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The Four Musketeers (1974)


This sequel to 1973's The Three Musketeers picks up the story after a brief recap of the events of the first film. The story starts with the Musketeers joining the fighting at La Rochelle, as the King's army battles Protestant rebels. The Musketeers are sent to rescue their old foe Rochefort (Christopher Lee), who is working as a spy for the King's forces and has been captured by the rebels.

After his release, Rochefort rewards the Musketeers' efforts by kidnapping Constance (Raquel Welch), with the assistance of Milady de Winter (Faye Dunaway). Constance's lover, d'Artagnan (Michael York), initially finds compensations in the attentions of Milady and her obliging maid Kitty (Nicole Calfan). But he soon discovers that Milady is an agent of Cardinal Richelieu (Charlton Heston) and that his seduction and the kidnapping of Constance are part of Milady's revenge plot against him.

The other Musketeers, Athos (Oliver Reed), Porthos (Frank Finlay) and Aramis (Richard Chamberlain) rescue Constance from imprisonment and she seeks refuge in a convent. Meanwhile, Milady is dispatched to England to assassinate the Duke of Buckingham (Simon Ward), to prevent the English from assisting the rebels at La Rochelle.


The Four Musketeers: Oliver Reed, Michael York, Frank Finlay and Richard Chamberlain
The Four Musketeers: Oliver Reed, Michael York, Frank Finlay and Richard Chamberlain

The two Musketeers films were originally intended to be one much longer film and were made simultaneously by the same cast and crew. Eventually the decision was made to split them into two parts, The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers.

Although filmed at the same time as The Three Musketeers and released the following year, The Four Musketeers is a slightly different beast from its predecessor. The plot is still largely that of the Alexandre Dumas original, and the director, Richard Lester, maintains the mixture of action scenes, inventive swordplay and humour. But the story takes a much darker turn this time, something that jars a little with the “let's not take this too seriously” tone that Lester and his screenwriter, George MacDonald Fraser, established in the first film.

The action is often spectacular, with much of it based around the fighting against the Protestant rebels at La Rochelle. This is based on the real Siege of La Rochelle during the Anglo-French War of 1627-29, part of the larger Thirty Years War. In its accustomed irreverent style, the film subtly enquires if there's much point to this fighting over religious differences, and the Musketeers are typically unconcerned with the rights and wrongs of the situation, instead seizing the opportunity for more roistering action, including their making a bet that they can breakfast in a building in no man's land under constant fire from the enemy. Much of the action in the film is based around the battle scenes, but there is also an unusual duel between d'Artagnan and Rochefort on a frozen river and another fight scene that takes place in a building as it's burning to the ground.


Oliver Reed as Athos in The Four Musketeers
Oliver Reed as Athos

The film continues the original's delight in strange contraptions, including the new invention of a submarine, demonstrated in England to the Duke of Buckingham. It also continues the first film's interest in unusual juxtapositions, like a priest shown blessing army cannons before a battle, or a line of executed rebels hanging from trees while a royal picnic takes place nearby. Lester also repeats his use of dubbing supporting actors with dialogue commenting on the action, including Milady's sedan chair carriers, who are heard muttering that she's “put on weight” and grumbling “why doesn't she get a horse?”

The pace is a little less hectic than in the first film and there are more opportunities for character moments and human drama. Oliver Reed and Faye Dunaway now move to centre stage as Athos and Milady. Reed comes into his own, no longer just a burly, boozing warrior, but a man with a vulnerable side, as the film explores his back story with Milady. Reed is an actor who seems at home in a period setting, and a part like Athos, and a film like this, requires a larger than life personality like his to inhabit it. Dunaway is equally well cast as the manipulative Milady and gets a more important role than in the first film. Her scheming is central to the unexpected and unheralded turn the story takes into tragedy.

Like the first film, The Four Musketeers manages the difficult combination of celebrating swashbuckling heroics while simultaneously parodying them. The changes in tone this time, though, are more dramatic and difficult to master and the film doesn't always manage it as smoothly as it might. The later scenes are anything but heroic, and the final upbeat wrapping up of the Musketeers' adventures seems just a little forced after what has gone before.


Christopher Lee and Faye Dunaway in a carriage in The Four Musketeers
Rochefort (Christopher Lee) and Milady (Faye Dunaway)

As with the first film, The Four Musketeers was filmed in Spain, a favourite budget-friendly location for historical epics before the Berlin Wall came down, when it was largely supplanted by Eastern Europe. The film shows Lester's team on fine form again, especially designer Brian Eatwell and costume designer Yvonne Blake. The score is, oddly, written by a different composer (Lalo Schifrin, instead of Michel Legrand on the first film), so perhaps Legrand wasn't available when the second film went into post-production.

