The Three Musketeers (review)
- Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies
- Center for the Study of Film and History
- Volume 4, Number 2, May 1974
- pp. 32-33
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One wishes that Leslie Fiedler, Joseph Campbell or Vine Deloria, Jr., had written The Only Good Indian. The list oftitles, there printing of a few excellent old reviews, and the many photos are all that redeem the book. Reviewed by Robert H. Keller who teaches Indian History oíFairhaven College, WWSC, Bellingham, Washington. FILM & HISTORY NEWS (1 963) is a searching re-examination ofthe World War II resistance period in Czechoslovakia and is rarely seen in the United States. Czech director Jiri Weiss and Czech scholar Eugen Loebl, Professor of Economics at Vassar, led a discussion after the film. FILM REVIEWS THE THREE MUSKETEERS (Twentieth Century Fox, 1974) 107 minutes. By Carl Diehl Athos! Porthos! Aramis! "One for All and All for One!" Was this not the Wheaties ofhistorical imagination for generations of European and American adolescents? Through the ironically frenzied, half-absurd, Romantic-Realist prose of a nineteenth-century semi-potboiler we learned the ethos of adventure, the romance of ambition requited in robust and roistering combat. D'Artagnan was indeed the full-blooded "Don Quixote of eighteen" to juvenile minds too impatient for the quibbling literary ironies ofthe real master of Dulcinea. And for those too impatient with the only partly quibbling literary ironies of Pere Dumas prose, the twentieth century writ the four adventurers large in celluloid. In the heroic lunges, thrusts and parries ofDouglas Fairbanks and his legions oflarge-screen cohorts, absurdities were drowned in action, ironies flattened like Kansas jackrabbits on the east-west Interstate. Now, armed with the tactile color textures of Richardson and the wide-angled sentimentality ofLean, Richard Lester fits his camera with a new lens ofabsurdity and draws a bead on the heroic animi of our adolescences, the chimera of our historical fancies, The Three Musketeers. Ifironies and absurdities are preserved, they are also exaggerated—to the point ofburlesque. Like the absurd, bathetic duelling schlmiels he creates, Lester misses as often as he hits. Yet his are not merely the Three Stooges ofthe Frondes. Under his battering burlesque—the demolition ofdignity, heroism, and nineteenth-century sentimental romance—lurks not only an existentially demythologized vision ofthe past, but the last pathetic twentieth-century dregs ofa Romantic dream of innocence, a dream that will not prick itselfawake for the merely vicious realities oflife—in the seventeenth or the twentieth centuries. Richard Lester demythologizes with the zealousness of a Puritan beadle. Louis XIII is nothing more than a petulant buffoon; Anne of Austria a simpering ninny, and 32 Constance a bumbling (if well endowed} moron The Three Musketeers are stripped of dignity and glamour. Their panache is made into pretentious posturing, their honor absurd querulousness. The absurdity, which was a self-conscious and even parodie element of Dumas' Historical Romance, is not only perceived but magnified by Lester's twentieth-century lens. That Lester will not allow us to perceive the figures of his Romance as models and idols, that he strips them of their heroic aura and confines them to caricature destroys only the earlier Romantic versions of these characters--not the form of the Romance itself. The plots and subplots are sustained, not just by our essential thirst for structure and completion but by the humanness of the characters. Venality, stupidity . hate, fecklessness, recklessness, sex, evil: if these confound, confuse, obstruct the orderly arrangement of affairs of love and state, they also move the plot. Lester's de-romanticizing is essential to his more complex, absurd, and perhaps more human vision of historical and human reality. Yet Lester cannot escape a final, wishful romanticizing. If he glorifies neither the aristocracy nor the common people (whose bathetic and seemingly candid asides he features prominently on several occasions), he cannot help celebrating the texture of his historical vision. His colors, landscapes, action, even his blood and guts belie a conception of historical reality, which parallels his partially documentary-historical treatment of The Beatles in "A Hard Day's Night." The action and excitement of the Musketeers seem governed by the form of the historical Romance, even as the zany antics of The Beatles appeared only the fortuitous whim of the filmmaker. Yet, as "A Hard Day's Night gave evidence of Lester's serious...