2 films about 3 or 4 Musketeers March 6, 2011Posted by badblokebob in : Editorials, 1970s, 2011 , add a comment
Finally, some reviews!
And the title pretty much has this one covered, so…
The Three Musketeers
Where to begin? The action, I suppose. It’s loaded with the stuff. It puts later movies — from eras when we’re more accustomed to non-stop, regularly-paced action than the ’70s — to shame with its barrage of sword fights. And if you think they’d all be the same and become repetitive, you’re dead wrong.
The Four Musketeers
this second effort has less action, which could be fine, but more importantly it’s less fun. In and of itself such a statement doesn’t make it bad, but it consequently fails to fulfil the promise of the first film. It’s also a little more ramshackl… Considering Three Musketeers has a kind of endearing scrappiness to it, that a similar factor becomes a negative point here either means they took it too far or there was a certain luck to the first film hanging together.
Richard Lester’s Four Musketeers was shot at the same time as the previous year’s Three Musketeers, because it was originally meant to be one film that was split in two when someone realised how darn long it was. This split led to a legal battle over actors’ fees and, eventually, a new standard clause in actors’ contracts to prevent such two-for-one ‘cheats’ by producers in future.
The longer-lasting advantage of this is it made The Three Musketeers the film it is, because having Four Musketeers as a second half would’ve dragged it down.
Put simply, this second effort has less action, which could be fine, but more importantly it’s less fun. In and of itself such a statement doesn’t make it bad, but it consequently fails to fulfil the promise of the first film. It’s also a little more ramshackle — a common feature of sequels these days I suppose, when they’re rushed into production and overstuffed with characters and storylines. Considering Three Musketeers has a kind of endearing scrappiness to it, that a similar factor becomes a negative point here either means they took it too far or there was a certain luck to the first film hanging together.
It’s a bit grim too — Athos’ backstory with Milady; the murder of the Queen’s lover; the murder of Constance; the cold-blooded execution of Milady; and ending up with Richelieu still in power too — none of it sits well with the jolly swashbuckling tone that still dominates. There are some good action sequences nonetheless — for instance, the ice-covered lake; breakfast/siege in the ruined fort; and the burning-building finale — which go some way to make up for the shortcomings.
(As an aside, the cast & crew (some of them at least) returned a couple of decades later to film The Return of the Musketeers, an adaptation of one of Dumas’ sequels, Twenty Years After. For filming Twenty Years After about twenty years later they must at least be commended, and I shall have to track it down sometime.)
A shame that it couldn’t live up to its predecessor, though it still has moments to recommend it.
Comedy, Action, 5 stars, adaptations, 1970s, Adventure, British films, Historical, 2011 , add a comment
I like a good swashbuckler. I don’t know exactly what it is about sword fights, but they’re probably my most favourite kind of action sequence. The 1973 Three Musketeers, then, is a film I’m slightly amazed I’ve not seen before. Especially as I absolutely loved it.
Where to begin? The action, I suppose. It’s loaded with the stuff. It puts later movies — from eras when we’re more accustomed to non-stop, regularly-paced action than the ’70s — to shame with its barrage of sword fights. And if you think they’d all be the same and become repetitive, you’re dead wrong. Screenwriter George MacDonald Fraser (yes, he of the Flashman novels) and/or director Richard Lester (yes, he of A Hard Day’s Night, Help! and Superman II and III) and/or the stunt team are constantly inventive in sequence after sequence.
It helps that most have a comedic bent, to one degree or another. This is no po-faced history lesson, but instead pure entertainment. Every scene has a lightness of touch, from screenplay to performance to direction, that never allows anything to take itself too seriously. Spike Milligan may appear as comic relief as a landlord-cum-husband-cum-spy, but he’s more than equalled by… well, pretty much everyone else. The humour might not be subtle — it’s mostly slapstick, often with a bawdy bent — but it is entertaining.
