Saturday, October 5, 2019

No Snickers, please

During September's TCM salute to the 100th anniversary of United Artists, one of the movies shown that I hadn't blogged about before was the 1921 version of The Three Musketeers. A recently-restored print is available on DVD, so I recorded it and sat down to watch.

The time is France in the 1620, and there's palace intrigue going on. Louis XIII (played by a young but recognizable Adolphe Menjou) is the King, although the real power behind the throne is Cardinal Richelieu (Nigel De Brulier). Louis' wife Anne (Mary MacLaren) is in love with England's Duck of Buckingham (Thomas Holding), but apparently the King doesn't yet know about it. Richelieu does, though, and one can guess is planning to reveal it at a time that would be advantageous to him.

The Cardinal seems to have decided that that time is coming up soon, as the Queen's seamstress Beatrice has a boyfriend in D'Artagnan (Douglas Fairbanks Sr.) whom she calls to Paris for help. There's a big dance coming up, and Louis wants Anne to wear a particular piece of jewelry. But Anne gave it to Buckingham as a token of remembrance since they really shouldn't be having a relationship. He's taken it back to England, and Anne needs it back.

D'Artagnan has wanted to join the King's Musketeers, a defense force that's been clashing with the Cardina's defense force. When D'Artagnan gets to Paris, he calls on the musketeers, which is where he meets three of their number, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, whom you'll remember from the book. (Aramis is played by a young and unrecognizable Eugene Pallette. I knew he was thin in a previous life before he became the portly character actor with the memorable voice; I didn't know just how unrecognizable he was.) Eventually, D'Artagnan and the musketeers set off for England to get the jewel, while Richelieu tries to stop them.

This version of The Three Musketeers is moderately interesting, but it also has problems that have nothing to do with the fact that it's a 1921 movie that was limited to the filmmaking capabilities of that era. There are plot holes galore, with the big one for me being that news somehow travels much faster than the musketeers. Somehow, Richelieu is able to keep getting news to people further ahead of the musketeers, despite that it would take time to get news from the musketeers' location back to Paris, and then have Richelieu decide something and get that news out. I suppose carrier pigeons might have been faster than men on horseback, but I'm not convinced.

Also, for as much as Douglas Fairbanks Sr.'s reputation is predicated on being a swashbuckler, and how much this story in any of its adaptations should be built on swashbuckling, the sequences we get here are surprisingly tame. Last, but not least, the pacing is slow. Fairbanks, now being at a studio of his own, was able to make this as an epic and it runs right about two hours when maybe 90 minutes would have been better to keep things from dragging.

Overall, this version of The Three Musketeers is an interesting little curio, but if it comes to Fairbanks I'd recommend The Mark of Zorro first.

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