Friday, March 24, 2017

All for Fun and Fun for All!

This is a milestone post for Poseidon's Underworld, our 600th one! Yes, this is the 600th time that I've put my fingers to the keyboard to prattle on and on (and ON!) about this person or that, this movie or TV show or other subject of interest. What began as a series of comparatively brief blurbs about my favorite things has morphed over the years into more drawn-out (microscopic is a word that's been used) examination of the subject at hand. I almost always wish I could revert to the shorter, simpler posts, mainly because my time is far more limited now than when I began, but somehow it rarely happens. Instead, I find myself preparing posts with 40, 50 or even close to 100 photos (some of them montages/composites!), each one given a certain amount of attention. I never could have dreamed in those early days of 50 hits a day that eventually this site would draw well over 100,000 hits per month! (Not that this is an incredible number, but it's a lot for a non-commercial site on a niche topic - none of my real-life friends ever read it.)

Anyway, one surprising thing is that ever since I started this blog, I've had a comment section that warned against hatefulness, but which didn't require approval by me, yet I have scarcely encountered any mean- spiritedness. (There is one particular nut case who comes back time and again to point out imaginary flaws in my tribute to her favorite star, but she spends day and night on the www doing this so I just delete her in each instance here.) Fans of this blog have been SO kind, complimentary, supportive and nourishing. And several have reached out to me in unbelievably generous ways with little gifts, treats and so on or in heartfelt e-mails. (Sometimes even the stars themselves!) However, just the other day I did get my very first case of "hate mail." While it was surprising to me (if ever I come upon a website I don't like or approve of, I just leave it), a little research showed me that the author actually told me more about himself than anything about me. Putting that to one side, if you've ever thought about commenting here, but didn't, I hope you will some time because I do love to hear other peoples' memories, reactions and reflections on the topics I hold dear.

This site was intended to be sheer fun, for me and for anyone of a like mind. So in that spirit, we proceed with today's cinematic tribute, a movie that is a huge milestone for me (and was the recipient of a teensy post early on, but which will now get a more in-depth examination), The Three Musketeers (1973.) It was one of the very earliest films I can recall seeing in a theater and it enthralled me beyond belief. (And, as I've mentioned here before, it's the movie that taught me how to tell who actors were, apart from the characters they were playing, and led me to always be drawn to "all-star casts" and posters that featured them.)

Alexandre Dumas penned the story (first as a series of newspaper install- ments, later formed into a novel) in 1844, though it is based in 1625 France and contains a mixture of real and fictional characters. Since the dawn of cinema, there have been renditions of it put onto the silver screen with key versions being a 1921 silent swashbuckler starring Douglas Fairbanks, a 1935 sound version with Walter Abel, a 1939 musical comedy featuring Don Ameche and The Ritz Brothers and a lavish 1948 color version starring Gene Kelly (and a luminous Lana Turner as the villainous Milady de Winter.) Several incarnations have come about since, though not one can touch the 1973 rendition.

The 1973 film came about when the father and son producers, Ilya and Alexander Salkind were searching for viable properties and realized that the source material would be right for an adult adventure rather than the colorful (and some might say kiddie-oriented) reputation that the story had gained over time. Initially, it was thought that the role of newcomer d'Artagnan and the title figures would be a great project for The Beatles, but then it was decided that their own personas would override those of the characters, so a more legitimate cast of actors was sought.
Director Richard Lester (who'd directed The Beatles' A Hard Days Night, 1963, and Help!, 1965, along with A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, 1966, and Petulia, 1968) collected a grand assortment of skilled performers who are perfect down to the smallest part. He then guided them through not only the exacting requirements of the script and its action, but also the zesty, zany humor he injected into the goings on.
 Seen above are members of the cast convening in England without their period garb. Simon Ward, Michael York, Christopher Lee, (a tired-looking) Raquel Welch, Geraldine Chaplin, Jean-Pierre Cassel and Roy Kinnear.
The movie begins with a sword fight which we eventually learn is between a father (Joss Acklund) and his son (Michael York), with Ackland giving the boy one last go around the barn with his rapier before sending him off to follow his footsteps as a king's musketeer. (The King in this case being Louis XIII.)
Setting him atop a rather pitiful-looking horse, Ackland and his wife say farewell to York, advising him to take any opportunity he can to fight duels in order to build his reputation. When he strides into a little village, one-eyed cardinal's guard Christopher Lee makes fun of his steed, referring to it as a "buttercup" or a "cheese," causing York to engage him in a fight (which he quickly and humiliatingly loses, breaking his father's cherished sword in the process.)
Once in Paris, ragamuffin York heads to the head- quarters of the musketeers to meet their leader and introduce himself, but soon spies Lee again and, in his haste get to him, manages to knock into or otherwise offend three of the musketeers. He bangs into the already injured Oliver Reed, knocks over Frank Finlay (who was trying to obscure a belt that wasn't gold "all the way around") and butts into a romantic situation with Richard Chamberlain who was about to be gifted by an admirer.
Thus, the ambitious young York soon has duels lined up, three in a row, with these skillful and notable swordsmen, the first of which is with Reed, scheduled to take place in the courtyard of a convent. As the men are about to do battle, amused that York could be so bold as to challenge each one of them, the cardinal's guards come to arrest them all for dueling in the first place, which leads to a spirited skirmish. (The king's musketeers and the guards of almost equally powerful Cardinal Richelieu are like oil and water.)

