The Three Musketeers (1973, Directed by Richard Lester) English 8

Starring Michael York, Charlton Heston, Raquel Welch, Oliver Reed, Richard Chamberlain, Christopher Lee, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Faye Dunaway, Frank Finlay, Geraldine Chaplin, Roy Kinnear, Simon Ward

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Exuberant. Drool. Arresting.

All for one, and one for all. You’re familiar with this mantra, no doubt, whether you’ve read Alexandre Dumas’ classic 19th-century novel, The Three Musketeers, or not. You’ve heard it an endless amount of times, referenced in other works, or perhaps you’ve seen any number of films based on or influenced by said novel. Apparently, there are close to fifty film adaptations, and though I’ve only seen five, I’m willing to claim this, Richard Lester’s 1973 version, is the best of them. It would be tough to beat and it’s certainly the best of the ones I’ve seen, though the George Sidney-directed, Gene Kelly-led old Hollywood version is fantastic fun.

The Three Musketeers, like many 19th-century novels, is fairly long (around 700 pages ), and so, any film adaptation is going to have to make do with a fraction of the plot and story development of its source material. It’s for this reason that I would welcome a mini-series adaptation (apologies if it exists already, I’ve never seen it). Director, Richard Lester, best known to this day for directing the spirited Beatles’ flick, A Hard Day’s Night, teamed up with writer, George MacDonald Fraser, best known for his series of Flashman books, and together- I’m not sure whose decision it was, but it proves wise-their Three Musketeers basically cuts away all of Dumas’ subplots. Here, beginning like the novel and all adaptations, young, provincial Frenchman, D’artagnan (York), is ready to leave the nest and, after his farewells with his parents, travels to bustling Paris where he hopes to make it as a member of the King’s guard, a musketeer. Upon arrival, his unrefined country ways rub several people the wrong way and he, confident young man that he is, accepts three duels on his first day, each with a musketeer; one with the stoic Athos (Reed), another with the extravagant Porthos (Finlay), and a final one with the devout Aramis (Chamberlain). Before he gets a chance to fight any of the three, however, an encounter with henchmen working for the devious Cardinal Richelieu (Heston) sees him teaming up with them instead. Later on and now friends, D’Artagnan, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis attempt to thwart one of the Cardinal’s plots by sneaking into England and recovering jewels given by Queen Anne of Austria (Chaplin) to her lover, the Duke of Buckingham (Ward). Faye Dunaway and Raquel Welch play love interests with Dunaway as a femme fatale of sorts, Milady de Winter, and Welch as a spotty but beautiful dressmaker, Constance.

There’s a sequel released just one year later (1974) that I haven’t seen and I can only assume covers more of Dumas’ epic saga. If so, I like that approach. The Three Musketeers warrants two films. At the same time, the clandestine mission to recover the Queen’s jewels has always been my favorite chapter in Dumas’ serial and makes for a fine standalone film and what a spectacular film Lester’s made. It’s marvelous to look at and a witty, almost irreverent take on the swashbuckler tale. Each frame is elaborately designed and each scene offers some surprising, humorous visual detail. I love the swashbuckling adventure stories of old. They’re close to extinct nowadays and that’s a shame because films like Captain Blood, Adventures of Robin Hood, The Mark of Zorro, or this one are fun, attractive, romantic, and exciting, while a great deal of modern action flicks are flat and boring. The one criticism I have of this Three Musketeers is that it’s less concerned with the characters’ and their development than other iterations and the three musketeers, in particular, are short-changed a bit. Only Oliver Reed as Athos makes any real impression thanks to his charisma and physical presence. I’m going to give the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt though and imagine that the characters will develop more in the second part. To be continued…

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(747)

King of the Khyber Rifles (1953, Directed by Henry King) English 6

Starring Tyrone Power, Terry Moore, Michael Rennie, John Justin, Guy Rolfe, Richard Wyler

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(6-Good Film)

Handsome. Dull. Unmemorable.

Mid-1800s, India. Captain Alan King (Power) serves in the British army and, unknown to his peers, was born to a white father and a Muslim mother. Leading his troops against a local uprising, he learns that the leader of the rebels is Karram Khan (Rolfe), a man he grew up with as close as brothers. There’s also some drama surrounding his romance with the general’s daughter, Susan (Moore). The film is consummately crafted from a technical standpoint but lifeless when it comes to the human element. The lead characters are mainly British soldiers and so the old cliché, the stoic, stiff-upper-lip sentiment abounds. That would be fine if the film had worked in Khan earlier. It’s not until he arrives, near the end, that King of the Khyber Rifles gets interesting. There are a couple of late, suspenseful scenes involving King and Khan that make the film worthwhile. King plots to kill his old friend. Khan’s more cunning than he lets on. I would have extended this portion of the plot; made it the center of the movie.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(746)

 

The Hired Hand (1971, Directed by Peter Fonda) English 8

Starring Peter Fonda, Warren Oates, Verna Bloom, Robert Pratt, Severn Darden, Ann Doran

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Spare. Thoughtful. Poignant.