The writer, George MacDonald Fraser, was required to write two different prologues for the film, summarising the story of the previous instalment. One was written for the UK market and narrated by Frank Finlay as Porthos, the other was written for Richard Chamberlain to narrate as Aramis for the US audience. As with the first film, which had the subtitle The Queen's DiamondsThe Four Musketeers was also given a subtitle, The Revenge of Milady (sometimes referred to as Milady's Revenge).

Released only a year after The Three MusketeersThe Four Musketeers was generally well received, although perhaps not quite so enthusiastically as the original. Yvonne Blake was again nominated for a BAFTA award for her costume designs and this time for an Oscar as well, a nomination she had to share with Ron Talsky, as he had designed one of Raquel Welch's dresses.

For the producers, Alexander Salkind, his father Michael and his son Ilya, these two films probably represent their most impressive productions. Michael died before the release of The Four Musketeers, but his son and grandson continued making films, following this with a version of The Prince and the Pauper (1977) (released in the US as Crossed Swords), in a similar vein, and using several of the Musketeers stars, Oliver Reed, Raquel Welch and Charlton Heston (the latter as Henry VIII), as well as the same screenwriter.


Michael York, Oliver Reed, Frank Finlay, Richard Chamberlain and Roy Kinnear
The Musketeers with Planchet (Roy Kinnear)

The Salkinds enjoyed even greater success the following year with the blockbuster Superman, but the attempt to do the Musketeers trick of making two films simultaneously didn't quite work out that time. After various production delays and overruns, the Salkinds fell out with their director Richard Donner and brought in the Musketeers director, Richard Lester, to complete the second film, Superman II (1980) and to direct a third, Superman III (1983). George MacDonald Fraser was also brought in to do uncredited script work on the first two films.

Much of the Musketeers cast and crew were reunited for an often forgotten third film, The Return of the Musketeers in 1989, in which the Musketeers attempt to save the English King Charles I from execution. Based on Alexandre Dumas's novel Twenty Years After, the film saw the return of Lester and Fraser, as well as York, Reed, Chamberlain, Finlay, Lee, Kinnear, Geraldine Chaplin and Jean-Pierre Cassel (this time playing Cyrano de Bergerac). The film wasn't a great success though, and enthusiasm for the project evaporated following the death of Roy Kinnear, who fell from a horse during filming.

The 1978 film The Fifth Musketeer, with Cornel Wilde, Jose Ferrer, Alan Hale Jr. and Lloyd Bridges as d'Artagnan and the Musketeers, was no doubt inspired by the success of the Richard Lester films but is an unrelated production, involving the Musketeers in the story of The Man in the Iron Mask.

The Four Musketeers is certainly a worthy follow-up to 1973's The Three Musketeers. It's also noticeably different from the original in some important respects, with a darker, more melancholy tone, and more tragedy and human drama, making it more than a simple repeat of the first film. These two films still represent the best and most ambitious telling of this story on film, and if the sequel shares some of the first film's vices, then the good news is that it also shares most of its virtues.


The Four Musketeers

Year: 1974
Genre: Adventure, Action, Period drama, Historical
Country: Panama / Spain
Director: Richard Lester

Cast  Oliver Reed (Athos), Michael York (d'Artagnan), Raquel Welch (Constance de Bonacieux), Richard Chamberlain (Aramis), Frank Finlay (Porthos), Christopher Lee (Rochefort), Geraldine Chaplin (Queen Anna), Jean-Pierre Cassel (King Louis XIII), Roy Kinnear (Planchet), Faye Dunaway (Milady), Charlton Heston (Cardinal Richelieu), Georges Wilson (Treville), Simon Ward (Duke of Buckingham), Nicole Calfan (Kitty), Michael Gothard (Felton), Sybil Danning (Eugenie), Gitty Djamal (Beatrice), Jack Watson (Busigny), Leon Greene (Swiss officer), Norman Chappell (Submarine inventor), Lucy Tiller (Mother Superior), Bob Todd (Firing squad officer), Tom Buchanan (Firing squad sergeant), Richard Adams (Tortured thug), Tyrone Cassidy (English officer), Oliver MacGreevy (Headsman)

Screenplay George MacDonald Fraser, based on the novel The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas  Producer Alexander Salkind  Cinematography David Watkin  Production designer Brian Eatwell  Editor John Victor Smith  Music Lalo Schifrin  Costume designer Yvonne Blake

Running time 108 mins  Colour Technicolor
Production company Film Trust, Este Films  Distributor Warner (UK), 20th Century Fox (US)


See also: The Three Musketeers (1973)

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