Since York had joined up with his three musketeer friends against the dastardly guards, they take him into their confidence and under their wing, with the previous issues now forgotten. Finlay manages to pilfer some money from one of the downed guards which Reed decides must be split equally between the four of them (all for one and one for all.)

With his share of the money, York arranges for a servant (the rotund and clumsy, but dedicated and stalwart , Roy Kinnear) and then heads off to look for lodgings. He winds up at the grungiest attic hellhole imaginable, run by Spike Milligan. He's just about to tell Milligan what he can do with the fleabag room when he glances out in the hallway and sees a vision...

It is the beauteous (and busty) Raquel Welch, who, it turns out, is Milligan's wife! She's a dressmaker and confidante to the Queen and lives in the palace, but comes to Milligan's home (and bed!) once per week. As Milligan relays this info, he begins to tremor so much that the various metal bric-a-brac dangling across his chest and waist begins to rattle and clank!

Seeing Welch as she is makes York determined to take the room under any conditions. Things look even more promising when the clutzy damsel manages to tumble down the stairs in a heap and reacts with admiration and affection when he dashes to aid her at the bottom of them.

Things are far from calm behind the scenes at the palace. The King (Jean-Pierre Cassel) is a rather foppish idiot, wiling away his afternoons with such hobbies as gigantic chess (with dogs taking the place of each piece!) or falconry (in which the bird grips his hand with enough force to bring a tear to his eye.)

Even worse is his wife the Queen (Geraldine Chaplin) who blissfully enjoys a swirling amusement contraption run by servants (who she pleads should be whipped if they don't spin her faster) and takes pleasure in the cries of birds that her husband's falcon attacks and kills.

Beyond that, there is intrigue on a couple of levels. The Cardinal (Charlton Heston) practically runs the show, yet must defer to Cassel and, to a lesser degree, Chaplin for appearance's sake. Still, he has it in for them, especially Chaplin.

And Chaplin is giving him ammunition. It seems she has a lover, one that couldn't be more inappropriate: The Duke of Buckingham of England (Simon Ward), France's sworn enemy!  Heston wants this illicit romance exposed, yet has to tread carefully in order to not be implicated in the machinations of it all.

Back at the home of Milligan and Welch, they are awakened in the night and arrested by Lee and several guards. Because Welch is so close to the Queen, Heston believes he can get information out of one or both of them, so he sends Lee to fetch them.

That's easier said than done in Welch's case because her innate clumsiness causes a melee in which she takes out several guards, allowing her to climb aboard a passing coach with windows in just the right space to accommodate her ample assets. The passenger inside eventually can't resist the temptation any further, causing her to jump back off, by which time Lee has left the area.

Back inside her home, York has awoken and she turns to him for advice. Noting her dirty feet and legs, he says that she can't possibly go to see Chaplin like that. He's never bathed a woman before, though... only a horse, and with horses you start at the top! So within a few moments, they're hitting the hay together.

Early the next (rainy) morning, Welch heads out to see the Queen, but begs York not to follow her under any circum- stances. Of course he does and is horrified to find that she is meeting up with another man! Fortunately, the man turns out to be The Duke of Buckingham (Ward), sneaking into the city to visit Chaplin with the help of Welch.

Ward slinks into a large laundry where hordes of washer- women are scrubbing shirts on their bare legs and otherwise getting the job done. As he preens into a little mirror on his cuff, he spies Chaplin emerging behind him.

The two thwarted lovers can only steal a few precious moments together under fear of discovery. (Truly beautiful music plays under this tenderhearted scene.) Sadly, Chaplin has a handmaiden who's playing for the other team, so their rendezvous is cut short by the arrival of some palace guards.