Two life-long ramblers in the old west, Harry (Fonda) and Arch (Oates), attempt to give up their nomadic lifestyle when the former decides to return home to his estranged wife, Hannah (Bloom) and daughter. Arch goes with him and, as it’s been several years since Harry left her, Hannah isn’t all that excited to see him again. After some coaxing, she agrees to let the pair work around the house as “hired hands” and sleep out in the barn, and thus begins an odd, intriguing triangle between the three lead characters. Dear, loyal friendship between Harry and Arch. Love, responsibility, vows between Harry and Hannah. And a complicated, mostly unspoken attraction between Arch and Hannah (reminiscent of the classic western, Shane). This is a strange, fascinating film. Like many great westerns before it, The Hired Hand is deceptively simple, so much left unsaid. It focuses on a trio of memorable characters and performances and takes it time letting things unfold.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(745)

The Parent Trap (1998, Directed by Nancy Meyers) English 8

Starring Lindsey Lohan, Dennis Quaid, Natasha Richardson, Lisa Ann Walter, Elaine Hendrix, Simon Kunz

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Lovely. Charming. Light.

Annie from London and Hallie from California (both played by Lindsey Lohan) meet at a summer camp in Maine and realize (rather slowly) that they are identical twins. One is raised by their dad, Nick Parker (Quaid) and the other by their mom, Elizabeth James (Richardson). Having never met half of their parentage, the two decide to switch places with the ultimate idea of getting their parents back together. Unfortunately, a beautiful gold digger, Meredith (Hendrix), has her hooks in their dad. Lohan pulls the trick off nicely, creating distinct personalities for both characters, and Quaid and Richardson do a nice job as the parents, making us care about them ending up together right along with their screen daughters. Writer/Director Meyers has a deft touch with light comedies. Fantastic family romantic comedy.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(744)

The Vikings (1958, Directed by Richard Fleischer) English 8

Starring Tony Curtis, Kirk Douglas, Janet Leigh, Ernest Borgnine, Frank Thring, James Donald, Alexander Knox, Orson Welles (narrator)

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Spectacular. Exciting. Engrossing.

The Vikings seems influenced more by comic strips and pulp novels than actual history but that’s certainly not a complaint; not from me. Set around the 9th century, a group of plundering Vikings, led by Ragnar (Borgnine), and his handsome but vain son, Einar (Douglas), prepare to invade England. Tony Curtis plays Eric, a slave with a mysterious but powerful origin, and Janet Leigh plays English princess, Morgana, the object of the male leads’ desire. Beautifully, vibrantly photographed by Jack Cardiff, The Vikings is a spirited adventure film with many surprises and a corny but appealing romance. Douglas and Borgnine relish their scene-chewing roles, while Curtis and Leigh ground the picture and have great chemistry.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(743)

Pulp Fiction (1994, Directed by Quentin Tarantino) English 8

Starring John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman, Harvey Keitel, Christopher Walken, Quentin Tarantino, Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer

(8-Exceptional Film)

Iconic. Inventive. Wild.

Two hitmen discuss fast food on the way to a hit. A gangster’s wife overdoses on heroin. A boxer double-crosses a fix. A lowlife couple rob diners. Episodic to great effect, the film’s a true original. Following Reservoir Dogs, the film that put Tarantino on the map, Pulp Fiction was the egocentric but brilliant filmmaker’s ascension. Samuel L. Jackson, in particular, stands out to me, and his delivery of the movie’s final monologue might be a career-best for him. If I feel the movie falls short of being a true masterpiece, it’s simply that it never touches on any substantial themes or ideas. Nevertheless, Pulp Fiction is ultraviolent, stylish, and odd. It’s 2 and 1/2 hours unfolding in unforgettable fashion.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(742)

Little Match Girl (2006, Directed by Roger Allers) English 10

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(10-Masterpiece)

Consummate. Moving. Beautiful.

Based on a story by Hans Christian Andersen (how many great Disney films has he inspired?), this short follows a young orphan girl as she looks to sell matches from her box for money to live on. Later that night, having not sold any, she strikes up all the matches to find their warmth replay the best memories of her life, and she’s able to sink off into a world of fantasy as life leaves her body. This is an incredibly sad story, all the more so since it eschews the traditional Disney fairy tale ending. It’s beautifully animated and moving. The perfect short.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(741)