Thanks to this most of the fights aren’t strictly sword fights, I suppose. Indeed, Oliver Reed seems to dispense with his blade at the earliest opportunity and turn instead to sticks, wet towels, whatever else happens to be at hand. It lends a certain kind of organised chaos to proceedings; the kind that elevates a technically proficient duel into a funny, exciting, memorable segment of cinema. I would list standouts, but instead may I recommend you watch the film and, every time an action sequence starts, count it as one I mentioned. But particularly the one in the laundry and d’Artagnan and Rochefort’s lightbox-lit nighttime duel. And also— Now, this is why I said I wasn’t going to list any.
The star-smattered cast are, as noted, more than up to the task. The titular musketeers — played by Reed, Richard Chamberlain and Frank Finlay — may fade into the background a little while Michael York’s young d’Artagnan and the villainous pairing of Charlton Heston and Christopher Lee drive the story, but each makes an impression even with their limited screentime. The same could be said of the women, Raquel Welch as d’Artagnan’s love interest Constance and Faye Dunaway as the conniving Milady de Winter. York earns his place as the lead amongst such company, though, making a d’Artagnan who is by turns athletic, clumsy, hot-headed, loyal, and funny. As I said, everyone pitches the lightness just right, but York perhaps most of all — he doesn’t send up the youngest musketeer, doesn’t make him a pun-dispensing action hero, but finds all the humour in his actions and dialogue.
This film was shot alongside the next year’s sequel, The Four Musketeers — originally intended to be one film, it turned out so long they decided to split it in two. This feels like a wise decision. For one thing, the story seems to wrap up very neatly at this point. The villains may still be free and in power, but the diamond storyline is thoroughly concluded. I don’t know if any major rejigging occurred in the edit, but assuming not, it would surely feel like a film of two halves were it to just continue at the end of this one; the final action sequence is suitably climactic, the following scenes suitably rounded off. Secondly, it means it doesn’t outstay its welcome — while it’s all thoroughly enjoyable, you can have too much of a good thing. It also means the film ends with a sort of “Next Time” trailer, which feels very bizarre indeed, but is also a tantalising glimpse of what’s still to come.
The Three Musketeers is proper swashbuckling entertainment, with emphasis on… well, both words. It’s certainly swashbuckling and, even more so, it’s entertaining in the truest sense of the word. I loved it.
#113: Solaris (1972) December 9, 2010Posted by badblokebob in : Drama, Sci-fi, adaptations, 4 stars, 1970s, Mystery, world cinema, 2010 , 1 comment so far
I don’t know if you’re aware of a website, dear reader, called iCheckMovies.com? It’s one of those (many, I believe) sites where you can tick off which movies you’ve seen — in this case, not just any movie (though that’s changing ’soon’), but movies from certain well-known lists. Well, it used to be just well-known(-ish) lists, but it’s constantly broadening its horizons and… Anyway. My point is this: some movies only crop up on one list (lots of the Shorts, for instance), while others manage two or three or four, but (as you’d no doubt expect) some crop up on loads. It’s a handy way to see that, too.
Solaris, for instance, is on IMDb’s list of the best sci-fi films (#39) and films from the ’70s (#43); it’s on They Shoot Pictures…’s 1,000 Greatest Films (#227), Empire’s 500 Greatest Movies (#285), 10th on Total Sci-Fi’s 100 Greatest Sci-Fi Movies, 53rd on Arts and Faith’s 100 Spiritually Significant Films, and included in Roger Ebert’s Great Movies; not to mention half a dozen other general greatest/must-see lists featured on iCheckMovies.
What does all that matter? Not a great deal, I suppose — film appreciation is subjective ‘n’ all — but it does leave it with a weight of expectation. The fact that it’s the better part of three hours long, in Russian, and notoriously slow-paced, adds a different kind of weight. It’s quite easy to see how Soderbergh felt able to remake it into just 90 minutes (and he still made a slow-paced film).