Before Ward has to take off, he hastily asks Chaplin to give him some token of her love for him to remember her by, swearing he'll return it to her with the whole English army. She gives him "her best things," a row of twelve, glittering diamond studs. Before he can get away, he, York and the three musketeers (who've been gathered by Kinnear) must fend off the guards in a raucous swordfight amidst the vats of soapy water and hanging clothes. (Everyone but Ward is supposed to be French, yet most speak with English - or even American - accents, which Lester pokes fun at by having the musketeers remark on how foreign-sounding Ward is!)

Heston knows about the diamonds right away and has his hench- woman Milday de Winter (Faye Dunaway) stationed in England and has her cozy her way into Ward's realm. During a game of Blind Man's Bluff, she spies the diamonds around his neck and lands on him, sparking some interest on his part.

York and the musketeers are about to dine when Finlay gambles away all their money on a contest outside the inn. Now bereft of funds, they stage an elaborate fight amongst themselves in which food is tossed here and there, collected by Reed and York, so that they can later enjoy a feast of pilfered items (including wine!)
Heston puts a bug in Cassel's ear that he should throw a party in Chaplin's honor and also that she should make a point of wearing her cherished diamonds on the given night. Needless to say, Chaplin is horrified by this as she knows the diamonds are in Ward's possession in England and the party is to be held in two weeks!
What's more, she doesn't know that by now Dunaway has managed to get her hooks into Ward. They saunter into his bedchamber and, in the process of removing all their considerable clothing in order to do the deed, she snatches two of the diamonds! Now, even if Chaplin can retrieve her jewels from Ward, they won't all be there.
York has been enlisted to race to England to retrieve the diamonds and get them back in time. Chaplin gives him a personal letter addressed to Ward to ensure that he gets them back without question. Reed believes that since Heston will have any number of assassins trying to block his passage, that all four of them (plus York's servant Kinnear) should make the voyage, figuring the odds would then be better for success.
One by one, Reed, Finlay and Chamber- lain are felled by one henchman or another, leaving only York and his servant to complete the mission. They finally reach the ocean and discover yet another roadblock. Passage to England is only possible with a written document of permission! Lee is about to sail himself when he's told to go get the paper.

York waits until Lee has the document, then attacks him in the forest (in a swordfight lit only by handheld lanterns.) After a protracted skirmish, York gets the paper, dons Lee's eyepatch and takes his place, setting sail for England and the Duke.

Ward frantically rushes York to his chambers since it took him six days to make the trek to him. His gargantuan palace has curtained room after curtained room with valets on hand to take his old shirt (bloody from a hunt) and present him with a fresh one as he walks through the hall.

Though Ward is devoted enough to Chaplin to have a candlelit shrine featuring her portrait, he has never- theless been unfaithful and is mortified to discover that two of the diamond studs are missing from their collar. He commissions two more to be made by one of his jewelers. (This jeweler, shown below, is enacted by Finlay, having fun in a dual role.)
A gloating Dunaway, however, has already made it back home with the two studs she stole and she presents them to her lover Lee, who can then give them to his boss Heston as prove of Chaplin's disloyalty to her husband the King.
A worried Chaplin is inconsolable as she awaits York's return to France while Welch tries to assure her that it will all work out. Just look at the magnificent costumes and setting for this brief scene.

The night of the ball is at hand, taking place at a large hotel. As with most everything else in the film, it's an eye-popping spectacle, this time all in shades of silver, ice blue and white, with ornate headdresses and fantastic clothing.

Dunaway is able to look on in subtle delight as Chaplin makes her grand entrance minus the requested jewelry. Her dis- appointed husband chastises her for her error in failing to wear the diamonds.
Chaplin explains that she was afraid they might be lost in the huge crowd and tells Cassel that she'll send to the palace for them at once. Dunaway, sensing that something is afoot, heads upstairs to the room where Chaplin is waiting, but is shut out.
Finally, York arrives at the ball, but has significant trouble getting the diamonds to the Queen. Hearing a falling flowerpot, he knows Welch must be close by, but she's on the second story and he's under siege by several of the Cardinal's guard down below.
He manages to toss the parcel of diamonds up into a window, but it's the wrong window! Dunaway is conven- iently on hand to grab them herself, though Welch is quickly there to try to grab them back. A tussle begins between the two elegantly garbed women while York is still battling it out on the ground below.
Dunaway is not to be toyed with. Even her hair accessory doubles as a prong- like weapon, causing Welch to grab anything handy with which to defend herself. They proceed to fend each other off all around the room (and floor!)

