Swordplay, derring-do, and intrigue help spin the story in the 1948 film “The Three Musketeers,” based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas. The film features an all-star cast and was the second highest grossing film of the 1940s.
Young d’Artagnan (Gene Kelly) is on his way from Gascony to Paris to join the king’s musketeers. On the way, he gets into a fight with one of the men escorting Lady de Winter (Lana Turner) to Paris. In the scuffle, d’Artagnan is knocked unconscious, and the letter of introduction written by his father is burned. Nonetheless, once he regains consciousness, d’Artagnan is able to make it to Paris and to the musketeers’ headquarters. Monsieur de Treville, the commander of the musketeers, recognizes the young man’s last name and makes him a cadet in the musketeers after giving three of his men, Athos (Van Heflin), Aramis (Robert Coote), and Porthos (Gig Young) a dressing-down for their behavior. D’Artagnan, in his excitement, provokes a duel with each of the older musketeers, and as soon as they are attacked by Cardinal Richelieu’s guards, the four band together to defeat them. The four then become fast friends.
D’Artaganan also finds love in Paris with his downstairs neighbor, the beautiful Constance Bonacieux (June Allyson), who is a maid and confidante to Queen Anne of Austria (Angela Lansbury). He rescues Constance from the cardinal’s guards, who seek to abduct her and find out when the queen’s lover, the Duke of Buckingham, will next come to England. Richelieu (Vincent Price) seeks to consolidate his power by humiliating King Louis XIII, and the queen’s affair with Buckingham provides the perfect opportunity to do so. Louis gives Anne twelve diamond studs to be made into a necklace, and Anne offers two of them to Buckingham as a token of her love. This proves to be foolish, as Lady de Winter, at the Cardinal’s behest, is able to steal them from Buckingham. Upon finding out about the theft from Constance, d’Artagnan and his friends immediately set a plan into action to obtain the diamond studs for the queen.
The hero’s journey is a big theme in this film, as it chronicles d’Artagnan’s growth from an impetuous, high-spirited young cadet to a disciplined, skilled musketeer. The friendship between Athos and d’Artagnan is especially important because it helps both men grow as characters: Athos is able to act as a sort of mentor to d’Artagnan, while d’Artagnan is able to assist Athos in coping with the things he has done in the past.
The lines between good and bad women are very clearly drawn in this film, almost as well as they are drawn in Dumas’s novel. Lady de Winter is the classic wicked woman who has brought ruin into the lives of every man she has encountered. She is represented as having no morals whatsoever, from presumed promiscuity to a desire to wreak the worst revenge possible on those who have crossed her. But there is something tragic about her, as she is perfectly aware of all of the things she has done and at times seems remorseful, and it makes one wonder if, were she given another chance, she would do things differently to avoid her present fate. Constance, on the other hand, is represented as good and pure, for she acts selflessly and does what she can to best protect the queen. She hasn’t really been touched by the cruelty of the real world and is an innocent victim of the intrigues of the court, and d’Artagnan is the faithful man who can protect her and fight for her honor.
While the film is problematic on many levels, like the novel, it’s still a feast for the eyes. It’s in Technicolor, and the costumes and sets are gorgeous, particularly Lady de Winter’s. Lana Turner, Vincent Price, and Angela Lansbury give the best performances out of the all-star cast. Watching this film is worth it for all of these things.