|THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1948)|
|Time: 125 mins.|
Rating: Not Rated
Academy Award nomination for Best Cinematography.
Instead of an exciting jaunt into the days of swashbuckling and chivalry, Kelly and company launch a bloated, never-ending affair more reminiscent of a well-funded high school production than a classy MGM adventure. Kelly is woefully miscast as D'Artagnan, the young, naive country boy with a heart of gold and a talent with the sword. Not only is he a decade too old, but unable to capture the character's bumbling charm without seeming woefully silly. His flair in the fighting sequences almost makes up for his almost retarded wooing of Allyson and Turner. His earnestness is laughable. Any sophisticated lady would have him thrown out of their chambers, thinking him daft. The enjoyment of this story comes in a proper blend of action and romance. In this case, Kelly makes a far better fighter than a lover. Regarding the rest of the musketeers, they don't have enough screen time to enable them to give memorable or interesting performances. In fact, I had a hard time telling them apart. The only reason Van Heflin stands out as Athos is because he's blond and has more scenes than the others.
The rest of the cast doesn't fair much better. None of them is able to shake the distinctly modern sensibility that clings to them under their garish period clothes. Allyson is sweet as the lovely and pure Constance, lady-in-waiting to the Queen, but perhaps too much so to invoke such powerful feelings in D'Artagnan. She appears quite out of place like she's been thrust back in time against her will and wants desperately to return to the 20th century. Turner plays the malicious and deadly Milady de Winter, a spy for the Cardinal, looking to separate D'Artagnan's head from his body. More petulant than evil, she doesn't quite make one fearful of her character like Faye Dunaway does as Milady in the 1970s version. She may be beautiful, but that's the only requirement of this character that she fulfills well. Price would have been better cast as Richelieu's main henchman than the Cardinal himself. He just doesn't seem smart enough to be convincing as a man striving to be the most powerful entity in France.
The acting wouldn't be so painful to watch if the story, as rendered here, had any ounce of suspense or energy. How they could drain a classic adventure story normally filled with intrigue, love, danger and swordplay of any hint of excitement is a mystery that will forever remain unsolved. It's the story of a young man who finds himself, experiences true love and makes lifelong friends on the road to saving the Queen and his country from the wicked machinations of it's leading religious ruler. Instead of concentrating on the plot to dishonor the Queen, which affords the story its' most entertaining aspects, the film bogs itself down with D'Artagnan's pursuit of Constance and Milady. While the ladies are lovely to look at, their presence causes the rest of the film to suffer. We are forced to sit through a painfully long lovemaking ruse between Kelly and Turner that's three times as long as the musketeers unrelenting and dangerous ride to Calais, a real show stopper in every other version of the tale. Being a big fan of this tale, I've found the films starring Michael York to contain the absolute perfect balance between action, comedy and romance. While the sword fights here use Kelly's dancing background to brilliant effect, they are still not half as entertaining and inventive as those in the York versions.
The expansive nature of the story is further truncated by the set design and cinematography, which makes it all too apparent the action is being filmed on a sound stage. The stilted flow of the film may be because this version contains the entire story, whereas most others, including the 1973 and 1993 flicks, only tell the first half. This forces the filmmakers to try to cram a 400 page novel into two and a half hours, giving the film a desperate timber as it attempts to make sense of the complex narrative with as little exposition as possible. All the plot points are hit, you just better be prepared to swallow them quickly, as there is no time to truly appreciate the efforts of the musketeers or ponder what their escapades mean. By how they skewed the story, it's clear this was supposed to be a film that showcased Kelly's comedic and romantic sides rather than his athletic abilities. The one thing I'm thankful for is that they didn't make it into a musical. As it stands this film fares somewhat better than the 1993 Disney version, but not by much. At least the actors here, seem to be having some fun with the material. It doesn't exactly transfer to the audience, but at least they're trying to entertain. Only major fans of Kelly need apply.