Though a catfight between two female characters wasn't entirely new to the cinema (Marlene Dietrich and Una Merkel famously went at it in Destry Rides Again, 1939, and Shelley Winters and Marie Windsor did the same in the remake Frenchie, 1950), it was still a rare enough occasion in 1973 to warrant some curiosity and attention.

This was close to a decade before Dynasty introduced a series of catfights between glamorous Linda Evans and Joan Collins (and later with other participants) that held viewers in thrall. I can tell you that my six year-old eyes were agog during this whole sequence (in which the ladies did most, if not all of their own stunt work! In fact, the actors throughout the production did hefty amounts of their own swordfighting and stuntwork and several earned injuries as a result.)

The Three Musketeers draws to a close as soon as the situation with the Queen's diamonds is resolved. Thereafter comes an elaborate finale in which York is promoted to an actual musketeer himself. Then, a blurb comes upon the screen which says that coming soon will be The Four Musketeers (Milady's Revenge.) This came as a huge surprise to the cast of the movie. They'd signed on for one epic film and now suddenly it had been split into two parts with two opportunities for profit... except for the actors!
The producers had realized they couldn't meet their intended release date, so they prepared one half of the movie (with bits of extra padding here and there) and got it out on the market, planning to work on the second half and release it later. Welch's people were on it right away, soon joined by representatives of the other performers and soon there was a move to compensate the actors (and crew) for their work on TWO movies. This resulted in a landmark decision in which contracts must state beforehand how many movies are being made - i.e. "The Salkind clause."

What did hit theaters was a hit. Audiences loved the rollicking, adventuresome tale, liberally sprinkled with bits of absurd comedy and sight gags, yet never losing sight of the drama of the story and what was at stake for the characters. The controversy regarding the producers and their near-con against the cast and crew may have damaged the splendid film's chances at Oscar time, though. Not one nomination came its way despite a strong script, stunning art direction and costumes and a positively wonderful score by Michel Legrand.
Legrand, for what would ordinarily take months of preparation, was granted ten days (!) to compose the movie's grand and beautiful music. The afore- mentioned love theme of the Queen and Duke, the frolicsome fight music and the rousing, thunderous anthem as the musketeers are en route to England are but a few of the highlights of a varied and flavorful score. Legrand employed amazingly atmospheric instruments and orchestration to ensure that just the right musical flavor was added to the movie.

Filmed on location in Madrid, Spain and surrounding areas (sometimes in temperatures over 120 degrees!), there isn't one single setting in the entire movie, indoors or out, that isn't supremely perfect in either squalor or opulence. The costumes are in a class by themselves in terms of luxury, creativity and use of color. That said, Welch did cause a bit of a stir when she showed up on site with a supply of her own costumes, all made to her taste by the designer of her choice because she didn't care for the lines, nor the bust-flattening trend, of the era! That they don't clash more with the rest of the clothes on screen is a minor miracle.

Welch did take home a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical. Many critics then and now considered it her finest hour acting-wise. (The Longest Yard beat out the movie in the Best Motion Picture category.) The movie also gleaned five BAFTA nominations, but none resulted in a win.

Reed has his own tribute here which you may read to learn more about his colorful life and career. At this time, he was was a busy actor, still riding the wave of Women in Love (1969) and the controversial The Devils (1971), both directed by Ken Russell, enough to earn top-billing over a cast of other stars. He is roguishly handsome in the movie and perfectly suited for his heavy-drinking, rabble-rousing character of Athos. Reed died of a heart attack in 1999 at only age sixty-one while making Gladiator (2000.)
Welch, who earned second-billing, was beginning to emerge from the weight of her (sometimes fur) bikini-clad image as a buxom sex bomb and gain some cred for her acting in movies like Hannie Caulder (1971) and Kansas City Bomber (1972.) Prior to her arrival on set, her handlers had proclaimed that she be addressed as "Miss Welch" and so anticipation of her was tentative and skeptical, but she soon won over the cast with her willingness to take a pratfall. Welch is seventy-six at present and still works before the cameras occasionally.

Television heartthrob Chamberlain already proven his comfort level in period settings with movies such as The Music Lovers (1970) and Lady Caroline Lamb (1972) and would later play Prince Edward in The Slipper and the Rose (1976.) Like several others in Musketeers, he worked in 1970s disaster movies like The Towering Inferno (1974) and The Swarm (1978.) Now eighty-two, he still works in the occasional movie or on TV.

