I was surprised to learn that this 1948 flick was the ninth film adaptation of the book. I’ve seen only two earlier versions, the 1921 silent with Douglas Fairbanks and the 1939 farce with Don Ameche and the Ritz Brothers.
This is a good ‘un, full of action, humor and Technicolor, with a few peculiar quirks. First, there’s Gene Kelly as D’Artagnan. In the book, he’s supposed to be no more than 20, and much is made of his youth compared to the older Musketeers. Kelly is actually 36, and looks older. In fact, he’s only two years younger than Van Heflin (Athos), three years younger than Robert Coote (Aramis), and a year older than Gig Young (Porthos). But what he lacks in youth, he makes up for in athletic ability. In the sword fights (and there are many) he bounces around like a rubber ball, looking even more graceful and formidable than Douglas Fairbanks (and that’s saying something).
There are examples of 1948-style PC thinking. Richelieu (Vincent Price) is demoted from Cardinal to Prime Minister, apparently to avoid offending Catholic sensibilities. And D’Artagnan’s girlfriend Constance (June Allyson), the wife of his landlord in the book, become the landlord’s god-daughter. D’Artagnan and Constance even perform a private wedding ceremony late in the film, legitimizing a sleepover before she goes into hiding.
The all-star cast adds an extra element of interest. Lana Turner, who got top billing, is okay as Milady, but could have used an extra helping of evil. Angela Lansbury, as Queen Anne, is young, but still looks like Angela Lansbury, raising the question of why the Duke of Buckingham is so infatuated with her. June Allyson as Constance is bright-eyed, innocent and dumb. The most interesting female performance (which is unaccredited) comes from Marie Windson (a guest star in just about every old TV series you can think of) as the queen’s maid. We only see her twice, and she doesn’t even have a line, but she steals the scenes with sultry expressions. She would have made a far better Milady.
The Technicolor, while a definite plus, was sometimes abused, with D’Artagnan and the boys often wearing costumes so garish they resemble clown suits. Oddly, these outfits were colored differently - and more tastefully - on the lobby cards displayed here. The green shirt D’Artagnan wears on the cards is gold in the film, and the other Musketeers sometimes appear in bright purple.
One thing this film never gets is boring. It’s extremely fast-paced, because - as the posters proclaim - they’re presenting THE FULL NOVEL. Sort of. While some films focus on only the first half of the book, involving the queen’s diamonds, this one attempts to cover the muddled second half, centered around Milady’s revenge. There are many changes and shortcuts, and some of the changes are actually improvements over the Dumas plot (or lack thereof).
More Overlooked Films, as always, at SWEET FREEDOM.