Before watching the movie:
A large-budget film with a star-studded cast and strict attention to period accuracy could go poorly in all sorts of ways. The actors could fight for attention to the detriment of the film, the visual appeal could be lost in gritty details or vice versa, and the effort put into the enormous practical concerns could stomp out any entertainment value of the film.
These worries are only enhanced by the subject material. I vaguely recall an adaptation of The Three Musketeers in that a young man wants to be a Musketeer, gets in a fight with some, and then they all have adventures together. Rather dull, especially if one isn’t into swashbuckling tales.
I recognize many names, but I can connect hardly any of them with anything I know. At least it’s sold as a comedy, but I don’t expect much out of a 70s film.
Usually, I avoid sequels, but this pair was intended to be a single film, so I am taking it as one.
After watching the movie:
In The Three Musketeers, young D’Artagnan leaves home to join the Musketeers. Immediately, he runs afoul of Rochefort, the Cardinal’s spy, and Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, who turn out to be Musketeers. When caught preparing to duel the three by the Cardinal’s men, D’Artagnan fights alongside them, and is taken under their collective wing. The Musketeers are a scrappy, savvy bunch who drink hard and cheat and steal whenever they run short of money, which is always. D’Artagnan also falls in love with his landlord’s wife, the clumsy Constance. Constance works closely with the Queen of France, who is having an affair with the English Duke of Buckingham, despite the trifling detail that France and England are at war. Cardinal Richelieu is keen to bring this affair to light in order to increase his power over the king, and when the Queen gives Buckingham her finest jewels, the Cardinal arranges a situation where she will be forced to wear them. The Queen gives a letter to Constance to give to D’Artagnan to give to Buckingham in order to get the jewels back in time, but Richelieu and Rochefort bring all their tricks to bear to slow or stop them.
In The Four Musketeers, Constance and D’Artagnan are courting happily when the Cardinal’s men suddenly abduct her. D’Artagnan does what any gentleman would do if his lover was captured: takes up with another woman, Milady, who happens to be an agent of the Cardinal. Athos tells D’Artagnan a story of his lost love whom he spurned when he found she had been branded as a harlot. When D’Artagnan confronts Milady about where Constance may be, he discovers that she is the woman from Athos’s past. Now that he knows her secret, D’Artagnan is the target of Milady’s revenge. While the Musketeers go to La Rochelle to fight English-backed Protestant rebels, Milady enlists the help of Richelieu and Rochefort to exact her revenge on those who have wronged her.
It may well have been a mistake to review these films together. On the one hand, the two films stand alone very well, but on the other, without the first to lean against, doesn’t hold up quite as well. It could be viewed separately, but it jumps into the action rather quickly and has generally less entertainment value. All the funniest sequences were used up by the first film.
Granted, it’s D’Artagnan’s story, but the Musketeers are kept in the background often. When they are around, Athos, the hardest partier, played by the hardest partier, far outshines the other two. Far from the bowdlerized children’s versions, the Musketeers are a bunch of civilized ruffians, caring more about their next drink and good times than the honor-valor, honor-valor cardboard cutouts I half-remember. Half the comedy comes from their actions, the other half from Constance’s bumbling. Constance was surprisingly entertaining, given that she’s played by one of the biggest names in useless eye candy of the 70s and 80s.
I’m not sure why I always expect to be let down by the 60s and 70s. I can’t really name very many disappointments from that era. On the other hand, I can’t name a whole lot of triumphs offhand either. I expected these films to be straightlaced and slow-paced, but they’re actually exactly as relatable and almost as quick as I’d like. The fights, where I expected the most far-fetched, showy displays, are actually down-to-earth, rough affairs, intentionally staged to be brutal and pragmatic. They don’t distract from the story too much, either.
I really wish I was only reviewing the first part. The second had all the flavor of the first, but none of the heart. This was a film split for business purposes, not artistic reasons. Perhaps it would have been better if it had remained whole, perhaps the seam would have been obvious and the second half dragged down the first. I suppose in the end, if I didn’t have the brilliance of the first part to compare with, I would have been less critical of the second, so neither helps the other.
Watch this movie: For much the same reason you’d watch The Princess Bride.
Don’t watch this movie: If you don’t have four hours lying around waiting to be filled.
It’s not really that they were meant to be watched together. As I recall the history they were originally meant to be only one movie, but the director decided to split it and pad out both chunks to bring them up to theatrical running length, and the second one got a lot more of the padding.
The actors wound up suing because they all thought that they were making one film. The end result was the SAG instituting a rule that all contracts must specify how many movies the footage shot will be used to make.
But I completely agree that the second is far and away the weaker of the two. In fact, I’d say that skipping the second one completely results in no great loss.