And it’s true, parts are like an endurance test — Berton’s seemingly endless drive through a future cityscape (actually just ’70s Tokyo), for instance — but, though still glacially paced, most of the film has some discernibly relevant content. Provided you’re not expecting Star Wars, that is, but who in their right mind would be? Talking of things being discernibly relevant, the film occasionally switches into black & white for no reason I can readily discern. Explanations welcome in the comments.
Though ostensibly science fiction — it’s set on a space station orbiting a possibly sentient planet that’s doing Funny Things to the crew — Solaris isn’t concerned with the scientific implications of any of its concepts. While I’m going to come up short on providing detailed analysis, it seems to me Tarkovsky’s adaptation is more concerned with memory, loss, grief and what it means to be human/alive. The planet, which somehow creates tangible people — not mere shared hallucinations — from the memories of the crew, is used as a way in to these things Tarkovsky clearly wishes to consider. The sentient(?) planet is not an end in itself; the film spends no time considering what this different kind of consciousness (if it is a consciousness) means, how it might work, or any other scientifically-bent notions that other films or filmmakers might choose to focus on. It also doesn’t centre on the romantic side of events, the route Soderbergh chose to pursue; or, if it does, it does so coldly and clinically and doesn’t feel romantic in the slightest. Alternatively, that could be the point.
Solaris is one of those films I think we can safely say is Not For Everyone. There’s much to ponder for the so inclined, not least the intriguing ending. I feel certain I, much like the scientists in the film itself, have barely scratched the surface.
Read my considerably more thoughtful (if I do say so myself) review of Steven Soderbergh’s remake here.
#111: Living Free (1972) November 13, 2010Posted by badblokebob in : Drama, adaptations, 3 stars, 1970s, British films, true stories, 2010 , add a comment
Living Free is, in many ways, a tale of obsession. I’m certain that wasn’t Joy Adamson’s intention in writing the book, and I don’t think it’s the filmmakers’ intention either, but the facts can still play that way. The Adamsons devote months of their time, give up a promising career, spend all their savings, drive themselves into debt, and are nearly killed several times, all in a frequently-extreme effort to save three delinquent lion cubs who would be put down were it not for their sentimental attachment.
Picking up immediately where Born Free left off — with literally the same shot, in fact — Living Free proceeds to recap the first film, inserting new actors Susan Hampshire and Nigel Davenport into footage from the predecessor. Watched 24 hours after the original, this feels like so much padding, but viewed in isolation — or six years later, as this was first released — it’s probably a useful primer. It also allows a chance to recap some of Born Free’s finer wildlife moments, including the cubs wrecking the house and the marvellous head-butting warthog. I love the head-butting warthog.
The rest of the story moves into What Happened Next territory: Elsa dies, the Adamsons’ obsession with finding and saving her cubs begins. The film skips the book Living Free, adapting threequel Forever Free instead, presumably for dramatic reasons — I imagine Elsa and cubs just living isn’t as much of a Story as her death and subsequent events.
Much of the film again plays like a documentary, particularly the sequences where Joy imagines what the cubs may have been up to during the weeks they were missing. Even after decades of excellent work by the BBC Natural History unit, producing hundreds of hours of exceptional documentaries, the wildlife photography here is still often stunning. Stand-outs include one of the cubs playing with, and then being attacked by, a snake, or a slow-motion chase sequence which shows the beauty of both the lion and… whatever it’s chasing… (look, I’m no expert.) It may not have the same charm as the first film’s playful antics, but it’s by no means devoid of spectacle.
Living Free isn’t as endearing as Born Free. By the very nature of trying to keep the cubs wild, they’re less relatable than Elsa and consequently we become less attached to them. As you may’ve guessed, I found it more interesting to look on the film as a story of obsession, one that threatens to ruin the Adamsons’ lives, though ultimately it has an upbeat ending.
