Thoughts on storytelling and the world of animation. Caution! SPOILERS!

Producing ‘The Three Musketeers’

Recently I watched the 1948 version of ‘The Three Musketeers.’    It was an action packed epic worthy of its time period and full of the hottest actors of the time.  I watched it for several reasons, the first and foremost being my love for the 1993 Disney version.  It was closely followed by my love for Gene Kelly, and after learning that the silent movie scenes from ‘Singin’ In The Rain’ were taken from the 1948 ‘Three Musketeers’ I was all the keener to watch. After watching it I turned on the Disney version again.  I observed quite a few observations in changes in film story-telling.

The 1948 Musketeers actually follows the book more closely.  It’s impossible to follow the book with any degree of regular accuracy, given the length and topics.  At best we get a ‘good parts’ version.  The 1993 version changed the storyline quite a bit, and given the adultness of the topics and stories, I’m not at all surprised.  There’s plenty of mistresses and cheating going on!   The Disney version is family friendly, with D’Artagnan following in the footsteps of his loyal father to protect the king from the evil Cardinal.  The 1948 version tells the story of the Queen carrying on with the Duke of Buckingham and the 3 Musketeers’s adventures in protecting her reputation and thwarting the Cardinal’s designs.

Both movies are star studded.  Vincent Price and Tim Curry play the Cardinal in their respective films, and both are excellent, dignified-but-evil choices.  I kept laughing at the opening credits of the 1948 version because I recognized so many people.  Gene Kelly, Lana Turner, Angela Lansbury, June Allyson . . . Although looking at the cast list for the 1993 edition, I can’t help but think that they all became more famous AFTER the movie.  Kiefer Sutherland went on to be the infamous Jack Bauer, Charlie Sheen went on to be the infamous . . . Charlie Sheen, and Chris O’Donnell (who looks SO young in this) is doing quite well in CSI: Los Angeles.  1948 was pretty earlier for a lot of the actresses I saw, so I wonder if the same thing happened for them.   On the other hand, since I was an oblivious teenager when the 1993 movie came out, I probably had just never seen anything they had been in previously.

I must say I was rather unimpressed with Gene Kelly as D’Artagnan, and it took me a while to figure this out.  Kelly is a dramatic actor. Well trained, intense, and quite a perfectionist.  I admire this in a dancer and a singer.  He makes a fantastic dramatic lover on stage and screen. What he does NOT do well is buffoonery.  I can only imagine the director said to him, “D’Artagnan is a country  boy come to the city, a stupid fool who has a lot of growing up to do.”  Kelly must have studied the silliest men he could think of on film and attempted to imitate them.  Sadly, I’m guessing it was the Three Stooges.  There’s an awful, cringeworthy scene where D’Artagnan first sees Constance as he spies on her from the room above.  He makes awful noises, runs around, stuffs his handkerchief in his mouth . . . this is NOT natural behavior for Gene Kelly, and it shows.  (And of course my husband walks in the room during this scene and rolls his eyes.  Why couldn’t he have come in during the awesome, acrobatic fight scene  ten minutes earlier?)  The movie gets better as it progresses as D’Artagnan comes into his own.

Chris O’Donnell is less intense and better suited to the young country boy role, but some of his lines come out quite awkwardly.  Still, he’s consistent and graceful, showing from his introduction onward that D’Artagnan was never a country bumpkin, but came to Paris already self-assured, cocky, and quick-witted.  Disney allows a quick lesson in ‘romancing’ women, but hey, doesn’t EVERYBODY have to go to Paris to learn that?

The introduction of each of the Musketeers is quite different.  Both movies follow the traditional altercation followed by a duel later in the day.  However, I had a hard time distinguishing each Musketeer in the 1948 version.  They blended in with the crowd, and while they were given consistent personalities, sometimes it was hard to discern who was speaking during which fight scene.  The 1993 version provides more screen time for each character, allowing them to enhance their distinct personalities.

I much prefer the 1993 version, in spite of its not being true to the book.  It’s a simple, fun, well paced, well scripted plot, with great music.  Still, it was fun to see Kelly in a fighting role rather than a dancing one.  Lots more gymnastics!

What does this have to do with animation, you ask?  Nothing. The only link I can create is that the 1948 movie influenced the shape of future Musketeers movies, and also some fodder for cartoons.  Fred Quimby must have loved the story, as Tom and Jerry acted out multiple versions in “Royal Cat Nap,” “The Two Mouseketeers,” and “Touche, Pussy Cat!”  Walt Disney used it frequently, of course, and even created the “Mouseketeers,” the hosts and stars of the Mickey Mouse Club.

I see there are plenty of Musketeers movies made both before and after 1948, and may have to check more of them out.  It could be the 1948 version was influenced by one before it!

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