York had made an impact with supporting parts in Shakespearean films like The Taming of the Shrew (1967) and Romeo and Juliet (1969) before portraying Liza Minnelli's leading man in Cabaret (1972.) After the potential career killer Lost Horizon (1973), he was happy to win the plum role of d'Artagnan. Soon, he was appearing in crowd-pleasers such as Murder on the Orient Express (1974) and Logan's Run (1976.) Now seventy-four he, like many of the others, only appears occasionally before the cameras.
Colorful stage actor Finlay enjoyed a busy career on British television and in films like Doctor in Distress (1963), A Study in Terror (1965), The Deadly Bees (1966) and The Shoes of the Fisherman (1968), among others. He followed up Musketeers with The Wild Geese (1978) and Murder by Decree (1979) and continued to act through 2009. Heart failure claimed him just this past January at age eighty-nine.

Long famous as Count Dracula in a slew of movies, Lee had worked tirelessly in many genres, with horror a highlight. In 1973, he worked in The Wicker Man, Dark Places (with Joan Collins) as well as enacting the vampire once again with The Satanic Rites of Dracula. Another disaster alum, thanks to Airport '77 (1977), his memorable career spanned seven decades and resulted in nearly 200 movies (without a sole Academy Award nomination nor an honorary statuette.) He died of heart failure in 2015 at the age of ninety-three.
Chaplin, daughter of famed silent comedian Charlie Chaplin, carved out a career in her own right with Dr. Zhivago (1965), The Hawaiians (1970, in which she played Charlton Heston's wife) and Z.P.G. (1972, in which she was Oliver Reed's wife.) She later found success in other ensemble films like Nashville (1975), A Wedding (1978) and The Mirror Crack'd (1980.) Now seventy-two, she remains remarkably busy in French films and other projects.
French actor Cassel was a busy and popular actor from the 1950s on. He appeared in Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines... (1965), Is Paris Burning? (1966) and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972) among others. The year after Musketeers, he joined York in Murder on the Orient Express and stayed highly active on screen right up to his death in 2007 at age seventy-four from cancer. His three children also became performers with Vincent Cassel achieving success in English-language films.
Milligan cut his comedic teeth on stage, radio and in television sketch comedy before working intermittently in films. A zany, dark-humored man in real life (who suffered no fewer than ten nervous breakdowns along the way!), he was a real character off-screen and delineated some crazy characters on it. He also wrote humorous poetry. Milligan up until 2000, passing away in 2002 of kidney failure at age eighty-three.

Ward began as a young man on British TV before moving into films such as Quest for Love (1971, with Joan Collins) and Young Winston (1972, in which he played Winston Churchill in his early years.) He continued with a very active career, later playing the heroine's doomed father in Supergirl (1984, with starred Dunaway as the villainess.) Sadly, he died in 2012 at age seventy from a blood disease (polycythemia.) His daughter Sophie Ward is a working actress today, one of several second generation performers to stem from members of this movie's cast.

Cherub-faced Kinnear, a busy actor from the 1950s on, will be recognized by many as Veruca Salt's harried father in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971), though he also appeared in Help! (1965), Lock Up your Daughters! (1969) and On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970) among many other movies. He also worked in Lester's Juggernaut (1974), an honorary disaster film, apart from several others for the director. Sadly, he suffered a heart attack after an accident during filming The Return of the Musketeers (1989) and died at only age fifty-four. His son Rory Kinnear is a successful actor, notable for appearing in the latest wave of Daniel Craig James Bond films.

Heston had first been offered the role of Athos, but after considering it, instead went for the character part of the villainous cardinal (a rarity for him), with prestige billing. Though he was admittedly too tall for the role, he researched the real man, even employing a putty nose to look more like him. Heston was virtually the king of disaster flicks in the 1970s, with Skyjacked (1972), Earthquake (1974), Airport 1975 (1974), Two Minute Warning (1976) and Gray Lady Down (1978), all of which I adore. He continued acting through the early 2000s, but was affected by Alzheimer's disease, passing away in 2008 at age eighty-four.
And we now come to Dunaway, who also received prestige billing for her scheming role as an emissary of the cardinal. Laying eyes on this elegant, coolly nasty presence made my little six year-old heart pound. I never got over it. And when the following year brought The Towering Inferno (1974), with a whole different look and type of person, I was hooked for life. She didn't like the way she was lit in this film, but the choice to go for more ambient, realistic lighting gave a highly authentic touch to the proceedings.
Because Musketeers was shorn in half, Dunaway really doesn't appear in it all that much. Her storyline kicks into higher gear during the latter part of the tale. Thus, as much as I worship this movie, I like The Four Musketeers even better, in which she really gets a chance to shine. And, yes, I'll be covering that one, too. Very soon.