Moviegoers who loved The Three Musketeers, as directed by Richard Lester, should find The Four Musketeers extremely likable. Part two of Lester’s roustabout adventure based on the Alexandre Dumas classic - deftly adapted by George MacDonald Fraser of Flashman fame - is more of the same but somewhat less than a sequel. In fact, it’s the second half of a film that merely became unmanageably long and was divided in two. So away we go again with Michael York as the bumbling D’Artagnan, up to his ears in various intrigues plotted by Charleton Heston (as Cardinal Richelieu) and Faye Dunaway (as Milady). The principal mischief wrought by this dastardly pair is the kidnapping of Raquel Welch (as Constance, dressmaker to Geraldine Chaplin’s lovelorn Anne of Austria). Oliver Reed, Richard Chamberlain and Frank Finlay play the original Three - with Jean-Pierre Cassel, Simon Ward and Christoper Lee repeating their previous shticks in the same tongue-in-cheek fashion. In this segment, Dunaway takes center stage to strut her stuff as a spectacularly witchy villainess, who brings an end to Raquel’s brightest comic performance by garroting poor Constance with a rosary. Though familiarity may not breed contempt, it does make The Four M’s stylish, red-blooded fun seen slightly thinner. So, en garde. But swashbuckling heroes and damsels in distress are so rare on the screen today, their encore rates a hearty welcome.
Michael York, Oliver Reed, Frank Finlay and Richard Chamberlain swashbuckle again in the sequel to the popular “The Three Musketeers” . . .
Movie business tradition is to make a film, then if it’s a success to shoot a sequel. But director Richard Lester smashed tradition with the enormously successful “The Three Musketeers.” He filmed a sequel, “The Four Musketeers,” at the same time and even ended the first film with a “trailer” for the second!
Lester explains: “The original intention was to tell the whole Alexandre Dumas story in one fell swoop. But we soon realized that we would have a four-hour movie. Or, to put it another way, too much of a good thing!” So Lester and his producers cut the movie into two halves - the original titled (and subtitled) “The Three Musketeers: The Queen’s Diamonds,” and the sequel “The Four Musketeers: Milady’s Revenge.”
Only slight hitch was that everybody forgot to tell the stars, who started howling for their agents and lawyers when they saw the trailer for the sequel at the end of “The Three Musketeers.” But the rumpus was quickly settled by giving the cast an extra (higher) salary for the sequel, and/or a cut of the box office profits. Some of the players even returned to the movies’ Spanish locations to shoot an added spectacular battle sequence.
The story of “The Four Musketeers” continues the colorful adventures of 17th century French swashbucklers Athos (Oliver Reed), Aramis (Richard Chamberlain), Porthos (Frank Finlay) and young d’Artagnan (Michael York), who is now firmly accepted as the fourth Musketeer. All have incurred the enmity of beautiful but sinister Milady (Faye Dunaway), whom they bested in “The Three Musketeers.”
Milady’s chance for revenge comes through d’Artagnan’s love, beautiful Court dressmaker Constance (Raquel Welch), who is smuggling love letters from her queen, Anne of Austria (Geraldine Chaplin) to British prime minister the Duke of Buckingham (Simon Ward). This situation angers Anne’s husband, King Louis XIII of France (Jean-Pierre Cassell), who complains to his wily advisor, Cardinal Richelieu (Charlton Heston).
Richelieu arranges for his evil, one-eyed henchman Roquefort (Christopher Lee) to kidnap the tiresome Constance - a scheme in which the vengeance-seeking Milady is only too happy to join. As she calculates, the Four Musketeers come racing to Constance’s rescue. They find themselves not only fighting off the fiendish schemes of Milady, Richelieu, and Roquefort. They also find themselves embroiled in a real battle, as rebels take over the King’s stronghold at La Rochelle in a bid to overthrow the Government . . .
A First-Rate Cast
Subtitled “Milady’s Revenge,” The Four Musketeers is the exceptional sequel to the The Three Musketeers (1974), the finest of all the film versions of Alexander Dumas’ classic novel.
Although The Four Musketeers can be watched independently, it is best enjoyed as it was originally intended to be viewed: as the second half of The Three Musketeers. When the producers realized that they had a 3½-hour epic, they simply tore The Three Musketeers on the dotted line - not only giving them two movies, but making for some very angry actors, who had been paid to make just one film.
In the first picture, subtitled “the Queen’s Necklace” D’Artagnan (Michael York), a young Gascon, heads to Paris to become a musketeer, the soldier-elite of Louis XIII. Falling in with musketeers Athos (Oliver Reed), Porthos (Frank Finlay), and Aramis (Richard Chamberlain), he makes a name for himself by helping to prevent Cardinal Richelieu (Charlton Heston) from blackmailing Queen Anne (Geraldine Chaplin) and weakening the French monarchy so that he could step in. In The Four Musketeers, Richelieu tries to consolidate his power by taking charge of the French army and waging war against the British. The musketeers take up arms in the fray at the same time matching wits with the cardinal’s chief assassins, Milady de Winter (Faye Dunaway) and Rochefort (Christopher Lee).
Both films are the work of Richard Lester, a most erratic director. Lester has done brilliant work, as in A Hard Day’s Night, and he has made some awful films, like Superman III.
Happily, the Musketeers films are among his best. Not only was the subject matter ideal for Lester’s trademark, a delicate balance of slapstick and melodrama, but he assembled a first-rate cast. Oliver Reed is particularly effective as the brooding Athos, but the greatest delight is Raquel Welch as D’Artagnan’s love Constance Bonacieux. Welch plays the clumsy and trusting girl with ease and surprising innocence.
Because several major characters perish in The Four Musketeers and Athos reveals an awful secret about his relationship with Milady, the tone of the film is considerably darker than the rousing adventure-cum-slapstick of The Three Musketeers. Not that Lester foregoes such antics. The Musketeers become involved in a wonderfully slippery battle on a frozen pond, D’Artagnan goes to desperate measures to evade the Cardinal’s guards in the Louvre, and there are ample pratfalls during the battle scenes particularly during the siege of La Rochelle. But still, the mood of the film is considerably more downbeat than that of the first. The Four Musketeers is remarkably faithful to its source material and Lester visually recreates the 17th century with exquisite care.