A young man who dreams of becoming one of the King’s Musketeers, travelling to Paris with nothing but a sword, fifteen crowns in his pocket and the good wishes of his father which he hopes will ensure him an introduction, d’Artagnan’s arrival is inauspicious, first offending the Count De Rochefort, an agent of Cardinal Richelieu whom he was specifically warned to be wary of, then sequentially offending and becoming obliged to duel the very men he wished to meet, the three musketeers Athos, Porthos and Aramis.
Circumstances indicating a common enemy in Cardinal Richelieu and his forces, the three musketeers grudgingly accept d’Artagnan as an ally, doubly convenient in his growing friendship with Constance Bonacieux, dressmaker to Anne of Austria, which opens a channel of information on the court leading to them learning of a plot by Richelieu to discredit King Louis XIII involving the queen’s diamonds, gifted to her by the king but loaned by her to the Duke of Buckingham, a personal friend but as an Englishman ostensibly an agent of an enemy nation.
The factions, intrigues, ambitions, alliances and betrayals which make up the royal court of France too much for a single film, producer Ilya Salkind made the wise decision to split his adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ 1844 novel The Three Musketeers into two parts shot back to back, written by George MacDonald Fraser and directed by A Hard Day’s Night‘s Richard Lester, The Three Musketeers (subtitled The Queen’s Diamonds) released in 1973 and The Four Musketeers (subtitled The Revenge of Milady) released in 1974, with both now joining StudioCanal’s Vintage Classics collection.
An approach to production both cost-effective and practical which Salkind would use again for Superman and its first sequel later that same decade, allowing all the principal cast and locations to be available for a single extended period rather than requiring them to renegotiate and regroup at a later date, it is perhaps a decision which might have been better divulged prior to filming rather than in the run up to release, with additional contractual agreements and fees levied by understandably disgruntled cast and crew when they learned the agreed four hour epic they had signed on for was to be split.
And what a cast and crew was assembled, a roster of international talent equivalent to the Avengers of the current era: the three musketeers themselves, Oliver Reed, Frank Finlay and Richard Chamberlain as Athos, Porthos and Aramis, joined by Michael York as d’Artagnan, with Raquel Welch, Geraldine Chaplin and Simon Ward as Constance, Queen Anne and George, Duke of Buckingham, against the restrained Charlton Heston, aloof Christopher Lee and indifferent Faye Dunaway as Richelieu, Rochefort and the scheming Milady de Winter, bored by the vulgarity of the violent peasants, with comedy greats Spike Milligan and Roy Kinnear among the supporting roles.
The plot of complex and at times hard to follow, Lester’s focus largely on the seemingly endless bouts swordfighting rather than clarity, first showcased under the opening titles in d’Artagnan’s slow-motion training session choreographed by William Hobbs who would later work on Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter, Flash Gordon, Excalibur, Ladyhawke and Willow, and the production is undeniably immense, not only in the location shooting in Spain but in the opulent sets populated by hundreds of supporting players dressed in extravagant costumes designed by Yvonne Blake who had previously won an Academy Award for another period drama, Nicholas and Alexandra, the energy and momentum ensuring The Three Musketeers remains fresh fifty years after release, its structure which includes a teasing preview of the forthcoming sequel a template which still serves to inform summer blockbusters.