Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Three Musketeers (not one of the good versions)

The Three Musketeers

I'm a big fan of swashbuckling. If your movie has people jumping on tables and swinging on chandeliers and getting in swordfights all over the place, I'm probably going to love it. This applies whether it's a good movie (The Sea Hawk or Errol Flynn's Robin Hood) or a bad movie (Cutthroat Island, say. Or Yellowbeard). I'm also a fan of Alexandre Dumas, so I've seen all the Three Musketeers adaptations I can find.

This is not the best version. That would be the Richard Lester one from 1973 with Richard Chamberlain, Michael York, and Racquel Welch. It's not even that Charlie Sheen/Keifer Sutherland one from 1993. I wasn't crazy about that one, but at least it had Tim Curry as Richelieu. It's not the 1948 version I haven't seen even though it has Vincent Price, Lana Turner, and Gene Kelly.

Nor is it the 1933 John Wayne version that's really a serial about the French Foreign Legion. That one was weird because it was a really early talkie and they hadn't thought of sound effects yet, so the fight scenes all take place in an eerie silence.

No, this is the 1939 musical comedy version starring Don Ameche and the Ritz Brothers. So I'm actually watching it because of my fascination with the Ritz Brothers. Unlike proper comedy teams like Abbott & Costello, Laurel & Hardy, Three Stooges, or the Marx Brothers, the Ritz Brothers are completely indistinguishable. There's no "fat one" or "angry one" or "funny one". There's especially no "funny one". It is hard to tell from here what exactly their act is supposed to be. They just mug and fall over a lot. And this is in 1939, a year that also gave us such cinematic masterpieces as The Wizard of Oz, Gone With the Wind, and Mr. Moto in Danger Island.

There was a time when the Ritz Brothers were very highly regarded, especially Harry. I should note at this point that although I've seen three or four Ritz Brothers movies, I have no idea which one is Harry. However, here's a 1976 Esquire article in which Mel Brooks, Sid Caesar, and Jerry Lewis all claim that Harry Ritz was a brilliant comedian in nightclubs. A careful look at that list of comics will suggest that Harry wasn't, um, subtle.

Here are some of the things presented as evidence in that article:

They were masters of movement and, in addition to dances so extraordinarily well timed that the three of them looked as if they were sewn together, they were capable of a dozen comic walks and runs.

Mm, yes. It's been awhile since comics were graded based on how many different comic walks they had.

Though theirs was ensemble comedy they almost always dressed the same and were generally indistinguishable as characters- Harry, the one in the middle, always had the most to do. He rolled his eyes better than the other two, and walked funnier, and did funnier pratfalls.

Oof. Yes, he was apparently a master of the eye-rolling, funny-walking pratfall. Fantastic. Maybe the problem with Ritz Brothers movies is that they don't have rimshots after every bit of business.

As a Three Musketeers adaptation, this is surprisingly accurate. It hits most of the major plot points from the book, which is more than most adaptations do. As anexample of comedy that hasn't lasted, it's awesome. I think I laughed precisely once.


Mertseger said...

You have an elision at the end of the fourth paragraph: "And this is in 1939, a year that also gave us " You might have been going for the obvious GWTT or TWOO, but maybe something more relevant.

Monty Ashley said...

Yes, I was going to put in two classic movies and a bad movie, hopefully deriving some humor. I shall go do that now!