Richard Lester | 102 mins | TV | PG / PG
Richard Lester’s Four Musketeers was shot at the same time as the previous year’s Three Musketeers, because it was originally meant to be one film that was split in two when someone realised how darn long it was. This split led to a legal battle over actors’ fees and, eventually, a new standard clause in actors’ contracts to prevent such two-for-one ‘cheats’ by producers in future.
The longer-lasting advantage of this is it made The Three Musketeers the film it is, because having Four Musketeers as a second half would’ve dragged it down.
Put simply, this second effort has less action, which could be fine, but more importantly it’s less fun. In and of itself such a statement doesn’t make it bad, but it consequently fails to fulfil the promise of the first film. It’s also a little more ramshackle — a common feature of sequels these days I suppose, when they’re rushed into production and overstuffed with characters and storylines. Considering Three Musketeers has a kind of endearing scrappiness to it, that a similar factor becomes a negative point here either means they took it too far or there was a certain luck to the first film hanging together.
It’s a bit grim too — Athos’ backstory with Milady; the murder of the Queen’s lover; the murder of Constance; the cold-blooded execution of Milady; and ending up with Richelieu still in power too — none of it sits well with the jolly swashbuckling tone that still dominates. There are some good action sequences nonetheless — for instance, the ice-covered lake; breakfast/siege in the ruined fort; and the burning-building finale — which go some way to make up for the shortcomings.
(As an aside, the cast & crew (some of them at least) returned a couple of decades later to film The Return of the Musketeers, an adaptation of one of Dumas’ sequels, Twenty Years After. For filming Twenty Years After about twenty years later they must at least be commended, and I shall have to track it down sometime.)
A shame that it couldn’t live up to its predecessor, though it still has moments to recommend it.