affair that did pretty well, although the second was not as well received because of its different tone and certain parallels between the plot and what was actually going on politically at the time. The pair are both well-made films, and some of the best work that Lester ever did. There are reasons these films have continued to be much loved: good humour, great storytelling and fantastic action.

Cinematographer David Watkin was Lester’s go-to partner for many years. He was a very adaptable guy who also worked with Ken Russell, including The Devils, and could shoot pretty much anything. Here he creates some beautiful shots at times, but in an unfussy style with a lot of soft light, something he pioneered. Watkin was a cinematographer who should get more notice today, because he was very good—he did win an Oscar later for Out of Africa.

As soon as these films found their market, Fraser and Lester reunited to make their planned Flashman movie with Reed and Malcolm McDowell, which was a huge failure. He did manage a later comeback with Robin and Marion, followed by yet another flop with a Sean Connery vehicle, Cuba, which also marked the end of his working relationship with Watkin.

Both releases include the films on both 4K and Blu-Ray, with the extras included on both discs. Neil Sinyard does a nice overview of both films and a little bit of an overview of Richard Lester’s career before and after the release of the Musketeers films. The Three Musketeers includes an additional vintage making-of and the US and UK trailers, plus there is a long vintage making-of documentary split over the two films. The Four Musketeers disc has only one trailer instead of two.


Ian Schultz

Buy The Three Musketeers

Buy The Four Musketeers


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