Hello again, Mr. Breen…
Ah, The Three Musketeers. I remember watching the film when it came out in 1993 and thinking it seemed a tad derivative in the wake of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Both movies start out in a prison with guys getting done in for stealing. Both movies were scored by Michael Kamen using the same chord progressions. Both movies feature Michael Wincott as a creepy second-in-command villain. And both movies end with a Bryan Adams power ballad. Musketeers adds Sting and Rod Stewart to the mix, but it’s still a Bryan Adams power ballad. Nah, this isn’t hackwork. Not. At. All.
But I digress. It’s a fun movie. Mr. Breen would have liked it with reservations. For that matter, Mr. Disney probably would have, too.
I’ll sum up the plot even though it’s familiar. D’Artagnan (Chris O’Donnell) is on his way to Paris to join the Musketeers, and in a roundabout way he does. He literally bumps into Porthos (Oliver Platt), Athos (Kiefer Sutherland) and Aramis (Charlie Sheen), and unbeknownst to each other the three of them challenge d’Artagnan to a duel.
All bets are off when Cardinal Richelieu’s (Tim Curry) guards show up and our four heroes have to fight them off. Since Richelieu disbanded the Musketeers, Athos, Aramis, and Porthos are now personae non grata and seen as a threat by the Cardinal. Leading the Cardinal’s guards is Roquefort (Michael Wincott), a scarred and depraved fellow who always turns up like a bad penny.
D’Artagnan accidentally overhears the Cardinal handing a letter for the Duke of Buckingham to Milady De Winter (Rebecca De Mornay). He and the Musketeers race to Calais where her ship is docked, stealing the Cardinal’s coach in the process, but they have to split up when the Cardinal’s guards catch up to them.
This aspect of the story is always handled differently depending on the film–some versions have the Musketeers trailing Milady all the way to Buckingham’s palace, while others show her getting caught much sooner. The 1993 movie is one of the quick versions.
Thinking Milady is doing her part of the dirty work, the Cardinal creeps up on King Louis (Hugh O’Conor) and Queen Anne (Gabrielle Anwar) and bullies them about usurping the throne. He propostions the Queen when she gets out of her bath and then threatens to take her by force when she resists him.
Cardinal Richelieu’s tragic flaw is that he underestimates the good guys. Our four heroes deal with him in a big way and they just might bring reinforcements.
This movie is a ton of fun. The writing has just a touch of Princess Bride-esque wit, with a lot of the zingers delivered by Porthos, who shows reverence only for wine, women, song, and protecting the King. Far from being merely comic relief, Porthos knows how to hold his own in a fight. Oliver Platt was perfect in this role, and just stopped short of twirling his mustache.
Kiefer Sutherland’s Athos is suitably moody and brooding. He carries a lot of baggage, preferring to drink alone and expressing passion very seldom, but only because he loves too deeply. I always like seeing Kiefer, and he’s very cool here.
Charlie Sheen as Aramis is…Charlie Sheen, surly and incredulous. He has limited facial expressions, but he uses them to great effect. Three Musketeers was years before his “Duh…winning,” phase, waaaaay before his “I’ve got tiger blood” phase, and his Aramis is a mix of priestly devoutness and lusty conquest.
Chris O’Donnell’s d’Artagnan carries the lion’s share of the drama and intrigue because he’s always getting held hostage for some reason or other, which makes him privy to deep secrets. He’s scrappy but naïve, and once he falls in with the Musketeers he learns quickly.
D’Artagnan’s got quite a to-do list in the film. Among his other tasks is to get his father’s sword back from Roquefort and shake off Girard (Paul McGann), a guy from d’Artagnan’s hometown who’s out to defend his sister’s honor. While Girard shows up at the most inopportune times he always squeaks like he’s stepped on a mouse, so d’Artagnan is less than intimidated. He’s more concerned about winning the heart of Constance (Julie Delpy), the Queen’s lady-in-waiting.
So. What would Mr. Breen do? I think he would have appreciated the madcap fun and action, plus the sense of honor and duty the Musketeers felt toward the king and queen. I think he would have liked the clever, witty script and especially Oliver Platt’s perfect comic timing.
However, Breen would have objected to…how do I lead off discreetly? Cleavage. There’s a lot of it. Whether it’s women in their chemises and corsets or the many serving girls, womanly assets are on almost full display.
These ladies have nothing on Madame De Winter, though. It’s safe to say Mr. Breen would have had an apoplectic fit at a certain scene when Milady takes D’Artagnan hostage and there’s an expansive peek down the front of her blouse. We can see her chemise. And her corset. And basically everything else. It gets kinda awkward.
Cleavage is nothing new to the Walt Disney Company. We’ve all seen the redhead on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. It’s just not usually this, um, out there. I think both Disney and Breen would have ordered that Milady shot to be filmed from a different angle and, for heaven’s sake, heighten those necklines at least an inch or so.
Then there’s Cardinal Richelieu. It’s a testament to Tim Curry’s acting abilities that he’s able to play creepy slimedogs so well, and he’s inhabited many such roles, but his Cardinal would have been much too much for our Mr. Breen. The Cardinal ogling the Queen in her bath would not have happened if Mr. Breen was in charge.
Richelieu is slimy in every version of The Three Musketeers, but per the Production Code clergy were not to be portrayed in a bad light. In fact, the 1948 MGM version featured Richelieu as a prime minister.
My one minor beef with the film is that it feels a little squished. To be fair, Alexandre Dumas’s original novel is over six hundred pages and that kinda precludes fitting all of it into a feature-length film, but it also means a lot of character progression has to be left behind.
Milady and Constance probably suffer the worst. The guys’ characters are easy enough to condense because they’re types, but the women are more dynamic. In the film, Milady is just a vengeful murdering harlot. In the book, Milady is a vengeful murdering harlot who plays on the weaknesses of everyone she comes in contact with, such as the kindly Protestant who guards her in prison. There’s also a lengthy plot arc with Milady’s brother-in-law in the novel that barely gets a passing mention in the film. The dude shows up without much context and it means nothing.
As for Constance, her husband is d’Artagnan’s landlord in the novel. He’s not around much, is a lot older than Constance, and is kind of a louse. Constance doesn’t mind falling in love with d’Artagnan. She assists him in protecting the queen’s honor from being sullied by Milady and the Cardinal, and things get so dangerous Constance has to go into hiding.
Again, though, it’s impossible to fit six hundred pages into ninety-something minutes, but I wish the filmmakers could have worked more of the novel’s interesting angles into things. All we get is Cardinal Richelieu being a world-class weasel. This lack of plot is probably why Musketeers got a twenty-eight percent critics’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Overall, I think this version of The Three Musketeers is enjoyable even if it isn’t perfect. Given its particular foibles, it would have been interesting to time travel with it back to the studio era and see the feathers fly at the Hayes Office.
For more of the Great Breening Blogathon, please see Tiffany and Rebekah at Pure Entertainment Preservation Society. Thanks for hosting, ladies–this is always a fun event. Thanks for reading, everyone, and hope to see you on Thursday for the Jean Arthur Blogathon…
The Three Musketeers is available on DVD from Amazon.