Friday, September 07, 2012

The Musketeers

Ovation showed the Four Musketeers last night. This is the second part of a mid-1970s adaptation of the classic novel.

I read the novel sometime in my early teens. I think it was my mother's copy but I'm not sure. It was one of several old books that just sort of appeared on the book shelf of my closet. This edition was split into two books. Both had red covers and I think it took me a minute to figure out which was the first volume. Anyway, I loved it and read it quickly.

This was the first movie adaptation I had seen and it remains the most true to the novel. The writer, George MacDonald Frazier and the director, Richard Lester, were obviously fans of the original material. A few relationships are simplified. For example, in the book the headsman had a complicated relationship with Milady but in the movie he is just a tradesman for hire.

Originally it was filmed as one very long movie but the producers decided to divide it into two movies thus doubling profits (without paying the stars anything additional). The movies divide right at about the same place as the edition I first read.

The movies are amazing for the amount of historic detail. I was admiring the drinking glasses last night. Historic costuming in the 1970s hit a high point. Before then, costumers took great liberties, especially in Technicolor productions. More recent productions tend to simplify the 1620s styles. I once heard someone from the SCA complain that Milady always wore white and that white was associated with widows in the 17th century. Guess what? She inherited her title (Milady D'Winter) from her late husband. The carriages are notable. They are accurate down to the leather straps that were used before springs.

D'Artagnan is an acrobat, jumping from windows and swinging from clotheslines.

William Hobbs, one of the great fight choreographers of all time, gave each of the characters a distinctive style.
D'Artagnan is an acrobat, jumping from windows and swinging from clotheslines (although by the final duel he is tired and out of breath). Athos is a brawler. Porthos tends to lose his sword and fights with whatever is at hand. Aramis is the most technically proficient.

There are a few problems and anachronisms. Apparently they could not find any working wheellock pistols. This is an early flintlock that uses a wheel to strike sparks rather than a flint. Real ones are cocked with a spanner (wrench) which only takes 3/4 turn. The ones in the movie are cranked several times and never fired. Athos leaves the spanner on one while threatening Milady.

The pistols that are used are all 18th century flintlocks. Milady also had a 19th century caplock derringer.

Musketeers carry matchlock muskets. The movie had some built for the production. I used to have one from the movie (UPS lost it). They were based on period illustrations but had some flaws. The barrels were three pieces.

A matchlock is pretty forgiving about how fine the power is that you prime it with but the movie used extremely fine powder. When they fire you can see the priming powder start to burn before the gun goes off. That only happens with very fine powder.

One lasting influence from this movie is the eyepatch. This is not from the novel. Apparently they gave one to Christopher Lee's character to make him more menacing. Since then the three major remakes have all had a similar character with an eyepatch. Often this character also tries to match Lee's deep, menacing voice.

Since the 1970s version, there have been three new releases (plus a couple of versions of the Man in the Iron Mask and a couple of sequels staring Michael York).

In 1993, Disney decided to trash the 17th century. They released their own version of the Three Musketeers (taking place in 1627), Pocahontas (Jamestown, 1607) and the Scarlet Letter (1690s), all with major plot changes.

There was a 2001 version called The Musketeer which featured Kung Fu-style wire work fight scenes.

Last year a steampunk (lacepunk?) version sunk like a deflated airship. It was the most amusing and the closest of the three to the source material.

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