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Don Ameche … D’Artagnan
The Ritz Brothers … Three Musketeers
Binnie Barnes … Milady De Winter
Gloria Stuart … Queen Anne
Pauline Moore … Lady Constance
Joseph Schildkraut … King Louis XIII
John Carradine … Naveau
Lionel Atwill … De Rochefort
Miles Mander … Cardinal Richelieu
Seeing the 1939 version of The Three Musketeers, it makes me wonder if there’s a list tabulated of which classic novels have been adapted for the screen the most. Surely Alexander Dumas’ swashbuckling adventure has to be high on the list, as right off the top of my head I can think of several other versions, including an animated film, the 1970’s films by Richard Lester, the early 90’s Disney version, and the dreadful late 90’s Peter Hyams’-directed train wreck, The Musketeer.
It is easy to see why this story has been told so many times in the past, as its sword-swinging bravado has delighted generation after generation, and its themes of brotherhood is often infectious. That is why it seems quite odd to make the story as buffoonish as possible, which is what this 1939 version does. Yes, Lester’s 70’s picture – the best version of this tale in my opinion – was full of rousing slapstick, but also featured real grit and furious swordplay. Perhaps not having the means to perform such epic duels as contemporaries like The Adventures of Robin Hood were able to meant that the film makers had to turn to ridiculous comedy and musical numbers, but the movie’s over the top whimsy makes it hard to take it serious.
This is not to say that this film isn’t entertaining on its own level. In many ways this is still the classic version of the story. D’Artagnan (Don Ameche), a country swordsman, travels to Paris to join the Musketeers, the personal guard of the King of France. Once arriving there he becomes embroiled in a plot to save the Queen of France from being discredited by the evil Cardinal Richelieu (Miles Mander).
The biggest difference with this adaptation versus other versions is that D’Artagnan’s comrades the Three Musketeers, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, are not the heroic trio from Dumas’ novel, but imposters played by The Ritz Brothers. They accidentally take the place of the Musketeers, and keep getting thrown back into this plot, bringing hi-jinx and unbridled tomfoolery with them. Oddly enough though, even with this level of goofiness, the movie still manages to work for the most part.
There’s certainly a lot of energy in the comic sequences. There’s a terrific sequence in which perennial Three Musketeers villain Milady De Winter (Binnie Barnes) is hiding an important note upon her bodice, and being gentlemen, the Musketeers are at a loss to try and retrieve the note without dishonoring themselves. Queue a scene in which the three are shaking the lady upside down until a note pops out, only it’s the wrong note. They repeat, and another note falls, but again it’s the wrong one. The scene has gotten to hysterical proportions by the time someone remarks “She’s a walking post office.”
Don Ameche is also appropriately dashing and gallant as D’Artagnan. Never having seen him in this portion of his career, he makes a suitable hero, and seems adept at the physical demands of the role. Ameche turns out to be a pretty decent singer too, as the film actually features several musical numbers.
Unfortunately, most of the musical numbers are rather forgettable. Another deficiency, and probably the biggest, is its random fight sequences, which feature a lot of flailing about but not real sword-work. With the over-reliance on comedy and weak swashbuckling, the movie easily loses a lot of its credibility.
Still, overall, the movie stays entertaining and likable, with fun characters and zeal for its genre. At only 72 minutes, the movie never overstays its welcome and actually gets to be quite fun once it gets going. This may not be the best version of The Three Musketeers, but it’s also far from the worst.
The movie’s print is decent for the most part. There are some problems in some scenes where the image is washed out and others where some debris can be seen, but for the most part the movie looks good. The film is presented in Fullscreen with an aspect ratio of 1.33:1
The Audio track is presented in Dolby Digital and sounds just fine. The musical numbers come in a fine and there is no problem hearing dialogue at any point.
Fox Movietone News Footage: Hollywood Spotlight – This lasts under two minutes and shows the Ritz Brothers goofing around as they put their palms into the concrete in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater.
Life Can Be Crazy in Balmy Florida – Gin Rummy Helps! – The Ritz Brothers enjoy a game of rummy instead of helping a young girl from drowning.
|The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for The Three Musketeers
||RATING(OUT OF 10)
||6(NOT AN AVERAGE)|