Great Adaptations – The Three Musketeers

Film adaptations of popular (and not-so-popular) literature are as old as the art form itself. Many of us love to see our favorite books on the silver screen (or the boob tube, which seems more likely in 2023), if only to be able to say “the book was better”.

In this blog series, I will take on my favorite adaptations of classical literature. For the first installment, I will compare adaptations of my favorite novel: The Three Musketeers.

Written my Alexandre Dumas, pere, The Three Musketeers, has been adapted over FIFTY TIMES, with two more coming out this year – one a direct-to-streaming film with James Cosmo (Jeor Mormont in Game of Thrones) as Cardinal Richelieu. The other is the first in a three-part tale in French, starring Eva Green (Vesper is Casino Royale) as Milady and Vincent Cassel as Athos – I need to see them both!

I have not seen all 50+, unfortunately, but I will compare the ones I have.


Photo courtesy Wikipedia

This is the first Musketeers adaptation I ever saw and I have special feelings toward it. Not the best version, for sure, but very entertaining. The story is changed a good bit here: no Planchet, D’artagnan’s father is dead and goes to Paris as much to join the Musketeers as to escape the brother of his last lover (a short subplot that is funny but doesn’t detract from the main story).

I think this is Tim Curry’s best role (blasphemous to some, I know). As Cardinal Richelieu, he just chews up scenery and is menacing when he needs to be. A well-rounded villain.

Michael Wincott, a fantastic character actor, is the best Rochefort. I go back and forth whether he’s the best at swordfighting, but he does a damn good job in this film.  

Oliver Platt is having the time of his life playing Porthos here.

I like the soundtrack as well, and during my pre-teen years, I had the single All for Love on cassette, trying to get girls with it (failed miserably there).

While it is not the best version, I believe it captures the spirit of adventure in the book more than any other adaptation of the tale. All in all, a fun film.


Photo Courtesy Wikipedia

The Steampunk version! Airships, gatling guns and scuba gear! I enjoyed this unique take. This one is a bit closer to the novel. It was directed by Paul WS Anderson, the video game director (a lot of his film work adapts video games, like Resident Evil). Like most of his films, he cast his wife, Milla Jovovich. She played Milady and was one of the better actors in the film, for a change. The other was Athos, played by Matthew McFayden (Tom Womsgams in Succession). Orlando Bloom tears it up as the Duke of Buckingham and King Louis and Queen Anne were not only well-cast, but charming and shared chemistry. 

The biggest issue I had was casting. Planchet was here, comically played well by James Corden. Porthos and Aramis were fine. But the villains were bad. Christoph Waltz, as Richelieu, was not very good in this. He played the role more understated, but it didn’t work.

Rochefort was lifeless, a surprise, given Mads Mikkelsen played him. The man shows little emotion normally and here it really didn’t work.

Logan Lerman may be a good man, but he’s not a great actor. And he was horribly miscast in this film. He has the physical chops for the role, but when interacting with the king and Constance, he’s more a DudeBro than leading man.

An okay addition to the D’artagnan oeuvre, mainly for the Steampunk elements.

1948 (MGM)

Photo Courtesy Wikipedia

This is the version that stars Gene Kelly AND serves as Angela Lansbury’s first film role, as Queen Anne of Austria. Lana Turner also starred as Milady De Winter and did a phenomenal job, and I’d expect no less.

The fight choreography is dance-based, and watching it makes it abundantly clear that Kelly is an extremely talented dancer. It was so well done, it was nominated for an Oscar that year. 

This version is, in my opinion, the closest version to the novel, and it’s one of the shortest run times. It may not be as exciting by today’s standards, but it’s closest in story to the novel and deserves recognition.

1973/1974 (20th CENTURY FOX)

This is my pick for the best adaptation of the story. Full of stars both in front of, and behind the camera, with fight scenes I consider most realistic, this is the one of the adaptations that is close to the original source material (but not the closest).

It also adds a bit more humor than other films.

Produced by Ilya Salkind, who helped usher in comic book films with Superman the Movie 5 years later, The film was originally intended to be an epic which ran for three hours including an intermission, but during production, it was determined the film could not make its announced release date in that form, so a decision was made to split the longer film into two shorter features, the second part becoming 1974’s The Four Musketeers. Many of the actors didn’t find out about this until the film’s premiere, and the Screen Actors Guild subsequently introduced “Salkind clause” (named after the  producers) which stipulates that single productions cannot be split into film instalments without prior contractual agreement.

All the actors are perfectly cast. It took me two viewings to get used to Charlton Heston as Richelieu, but he is perfect for this version of the story. Christopher Lee makes Rochefort a good sidekick and all of the Musketeers are at the top of their game. Raquel Welch was a star on the rise as evidenced by her performance and Golden Globe win.

I feel this is the best cinematic version of the story that we have, but I do take umbrage with the way Constance meets her fate – much more humor than there should be, in my opinion. I also think, due to the times, the romance was tempered a bit. But a classic version of a classic tale makes it the top choice for adaptations to me.

Do you have a favorite film version of Three Musketeers? What is the film adaptation of your favorite book that you like the most? Let me know in the comments below!

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