Though nothing the film could have told (while sticking to the facts, that is) would rival the real-life tragedies that were to come: the Adamsons eventually grew apart, Joy was murdered by a former employee in 1980, and George was shot by bandits in 1989. It’s a sad end for a pair who, for all their faults, devoted their lives to doing good.
#29: Death Wish (1974) May 13, 2010Posted by badblokebob in : Action, Drama, Thriller, Crime, adaptations, 3 stars, 1970s, 2010, Film Noir: Pre/Post/Neo/etc. , add a comment
Apparently, the recent Michael Caine-starring Harry Brown is a Death Wish for modern times. I’ve not seen Harry Brown yet (Michael Caine killing chavs? Why haven’t I seen this yet), but — as you’ve probably guessed from which review you’re reading — I have seen its spiritual predecessor.
The Death Wish series, as it would later become, seems to be remembered with a certain degree of contempt these days (despite an expressed love for Death Wish 3 from Edgar Wright & co), and I suspect that may be due to the sequels. Not that this first film is a masterpiece or something, but it has plus points.
The characters are surprisingly believable for a start, with serious effort put into their motivation and progression. One expects a shallowness from the genre, plot and director — that the hero’s wife would be killed and daughter raped, and the next day he’s on the street killing scum, building to a climax where he finally gets the gang who committed the original crime — but it’s not so. Months pass before Charles Bronson’s unlucky architect, Paul, grabs his gun and hits the streets, and even then it’s not like he’s slaughtering foes left, right and centre every night.
Indeed, realism permeates: Paul’s encounters aren’t all easily won; he gets injured; his crimes create a media storm, on which public opinion is divided; he never conveniently come across the attackers of his wife and kids — after the crime, they’re never seen again; and so on. There are still unrealistic bits, certainly, but by employing enough believability and leaving aside certain rules of the revenge thriller – for one thing, he never actually gets revenge — Death Wish manages to rise a little above the “heroic vigilante” sub-genre.
The strongest element is probably Wendell Mayes’ script, because it constructs all this. Weakest is Michael Winner’s direction — some of it’s fine, the occasional shot even good, but largely it’s pedestrian and sometimes mediocre. That said, Winner has become such an unlikeable public figure that it’s somewhat difficult to gauge how much of this is bad direction and how much bias. Still, it’s not the kind of work to make one think, “he’s an idiot, but he knows how to do his job”.
As noted, I hear the sequels get increasingly ridiculous, which I can well believe: as a standalone film, Death Wish has strength in a certain degree of realism; imagining a franchise spun off from it, however, it’s easy to see how it would quickly become diluted and lose the power such veracity gives. One wonders, though, if a well-chosen director might produce an even better remake…
#17: Saturday Night Fever (1977) March 25, 2010Posted by badblokebob in : Music, Drama, Romance, adaptations, 4 stars, 1970s, 2010 , add a comment
Saturday Night Fever couldn’t be more ’70s if it were made today as a period piece (if you can see how that isn’t a contradiction). From the posters on Tony’s walls, to the fashions, to how it’s shot, it seems to have been designed specifically to exude seventies-ness in a way few other things seem to. It feels natural, then, that some of its original elements have become shorthand definitions for the era: the Bee Gees music, the dancing, and in particular that pose.
The side effect of these, I think, is that some still think it must be a Grease-a-like jolly musical love letter to the past. Maybe that’s what it somehow became in the kid-friendly PG-rated post-Grease re-edit (I wouldn’t know), but in its original form it’s certainly nothing of the sort. It’s a whole lot seedier, in fact, with dead-end jobs, late-night fights, turn-taking back-of-the-car sex, and other unsavoury pursuits. It’s no wonder Tony wants to escape.
The film it most reminded me of (for some reason) was Mean Streets. I’m not sure that’s anything like an accurate comparison, but it popped into my head more than once.
* There are multiple versions of the film. This is the uncut one in PAL.
Saturday Night Fever is on Film4 tonight at 12:55am.