Posted in: by Richard T. Jameson, Contributors, Film Reviews

Review: The Three Musketeers

[Originally published in Movietone News 31, April 1974]

The Three Musketeers opens with an auspiciousness I haven’t experienced since the first image and chords of 2001: Against a dark, featureless background and in a light that seems to have seeped out of a pearl, a hand seizes the hilt of a heavy sword and slowly draws the blade from its scabbard. Metal rubs against metal with a sense of reawakening; the sound is bigger than it ought normally to be, reverberating in a vault of time. A man poises himself, then leaps to attack another. They play with their swords—not dancing or lunging as if spearing hors d’oeuvres, but swinging, hacking, beads of sweat flashing from them. Suddenly one man’s leap is traced in a dozen luminous outlines of himself. Richard Lester is making movies again.

Oliver Reed and Roy Kinnear

It’s not immediately apparent what sort of film he’s making—which is, of course, one of the things that make Lester Lester. From such a hip contemporary artist one scarcely expects a straight retelling of the Dumas classic. Not that romanticism hasn’t been violated before: the Ritz Brothers, no less (and certainly no more), played the Musketeers in a 1939 Fox version. Lester’s Goon Show pixilation is frequently in evidence: a servant registering mute pique at Aramis’s incurable penchant for cutting off the candles in idle swordplay; a group of court midgets, each trying to one-up his fellows by having the king select one of his canapés, and all commenting sotto voce on the various court intrigues (“It i’n’t her, I tell ya—she got bigger feet!”); a branding iron and a potato nestling side-by-side in a bed of hot coals. We get an indication of what must be in store when D’Artagnan (Michael York), humiliated by Cardinal Richelieu’s chief henchman Rochefort (Christopher Lee), sets off to avenge his disgrace. Rochefort is riding leisurely away on horseback. Lester moves his camera back to take in the whole arena of D’Artagnan’s revenge, a sort of rural plaza with peasants and workmen browsing about, an intricate superstructure topping a well at left, and Rochefort describing an assured diagonal down through the center of the scene and shot. D’Artagnan runs ahead of his enemy, seizes a handy rope that should swing him right into Rochefort’s lap and send the bully sprawling, and swoops toward his man—and past him. D’Artagnan falls in the mud; Rochefort, without a backward or even a sidelong glance, continues on his way. All right then, Lester’s going to guy the whole business of making a swashbuckler. Who believes in heroes anyway, or possesses the grace of a Fairbanks, or even gives a damn? Bring on the yoks, Dick! And they come—very good ones, too—until, not long afterward, we find D’Artagnan rather accidentally in the company of the Musketeers and in the midst of a duel with more of the Cardinal’s men. One of them charges D’Artagnan; lacking a sword at the moment, our hero leaps up, grabs a clothesline, and starts looping loops as his assailant draws nearer. What’s going to happen: D’Artagnan gets tangled in a sheet? The line breaks? Well, as a matter of fact, the whole thing works out just fine, with D’Artagnan’s heels catching the fellow at just the right instant and knocking him for a loop of his own. Say, what is this?! But the movie makes no comment. And that’s the way it tends to go from there on out, some of the swashes buckling under the weight of their ingenuity and some of them coming off as though the ghosts of Fairbanks and Flynn were giving D’Artagnan a leg up.

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Posted in: Books, by Richard T. Jameson, Contributors

In Black & White: ‘The Marx Bros. Scrapbook’ and ‘Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Sometimes Zeppo’

[Originally published in Movietone News 31, April 1974]

IN BLACK & WHITE

THE MARX BROS. SCRAPBOOK. By Groucho Marx and Richard J. Anobile. W.W. Norton. 256 pages. $13.95.
GROUCHO, HARPO, CHICO AND SOMETIMES ZEPPO. By Joe Adamson. 464 pages. $10. Simon and Schuster.

Can anyone seriously attempt to deny that the Marx Brothers are in control of the United States today? Transparent shysters and incompetents fill high government offices. A naked student lopes through a med school amphitheatre. The Seattle Opera stages Siegfried. And until recently, at least, gas station operators turned on their beacons, blocked their entranceways, put out signs that they had no gasoline, and sold that gasoline to red, white, and puce automobiles with odd-numbered or fractional license plates between the hours of 6:53 and 7:0l a.m., with time out to parlay with Arabian sweet-gum merchants. That honking behind you isn’t the next car in line; it’s Harpo trying to tell you he can’t get your trunk open with his can opener.

The Marx Bros. Scrapbook achieved a pronounced notoriety late last year when Groucho Marx made it known he was seeking an injunction to prevent its publication. According to Mr. Flywheel, he never dreamed that Richard Anobile, compiler of such previous (and posthumous) collections of pithy sayings as W.C. Fields’ Drat!, would transcribe their private conversations unedited, so that all the world could be treated to Groucho giving voice to all the things he was sublimating in Cocoanuts, Animal Crackers, Monkey Business. etc., not to mention calling Nixon “a dirty crook” and Eisenhower “a schmuck.” He didn’t get the injunction and copies of the Scrapbook now proudly wear a gold seal promising “unexpurgated Groucho.”

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