Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 8, 2022)
Published in 1844, Alexandre Dumas’s The Three Musketeers has received numerous cinematic adaptations. 1948 provided one of these, with an all-star cast to boot.
Set in France circa 1825, country bumpkin D’Artagnan (Gene Kelly) heads to Paris to seek adventure as a member of King Louis XIII’s (Frank Morgan) guard. When he arrives, he immediately sparks the ire of musketeers Athos (Van Heflin), Porthos (Gig Young) and Aramis (Robert Coote), but after he shows his talents, all become pals.
Cardinal Richelieu (Vincent Price) plots to thwart the rule of King Louis. This sets the musketeers into action, as they work to preserve the King’s authority.
Got that? Good – now throw that synopsis out the window, as the 1948 Musketeers barely cares about its plot.
Not that the movie becomes some kind of narrative free-for-all, as it does follow the story I describe. However, the film digresses so often that the overall tale becomes lost in the sauce and less important than one might expect.
Really, the 1948 Musketeers exists as little more than a broad romp, one with a surprising emphasis on comedy. In the film’s opening moments, we sense that the filmmakers won’t pursue a dramatic version of the story, as our introduction to D’Artagnan comes packed with goofy stabs at humor.
From there, the 1948 Musketeers becomes a pretty even mix of humor, romance and action. It always remains on the lighter side, though, as even with literal life and death stakes on display, the film lacks much sense of danger or menace.
Which comes as no surprise with Kelly in the lead. The 1948 Musketeers seems tailored for his talents, as Kelly’s D’Artagnan comes across as a perky charmer who feels more like a dancer than a swordsman.
Kelly’s fencing skills feel unconvincing, but his nimble athleticism carries the day. The 36-year-old Kelly seems far too old for the part, but his charisma allows us to ignore this.
As noted, the 1948 Musketeers comes with a solid cast. In addition to those already mentioned, we find notables like Lana Turner, Angela Lansbury, June Allyson and Keenan Wynn.
All play their roles in a broad, borderline campy manner that matches the film’s tone. Really, the 1948 Musketeers often plays more like a parody of the genre than anything else, and the actors’ approach makes sense in this setting.
I can’t claim that this turns into a definitive version of The Three Musketeers, but it becomes an enjoyable one – at least if you find yourself open to a light, comedic presentation. Silly but fun, this winds up as a likable effort.