It’s been a long time since we’ve looked at a literary leviathan, adapted countless times for the large and small screen, part of our cultural lexicon, and something we can’t imagine life without. The 1844 Alexandre Dumas classic is an absolute titan in that regard, right up there with Robin Hood, King Arthur and Romeo and Juliet.
Well, with one distinction: Most major IPs don’t have a candy bar named after them (see its history here).
For those who aren’t familiar with the very meaty plot, here’s the quick version: Young and scrappy country boy D’Artagnan goes to Paris to join the Musketeers, but when he gets there he finds out that he has to earn his stripes as a cadet first. He also makes friends with Porthos, Athos, and Aramis, whose feathers he rustles in turn and who he bonds with after a failed attempt at a duel.
D’Artagnan is then thrust into a world of corruption and intrigue, falling in love with his landlady, the unhappily married Constance Bonacieux and running afoul of the supremely slimy Milady. All of the Musketeers find themselves tested when Cardinal Richelieu’s corruption becomes evident and they work to thwart an attempt to start a war between France and England.
Alexandre Dumas was born on July 24, 1802. The grandson of the marquis de Pailleterie and Marie Cassette Dumas, a black slave, Dumas attempted to practice law in Paris but then became the secretary of the Duke of Orleáns and after that a highly successful playwright, writing mainly comedies.
Next Dumas decided to turn to historical fiction, which was hugely popular during the nineteenth century, although accuracy was merely a footnote. Still, some of the major characters in The Three Musketeers were based on real people. D’Artagnan, for instance, was a version of Charles de Batz de Castelmore, who was born between 1613 and 1615, joined the Musketeers in 1644, and then died in action at Maastricht.
The novel may have also been slightly autobiographical as infidelity is a thing from start to finish, and legend has it Dumas himself may have been with forty women over the course of his life.
The Three Musketeers was originally published as a serial, and like Dumas’s plays, was wildly successful, although a common criticism is that it’s more about action and less about character development.
Again, it’s been adapted in various ways numerous times (see a complete list here), and why not? No role in the novel is incidental; there’s a lot of swashbuckling and steamy romance, and of course, the story has the cool catchphrase, “All for one and one for all!”
Since it would take us from now until Judgement Day to talk about all of the times The Three Musketeers has been adapted, I’m just going to focus on a very few of them, in a highly subjective, kinda-sorta Clint Eastwood style. If I leave out any favorites (1973, anyone?) I apologize. Behold…
The Good: 1993
While other people might beg to differ, this is my favorite version. Admittedly, it does mooch a little bit off of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (see the specifics here) and there’s a rather creepy shot down Milady’s chemise, but it hits most of the high points of the novel in fine, irreverent style.
The Also Good: 1948
This one is a must-watch despite a thirty-six year old Gene Kelly being absurdly too old to play spring chicken D’Artagnan. Kelly’s his usual athletic self and makes a good showing in a non-musical role, backed up by a terrific cast, including June Allyson, Lana Turner, Van Heflin, Vincent Price, and Frank Morgan.
The Bad: 2011
While the filmmakers deserve props for casting Orlando Bloom as the Duke of Buckingham and Matthew Macfadyen as Athos, the rest of the movie stinks to high heaven for trying to rip off The Matrix with slow-mo quasi-bullet time ninja-ish fighting sequences. Ugh. Imitation may be called the sincerest form of flattery, but when it’s done over and over it starts to look more like hackery.
The Ugly: 2001
Starring Justin Chambers as D’Artagnan, this is Three Musketeers Meets Jackie Chan. Kind of. They tried so, so hard to be impressive with the fighting sequences, but I lost count of how many times I glanced at the time counter. And I have nothing against Justin Chambers, but, well, to paraphrase something Dorothy Parker once said about Katharine Hepburn, he “runs the gamut of emotions from A to B.”
The Laughable: 3 Musketeers (2011)
Set in the present day with two of the major characters gender-flipped, this Asylum mockbuster follows Alexandra D’Artagnan, the descendant of the Musketeer and a federal agent who learns about a possible war with North Korea. As is typical with Asylum, the film features bad acting, illogical plot turns, bad filming angles, and shutters. Lots of shutters.
The Completely Improbable: Barbie and the Three Musketeers (2009)
Barbie plays Corinne, an aspiring Musketeer who wants to follow in her father’s footsteps and when she goes to Paris she finds three like-minded women. It doesn’t owe much to Dumas’s original story (for one thing, only Barbie has a sword). Why does this exist? I don’t know, but it does sport an earworm of a music video and features Tim Curry as Philippe, the Cardinal-ish villain who wants to be king.
Whether new iterations get good, bad, or ugly, we will probably never close the Dumas book. All for one and one for all…
Hope to see you all back here on Tuesday for a look at Bride of Frankenstein. Thanks for reading.
The Three Musketeers 1993 (Blu-ray and DVD), 1948 (Blu-ray and DVD), 2011 (Blu-ray and DVD), 2001 (DVD), 3 Musketeers (Blu-ray and DVD), Barbie and the Three Musketeers (DVD), and Dumas’s original novel are available to own from Amazon.
~Purchases made via Amazon Affiliate links found on this site help support Taking Up Room at no extra cost to you.~
If you’re enjoying what you see on Taking Up Room, please look for additional content on Substack, where you’ll find both free and subscriber-only articles. I publish every Wednesday and Saturday.