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December 08, 2020

The Return of the Musketeers

return of musketeers.jpg

Richard Lester - 1989
KL Studio Classics BD Region A

There are two set pieces in The Return of the Musketeers that are as good as anything from Richard Lester's previous films. The opening scene takes place at an inn. Roy Kinnear, as a down on his luck Planchet, is inching on top of a beam, with a fork attached to a sword, hoping to swipe food from the diners below him. His bungled attempts and pratfalls result in a food fight among the inn's patrons. Later, three of the reunited musketeers plus Raoul, son of Athos, get into a sword fight that involves trap doors, a disappearing staircase and a variety of mechanical booby traps, suggesting a Buster Keaton room in mid-17th Century France.

I am not sure how well this film would work for those who have not seen Lester's Three Musketeers (1974) and Four Musketeers (1975). Based on Alexandre Dumas' Twenty Years On, the film brings back most of the original stars plus George MacDonald Fraser writing the screenplay. One change from the novel was that of villainess Milady de Winter's son instead be a sword wielding daughter. In this case there was canny casting of a still youthful Kim Cattrall as the offspring of Faye Dunaway from the earlier films. Even Charlton Heston has a cameo appearance of sorts with a glance at the portrait of him as Cardinal Richilieu. Even with limited commercial prospects, there is enough here to suggest that Return had the potential to be better had it not been for the tragic death of Roy Kinnear in mid-production.

Like the best of Lester's comic films, there is the humorous asides uttered by characters in the margins in addition to the sight gags. One other inspired moment involves the musketeers taking over a hot air balloon manned by Cyrano de Bergerac, unceremoniously dumping him into a stream while flying to a castle. That the main narrative involves intrigue within the monarchy, with a sub-plot involving Oliver Cromwell is mostly besides the point. While it is nice to see Oliver Reed, Frank Finlay, Richard Chamberlain and Michael York reunited onscreen, they are almost completely upstaged by the eyepatch wearing Christopher Lee, Philippe Noiret and especially the arch Geraldine Chaplin. As in the earlier Musketeer films, Lester takes the realities of life in 17th Century France and explores the comic possibilities. The combination of inventive staging of sword fights and verbal jousting are what is of interest and amusement.

I would agree with a couple key points in film critic Peter Tonguette's commentary track. First, the years passed since the production of the film have lessened what ever pall was cast by Roy Kinnear's untimely death. Second, The Return of the Musketeers should probably be considered Richard Lester's last film. Lester documented Paul McCartney in concert in Get Back (1991) but seems even by his own estimation to have gone through the motions of being the director of record. Even in comparison to for-hire works like Mouse on the Moon or Finders Keepers, Get Back seems more like an afterthought to a filmography. Lester's career is discussed in conjunction with several of his onscreen and production collaborators. There are production secrets revealed other than a somewhat detailed history of how the film was produced with truncated budget and Universal's shelving of the planned U.S. theatrical release following two disappointing previews. I was glad to see The Return of the Musketeers better than its reputation had suggested. Lester completists should be happy with this release which nicely includes the original montage of Universal logos commemorating the studio's 75th anniversary.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at December 8, 2020 06:31 AM