Page to Screen: The Three Musketeers (1993)

The Three Musketeers
based on The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

When I was a little kid, we owned the soundtrack to this film—and my favorite song was “All for Love”. I would make my parents play it over and over in the car. But I forgot about The Three Musketeers, which I seriously doubt I saw as a child—until I came across a VHS copy of it at the library. I watched it… and watched it… and watched it. The Three Musketeers has, in the past year, rapidly become my favorite bad movie; thoroughly ridiculous and unintentionally hilarious, complete with a ludicrously star-studded cast. It truly must be seen to be believed.

The Three Musketeers follows the young D’Artagnan as he makes his way to Paris to become one of the famous Musketeers, like his late father before him. But when he arrives in Paris, he discovers that the Musketeers have been disbanded by the scheming Cardinal Richelieu as part of his attempt to gain the French throne with the help of the Duke of Buckingham. After a poor first impression, D’Artagnan joins the rebelling Musketeers Athos, Porthos, and Aramis in stopping the Cardinal’s evil plan—including his mysterious and beautiful secret agent, the Lady de Winter, and his righthand man, Rochefort, who may have something to do with how the elder D’Artagnan ended up…

As you might be able to tell from that summary, The Three Musketeers takes enormous liberties with its source material. The Musketeers never disband nor are Richelieu and Rochefort depicted as utterly evil in the novel—while the Musketeers’ motives are at cross-purposes with the Cardinal and his guards throughout, they actually end in a sort of friendly rivalry. Oddly, Milady is turned into more of a sympathetic character, despite being clearly the baddest baddie in the novel. The Cardinal and the King are depicted at being at odds, although they’re on the same side in the novel; even Buckingham, who never appears in the film, has his alliance changed—while in the film he appears to be open to the Cardinal’s advances (oh, I’m refraining from a joke right here), in the novel he’s sleeping with the Queen of France; the couple are on the side of our titular Musketeers. I understand why they turned it into a simple coming of age story for D’Artagnan—The Three Musketeers is a long and episodic novel, although I still think they could have tried a little… well, much more. On its own, the script is just a little lackluster, complete with some truly bad jokes.

What makes that bad script hilariously bad is the cast, who all appear to be having great fun. There is no way to top Tim Curry as Cardinal Richelieu. (Well, there is, but the next big screen adaptation is already all over that.) He makes his way through bad dialogue with, alternately, downright glee and a hilarious straight face. Michael Wincott is the deliciously evil Rochefort, growling out his lines and raiding Johnny Cash’s wardrobe (joke stolen from “The Luke Side of the Force” by Lore Sjöberg). Rebecca De Mornay is a slinky and smooth Lady de Winter, never raising her voice above a whisper. But these actors would, in a more serious film, simply be delightfully evil. It’s the good guys that really drive it home. Charlie Sheen, Oliver Platt, and Kiefer Sutherland are all oddly cast as Aramis, Porthos, and Athos, respectively, cracking bad jokes and generally being unconvincing—Sutherland occasionally gets in at Athos’s drinking problem, but is otherwise gruff where he ought to be mysterious. Chris O’Donnell is an endearing D’Artagnan—it makes you remember he’s a good actor capable of handling light material well. (It’s a shame Schumacher so thoroughly murdered his career with Batman Forever.) The rest of the cast is rounded out by people you definitely know—Gabrielle Anwar is Queen Anne, and Paul McGann, the Eighth Doctor himself, is a terrible comic relief character named Gerard. (I spend his scenes crying out, “NO, DOCTOR! REMEMBER YOUR DIGNITY!”) This mix of scenery chewing and well-meaning but oddly cast parts is downright hilarious.

The cinematography is nice, although it occasionally tries too hard–we open on a undulating expanse that turns out to be fog on an underground lake, and there’s a set piece that involves blowing up a market (our heroes, ladies and gentlemen!). This is one of those films that’s only dated by the contemporary youth of its actors, which is nice to see, although perhaps that’s because it’s a period piece. I do have to say that the score is quite good and, for once, actually incorporates its Award Bait song! (Kiss your productivity goodbye!) The melody from the song is used a great deal; it’s not tied to any one character, and is used (in a minor key, obviously) for bad events as much as for good events. It impressed me when I was little and it still impresses me now—it’s a good thing this movie is hilariously bad, otherwise I’d feel sad for Michael Kamen. (But not too sad—in his lifetime, he won plenty of awards for his phenomenal work, and some of his work is used in film studios’ logos. Wow.)

Bottom line: It takes a perfect storm of odd things for a movie to be hilariously bad, but oh, does The Three Musketeers tick them all off like clockwork—good bits (Kamen’s amazing score, the deliciously evil baddies) and ludicrous bits (the casting of the good guys, the silly script). It’s a truly a film that’s ripe for the riffing.

You can read my review of the novel here.

I rented this VHS tape from the public library.

12 thoughts on “Page to Screen: The Three Musketeers (1993)

  1. I remember this one. It was entertaining in that way that only bad movies can be. I still have to read this book; on the list of classics I want to read but haven’t gotten to it yet.

  2. Oliver Platt is probably my favorite character in this movie because he so obviously had fun with his character. Otherwise it is a hilariously bad movie, just like you put it, that I loved when I was a kid. After reading the novel I realized how many liberties they really took with this movie.

  3. The 1975/76 Richard Lester two-film adaptation is still the best (it’s also an actual adaptation, as opposed to every other “adaptation” of the Three Musketeers). And even Tim Curry can’t top Charlton Heston as Cardinal Richelieu.

  4. This came out when I was in 3rd or 4th grade and I loved it. As an adult I can see the ridiculousness of the characters, but it is a lot of fun. Oliver Platt was hilarious in it. I still remember that one guy’s squeling voice… “D’Artagnan!!!!”

  5. >>>There is no way to top Tim Curry as Cardinal Richelieu. (Well, there is, but the next big screen adaptation is already all over that.)

    Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. WHOA. Christoph Waltz has excellent qualities, nobody denies that, but let’s not ever try to say that anyone is better than Tim Curry at anything. That is just obvious nonsense.

    But I love the old Three Musketeers. The first time I watched it with my family, my parents spontaneously leapt up and recreated the final swordfight between D’Artagnan and the eye-patch man whose name now completely escapes me, where Julie Delpy helpfully tosses him his sword at a crucial moment. And oo, the big-eyed wussy king with his haircut, and oh God, he eventually gets brave and punches Tim Curry. I love that film.

    • Hey, my film depreciation society loves and adores Curry, and I’m currently listening to an audiobook read by him—but while Curry is always hamming it up wonderfully (and he’s a good actor, of course), I think Waltz can bounce between I AM ACTING WITH MY FACE to I AM CRAZY to HAM AND CHEESE so fast it’ll be great.

      Rochefort! Oh, Rochefort. This film is just great.

  6. Pingback: The Sunday Salon: The Three Musketeers — 1993 vs. 2011 « The Literary Omnivore

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