For my next comparison of original films and the sequels they spawn, I choose “The Three Musketeers.” Based on the classic novel by Alexandre Dumas, this story has been remade several times throughout the years. However, for the purposes of this comparison, I’m going to focus on two of the most recent:
- The 1973 version which starred Richard Chamberlain, Michael York, Frank Finlay, Oliver Reed, Charlton Heston, Raquel Welch and Faye Dunaway; and
- The 1993 version which starred Charlie Sheen, Kiefer Sutherland, Chris O’Donnell, Oliver Platt, Tim Curry, and Rebecca De Mornay.
Director Richard Lester did an outstanding job in the ’73 version, balancing the swordplay, humor, adventure, and action sequences with the finesse of a highly skilled juggler. The film, considered to be a classic, in its own right, featured an outstanding cast, stunning cinema photography, perfectly choreographed fight scenes, and an excellent screenplay. In short, everything comes together to make this movie absolutely enchanting.
The movie begins as young D’Artagnan (played by Michael York) arrives in Paris with a goal in mind to become one of the king’s trusted musketeers. Along his way, he manages to meet – – and pick a fight – – with three different men, challenging each of them to a duel. As it turns out, these three randy scoundrels are none other than the musketeers Athos, Porthos, and Aramis.
After their disagreements are settled, the men invite D’Artagnan to join with them in their attempt to rid the king of Cardinal Richelieu. In a sub-plot, the musketeers must also save the honor of their queen by retrieving her famed diamond necklace from her secret lover, the Duke of Buckingham, before the king finds out about her indiscretions. What results is a rollicking, fun and funny, deliriously enjoyable action adventure.
Michael York excels in the role of D’Artagnan. He is boyishly charming, obviously honorable, and undeniably heroic. This is one of York’s finest film performances. He plays the role of naïve hero in the making with explicit accuracy.
Oliver Reed is a suitably drunken and humorous as Athos. The melancholy Athos comes across as a man who has endured great pain and betrayal in his life and finds his only pleasure in drinking and brawling. He brings a mysterious side to the Musketeer triangle that adds much needed depth and compassion. Reed plays this role with such abandon and utter glee that he is a joy to watch on the silver screen.
Richard Chamberlain plays Aramis, the lady’s man with a religious background. He has a penchant for spiritual devotion, which he uses to, romance his many conquests. Oddly enough, he sees no conflict in these attitudes or in his profession as a soldier. Chamberlain brings a subtle strength to Aramis that allows him to more than hold his own with the stage-trained Brits.
A highpoint of this film is Charlton Heston’s magnificently restrained performance as the menacing Cardinal Richelieu. He plays the part of the crafty puppet-master with an uncommonly precise skill. In the film it is said that the Cardinal can break a man with a word. Heston makes us believe it!
Faye Dunaway, as the Countess DeWinter, brings to life all of the character’s cold allure and vicious spite, hidden behind a regal beauty. Dumas would likely have approved of her turn in this film. Her character plays every bit as good on the screen as it did on his written page.
In a surprising turn, Raquel Welch, as D’Artagnan’s love interest Constance, proves that she can play comedy and make an impression on the screen for something other than her body.
George MacDonald Fraser’s screenplay preserves the original dialogue of the book, with all of its humor and adventure. This allows the film’s director sufficient reign to add wonderful physical comedy, particularly in the film’s many sword fights.
This is quite simply a really good film, which accounts for its equally popular sequel “The Four Musketeers” and the 1993 remake.
Director Steven Hereck had big shoes to fill in remaking the ’73 classic version. Luckily, he was more than up to the task, infusing this version of the movie with all the same fun and action adventure while also infusing a good dose of electric drama.
The story remains basically true to the original tale. However, the queen here is not involved in any extra-martial dalliance and comes across as more noble and worthy of the young king. More attention is also given in the film to the evil Rochefort by making him responsible for D’Artagnan’s father’s death. This version also better explains Rochefort’s betrayal of the musketeers, which sets a clearer picture for their hatred of the man.
Probably the most controversial aspect of the ’93 version of “The Three Musketeers” was the last minute redemption of M’Lady DeWinter. Not a part of the original book or the ’73 film, many fans of the classic novel scoffed this change as an attempt to capitalize on the popularity of Rebecca De Mornay.
In this version Chris O’Donnell plays the young D’Artagnan. While he definitely brings the same boyish charm as Michael York, he is simply ill equipped to sell the other aspects of this Dumas character.
Oliver Platt’s Porthos is entertaining to watch. This musketeer, who is a bit of a gentleman, an irritating braggart, and somewhat of a joker’s fool is just plain fun to watch on screen. Platt actually gave more of a serious nod to the performance of late, great Oliver Reed – – as Athos in the ’73 original film – – than to his predecessor Frank Finlay. Still, it worked and infused this musketeer with some much-needed heart.
Charlie Sheen’s Aramis is somewhat of a surprise. Few moviegoers thought the actor capable of delivering any of the subtleties that made Chamberlain’s interpretation so fascinating to watch. While he obviously is not as skilled an actor as Chamberlain, Sheen puls together a solid performance in this role.
Perhaps the strongest performance in this film, however, comes from Kiefer Sutherland. He definitely brings to life the melancholy and disappointment of the character of Athos. Of course, it helps that this particular version of the film provides a good back-story explaining the wretched pain behind his character. I can’t give that away without ruining the story, but suffice it to say, the audience gains a lot of insight regarding this particular musketeer.
Tim Curry as the evil Cardinal Richelieu is just a little too heavy handed. Lacking the restraint of Heston’s masterful performance, Curry goes too far over the top; making this character more of a caricature that is not much fun to watch.
Rebecca De Mornay, on the other hand, pulls off the same cold, calculating performance that made Dunaway famous. Of all the performances, she most closely matched the skill and expertise of her predecessor.
I also like that this film version pays some attention to the story of the young king, outlining why the audience should even care whether or not he and his queen survive. I appreciated that attention to detail.
Overall, David Loughery’s screenplay is impressive. He keeps all of the main components of the story and provides some additional pieces that were missing in the original. He providesa solid backdrop for Herek to build a wonderful story with wonderfully, solid characters.
The reviews on this film were mixed. Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert gave it two thumbs up, which makes sense to me. I often find that their reviews are spot on. I loved this movie every bit as much as the ’73 version, albeit for different reasons.
The original film may have been superior in its screenplay version, but the remake brought some much-needed background. For the most part, I feel the actors of both versions are pretty evenly matched as are the directors. Both versions also showcased amazing cinema photography, but the ’93 version’s soundtrack was far superior to the original.
I find these films pretty evenly matched and give them both four out of five stars.