Ah-HAH! I was wondering why a couple years back, when I was watching various versions of The Three Musketeers, I didn't like The Three Musketeers (1973) when I thought I had had good memories of it. It's because my memories were of The Four Musketeers! Which really is technically the second half of The Three Musketeers. They filmed too much material and ended up splitting it into two movies, released a year apart. I'm rather glad, actually, as the first half is crazy, oddly a bit boring, and over-the-top, and I'd really rather skip it, whereas the second half is by far my favorite Musketeers movie (seen to date). It blows away the other versions out there.
The Four Musketeers deals with Milady's revenge, which is far more interesting than the whole Buckingham/Queen of France/jewels thing. You know, when I think of the top villains out there, I tend to overlook Milady de Winter, and that is a huge mistake. She is one of the best villains ever. I'm personally not that fond of Fay Dunaway, but I honestly cannot think of anyone better for this role. Her Milady has just the right kind of cold beauty, the right manipulative smarts to be playing a very unrepentant murderess. She is a worthy adversary, and I love Fay Dunaway in this movie.
I had a copy of a young adult version of The Three Musketeers book growing up that I used to read over and over. Milady imprinted on me very strongly because I think she was one of the first female villains (outside of Disney and James Bond movies) that I'd ever encountered -- and she got executed for her crimes! That blew my mind when I was young. Somehow, I expected her to get off, just because she was a woman, and she didn't. There's something still a bit shocking about it to me, even if she is one nasty and deadly lady. It's been awhile now, but I think that was one of the things I liked least about the 1993 version -- they changed her character a bit and made her less evil and more sympathetic. Phooey. Wimps. That takes away the essence of what makes her such a great character!
Athos has always been my favorite Musketeer, and of course, the more Milady around, the more Athos. That is a good thing, particularly when it's Oliver Reed playing him. I really like Oliver Reed. He turns in such fascinating performances. He's compelling, dangerous, charismatic, and sexy, and hey, Athos is a perfect role for that. Reed and Dunaway play off each other beautifully in their one major scene, when they reunite. There are so many undercurrents between them, so much unsaid. The way Athos touches her cheek before he leaves, her reaction after he's gone.... It's absolutely perfect and just about my favorite scene in the movie.
All the things I expected of the 1973 movie and didn't find were in this one. This movie is also comedic to a certain extent (though tempered by more serious bits than the first movie has), but the humor is a lot more natural to the story (for the most part) in this one, instead of eye-rollingly over-the-top. I'm particularly fond of the more subtle background humor, like Aramis covering his shoulder with a handkerchief before leaning against a dirty wall. I love Constance and the key. I love Rochefort's (Christopher Lee) droll, "Why bother, I might die of old age," line, and Porthos: "This wine does not travel well." And Richelieu: "One should be careful of what one writes." I love the herd of goats crossing in front of the row of active cannons. I love the sense that this is a real world, not a set. I love the sword fight on ice, but then that's one thing both movies do very well -- the sword fights. This one has a great sword fighting finale. The sword fights here are much more realistic than the average film, with fighters using any weapon at their disposal, with longer pauses between short flurries of action. I'm surprised no one got more injured than they did on the making of this film. From the making of video on the DVD , it appears everybody did their own stunts/fights (for the most part), and it looks extremely dangerous.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention how much I loved the way this movie was shot. The angles and positioning, and lighting. Neat stuff, like this one shot across the interior of a two-storied inn, where you watch Richelieu enter the ground floor, pan up to Aramis and Porthos playing cards and Athos keeping watch across the way, and then Richelieu crosses in front of the camera, while Athos reacts across the inn... all in one take. There's a lot of scenes set up like that and I really appreciate it.
This is one I'd very much like to own on DVD and will have to pick up at some point.