x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

One for all: a history of The Three Musketeers films

We reflect on the history of the many films inspired by Dumas's book.

From left, Luke Evans, Matthew McFadyen, Milla Jovovich and Ray Stevenson in The Three Musketeers 3D.
From left, Luke Evans, Matthew McFadyen, Milla Jovovich and Ray Stevenson in The Three Musketeers 3D.

With all-new adventures from both Robin Hood and Sherlock Holmes setting box office tills ringing in recent years, as well as a seemingly never-ending run for the Pirates of the Caribbean films, there can be little doubt that period action movies are back in a big way. So it was only a matter of time before Alexandre Dumas's classic swashbuckling tale, The Three Musketeers, fought its way back on to the silver screen.

The 1844 French novel, set against the backdrop of Louis XIII's reign, has been adapted for the cinema more than 20 times, as well as inspiring dozens of television series, spin-off novels and even video games. The latest take on the legend is released this week; titled simply The Three Musketeers, it is not only the most expensive retelling to date, but the first to arrive in 3D.

With a cast that includes Matthew McFadyen, Milla Jovovich, Orlando Bloom and Christoph Waltz, the story has been transformed into a glossy action-adventure. As well as adding giant zeppelins and flamethrowers, it also features the kind of slow-motion "wire-fu" fight sequences seen in Kill Bill. But despite the changes, its director claims the film is still in-keeping with the "all for one, and one for all" spirit of Dumas's adventure.

"Every generation has their Three Musketeers, and I'm very happy that we're going to be this generation's Three Musketeers. We're going to tell it in a slightly different way, but it's going to be the classic story," the director Paul WS Anderson told the entertainment website Collider. The filmmaker is best known for the Resident Evil sci-fi horror series, starring his wife, Jovovich.

Set in the 17th century, Dumas's novel tells the story of the young D'Artagnan, who travels to Paris to join the musketeers, a company of elite soldiers. But things don't go well for the poor nobleman. After accidentally offending three of their order - Athos, Porthos and Aramis- he is made to face each highly experienced fighter in separate duels. His salvation comes when they are attacked by the guards of megalomaniacal holy-man Cardinal Richelieu and the four decide to flee and unite.

The musketeers then become embroiled in an illicit affair between France's queen and her lover, the Englishman the Duke of Buckingham. When the cardinal learns of her treachery, he seeks to expose her, in a bid to spark war with England. The musketeers then race to prevent the conflict, but their path is obstructed by Athos's villainous ex-wife, Milady de Winter.

Although the story is fiction, Dumas based many of the characters on historical individuals. His primary source was Mémoires de Monsieur d'Artagnan, a real-life account of a young Frenchman joining the company, and even meeting a trio whose names were Athos, Porthos and Aramis. In the post-revolution France that Dumas inhabited, tales of Richelieu's gross excesses of power were well known, so the cardinal was an obvious choice for the villain.

Although today thought of as swordsmen, the Musketeers of the Guard were founded in 1622, when King Louis XIII armed a cavalry company with muskets. Unlike Robin Hood tights or horned Viking helmets, the wide-brimmed hats and high boots typically worn by the characters onscreen are not inventions of overzealous Hollywood costume fitters, but historically accurate attire. Furthermore, as part of the military branch of the French Royal Household, all members would have been adept at sword-fighting.

Dumas's story was translated into English in 1846 by William Barrow, but its romantic elements were toned down to better suit the conservative tastes of Victorian Britain. Despite many believing Barrow's version to be dry and confusing, it is still in print today. Another popular translation of the story was written by the US author Tiffany Thayer in 1939. Although true to Dumas's work, Thayer changed the order of the narrative and added backstory for many of the characters.

The Three Musketeers first broke on to the big screen just 59 years after the novel was published. A silent French production, it lasted only a few minutes and is now believed lost. There were at least six other silent versions of the tale, including the classic 1921 adventure starring the original Hollywood action hero Douglas Fairbanks, who also portrayed Robin Hood and Zorro.

The age of Technicolor brought more unique retellings of the story, but none was as beloved as the splendid 1948 epic starring Gene Kelly and Lana Turner. Then, with the counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s, came a fittingly comic, raunchy and irreverent take, starring Michael York, Oliver Reed, Raquel Welch and Faye Dunaway. The Three Musketeers (and its sequel, The Four Musketeers) were the work of Richard Lester, who transformed cinema with the first two Beatles movies. In fact, the Fab Four were originally lined-up to star in the film, but when the time came to make the picture, they had stopped returning each other's calls.

But for every celebrated film entry into the Three Musketeers canon, several are duly forgotten. Will the ambitious 3D take on the legend created by Anderson produce a bang, or a fizzle? Audiences this weekend will decide.


The John Wayne series

The 12-part 1933 serial took serious liberties with Dumas’s story, first by renaming D’Artagnan as Lt Tom Wayne (a US soldier, portrayed by John Wayne), then by moving the action to north Africa and making the other musketeers members of the French Foreign Legion. The villain became an Arab warlord, El Shaitan (“the devil” in Arabic). Why even bother calling it The Three Musketeers?

The Mexican spoof

Three and a Half Musketeers might sound like a sitcom waiting to happen, but the 1957 comedy united Athos, Porthos and Aramis with a hapless aspiring swordsman, D’Artagnan. Although the only live-action Spanish-language take on the tale, the movie was preceded by a number of Hollywood musketeer comedies. Quite what’s so funny about a quartet of feather-hatted dandies is anyone’s guess.

The Soviet musical

The three-part mini-series D’Artagnan and Three Musketeers debuted in 1978 and stuck closely to the story of Dumas’s novel. Well, except for the bits when the swordsmen suddenly start singing in Russian. The unique take on the story and its musical numbers are still incredibly popular in Russia and, to date, three sequels have been made, the most recent in 2009.@Head-

The cartoon with dogs

A favourite among children of the 1980s, Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds was created by a Spanish studio and animated in Japan and Korea to keep costs down. The cartoon’s two seasons followed the plucky Dogtanian – an anthropomorphised dog, like the rest of the cast – fighting alongside his more experienced cohorts (who kept their original names).

The one with Charlie Sheen

Disney’s 1993 live action movie, The Thee Musketeers, came hot on the heels of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and even featured a Brian Adams-penned theme tune. Reuniting Kiefer Sutherland (Athos) and Charlie Sheen (Aramis), it was dubbed “Young Swords” because the pair had previously appeared together in Young Guns. It also earned the hopeless Chris O’Donnell (D’Artagnan) a Golden Raspberry nomination for Worst Supporting Actor.