Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Three and Four Musketeers

I am old enough to remember a time when Michael York was one of the biggest stars in the world. I thought he was just awesome when I saw 'Logan's Run' and the 'Three and Four Musketeers' for the first time. He was the model of 'dashing young hero' before Luke Skywalker came along. Seeing several blogs post pictures of the cast got me to go back into my video vault for these two movies.

I was always fascinated by the back story behind the making of the Three and Four Musketeers. Director Richard Lester (who later added his directorial flair to Superman 2) shot enough footage to make two movies so that is exactly what the studio did - released two movies but only paid the actors for one. Hollywood douchbaggery at the highest level for sure.

There is, in fact, a clause inserted into every actor's contract these days that stipulates how many movies they are performing in at any given time to prevent such a thing from occurring again. You wouldn't think that such a thing would be necessary but there you have it.

The two movies were shot at the same time so they naturally go together and flow nicely from one to the other. Once you get used to the style of Lester with his background murmurings and slapstick humor they are very charming pictures. I always noticed how 'natural' they were. People slip on ice, get hurt when they fall off of horses, are dirty and smelly, and die slowly from stab wounds. The cannons and guns are inaccurate and unreliable and nothing is pristine or polished. JUST LIKE IT WOULD HAVE BEEN IN REAL LIFE. I always wanted to live in that time period but I would insist on 22nd Century plumbing technology before I went anywhere.

Killing a man with a sword was relatively easy, unless the other guy was as good a sword fighter as you were. 'Rob Roy' was the only recent movie to even come close to depicting this fact. Sword fights are chess matches where a killing blow comes only after capitalizing on an opponent's mistake. They are not pretty or grand with choreographed flourishes like in the 'Princess Bride' (which to be fair was being ironic and celebratory in their memorable sword fights). It's an ugly way to fight and an ugly way to die. There is no shame in using any trick you can to gain the advantage and the combatants know this and accept it. Watching Christopher Lee fight Michael York or Oliver Reed is a real treat. You can see the wheels turning in their minds. There is cunning and experience at work there.

All the actors in both these pictures are superb. They are loud and bold like the story demands that they be. The villains are not who you think they should be with Charlton Heston's Cardinal Richelieu being the best example of this. He is first and foremost a politician and the script doesn't turn him into a mustache twirling bad guy. He's a 'son of bitch' but you admire his style.

And tell me, is there anyone who can 'out-act' Oliver Reed? The man chews scenery like its made of cheese. No one plays damaged souls like he does. You know the man lived it in real life because it's all there to see on the screen. He never short changes you. Ah, we had movie STARS back then.

The movies take a dark turn at the end but there are some epic moments not to be missed. Great stuff.

Thanks to http://eclecticbanana.tumblr.com/ for geting me back into these pictures by posting some great reminder pics on his tumblr.


SamuraiFrog said...

I love those movies so much.

Drake said...

I love these movies, been capping them for my tumblr.
I still miss Oliver Reed.

Unknown said...

Oliver Reed was a cinematic god. And I too remember when Michael York ruled the world, along with his lesser known rival Michael Sarazin.

cardstuntman said...

I just watched the 1st one about a month ago, got #2 ready to go....
you have to give some credit to
george macdonald fraser for the screenplays. He had a knack for funny.
Flashman books are favorites and I like the Royal Flash movie as well.
Oliver Reed was always tops. I tried to watch anything that had him in it. what a great actor.

Steve LeCouilliard said...

These films are among my favorites, though I only own the first one. They absolutely set the standard for cinematic swordplay and I love how every shot feels like it came from a Rembrandt painting. I'm a big George MacDonald Fraser fan too, so I love that he's involved along with virtually every famous face alive at the time it seems. Plus Racquel Welch in her prime!

Darius Whiteplume said...

I do love those. The only scene that really bugs me (from "Three" IIRC) is the lantern fight between York and Lee. I always thought, "I can see them, why can't they see each other?" Either the director wanted us to see both, or like so many vampire movies of the day, the need for lighting put characters in incongruous settings.

Did I say "incongruous"?

These do have a very Monty Python feel at times with the humor.

You are right about Reed. Possibly my favorite actor, nect to Robert Mitchum, and that is saying something!

Booksteve said...

You do know that there was many years later a THIRD film also? Most of the original cast returned in 1989's RETURN OF THE MUSKETEERS, written by Fraser, directed by Lester but sadly most notable for longtime character actor Roy Kinnear's on-set death.