Friday, March 31, 2017

Fanstastic "Four"

I said I'd be back with the ersatz sequel to The Three Musketeers (1973), but you might not have been expecting it this soon! Ha ha! I decided to do it back-to-back since the films were shot at one time and then released about six months apart. So, now we dig into The Four Musketeers (1974), the remainder of the story that was begun in the first film and which focuses on "The Revenge of Milady," (Faye Dunaway, who was quite unhappy about being thwarted in her plans to steal the Queen's diamonds.)
As the credits roll, Frank Finlay (musketeer Porthos) recalls events from the initial movie while scenes with blurred edges accompany him on screen. The Three Musketeers having ended with Michael York attaining a position alongside his cohorts Finlay, Oliver Reed and Richard Chamberlain, there are now four musketeers to uphold justice for the King and Queen of France.

That's easier attempted than done, though when there are enemies afoot. The chief adversaries of the musketeers are Cardinal Richelieu's right-hand man Christopher Lee and his girlfriend, a spy of the Cardinal's, Faye Dunaway. Their most recent plot, to shame the queen for her infidelity by snatching the diamonds she'd given to her lover, was foiled. And no one foils Dunaway without paying a price...

For the moment, though, there's another issue to contend with. The chiefly Catholic population of the country is fending off a Protestant revolution in La Rochelle and the musketeers have been enlisted to fight. Just look at the scope of this scene. While the structure on the mountainside is a matte painting, the rest of the details are made up of real extras, tents and so on.

On this rare occasion only, the King's musketeers and the Cardinal's guards are fighting on the same side. Thus, when guard Lee is captured as a spy and about to be executed, it is up to the musketeers to free him. The ragtag firing squad is utterly inept, despite going through an elaborate series of instructions, as is the man assigned to blindfold one-eyed Lee. Lee quips, "perhaps I can close one eye." A moment later, when not one bullet hits him (!), he dryly states, "I may die of old age..."

Chamberlain and Reed are closing in to rescue him and, thanks to the ineptitude of the captors, they now have a chance to save Lee. They do have their own share of issues, though. Reed tosses Chamberlain a little grenade, but neglects to light the fuse. They do finally get to Lee, who is brought a horse on which to ride out of the encampment by Finlay.

As they race out the main gate, Chamber- lain dismounts, hops over to the rope that operates the heavy gate and grabs hold of it, cutting it below his hands so that he can hold on and be dragged up to the top, yet leave nothing for the pursuers to grab onto to reopen it.

Finlay, however, runs into problems when it's his turn to do the same thing! This picture ought to spell out the problem...
Later, the king (Jean-Pierre Cassel) is having his portrait made while stationed near the battle lines. He listens in annoyance as the Cardinal (Charlton Heston) and exonerated Lee inform him that the uprising is still in full swing. Heston also falsely assures Cassel that the Queen is faithful to him, knowing full well that she's in love with the Duke of Buckingham. (Note the subtle humor here... while Lee is kneeling before the King, one of the artists paints the back of his head into the portrait! By the way, the diffused lighting and cinematography almost looks like a painting in itself.)
Meanwhile, York has taken up with his mistress Raquel Welch (whose aged husband is now completely out of the picture.) While marketing together one day, he shoves his hand entirely up the backside of a goose that's for sale with Welch informing him that her mother said "it's the only way to tell if it's fresh!"
She clumsily bangs around the market, knocking over beans, until she reaches for a watermelon and is grasped by a menacing gloved hand! Then a basket is placed over her head and she is spirited away. Lee has come to kidnap her for use against the Queen and to glean whatever information she might have as a go-between for the illicit lovers. York tries to put up a fight (even cutting Lee's hand at one point), but is finally felled underneath a cartload of potatoes.
The battered York has a Samaritan on hand, though. Dunaway just happens to be passing by in her coach. Now York surely recalls this woman from the encounter between Welch and her over the diamonds, but he doesn't seem to be too worried.

He does cry out for Welch and is quite concerned for her, but he's also close to unconscious after the fight he's just been involved in. The "concerned" Dunaway has him placed into her coach and taken back to her home so that she can mend him.

Once there, York awakens, still quite worried about Welch, but Dunaway tries anything she can think of to change his mind (including having doffed her cumbersome dress and underthings for a voluminous robe.)

He'll have none of it, though, and stumbles all though her cluttered lounge in order to break free and find his lady love. (He also bangs into the stand that holds her pet monkey-!-causing it to screech and flail around excitedly.) He does inform her that he'll return in the future to thank her properly for her kindness.

Dunaway slinks over to a waiting bath and disrobes, but gets quite a start when she begins to dip her toe in the water! The bathwater has turned blood red. This is because her injured lover Lee has been there hiding behind the partition, soaking his injured hand, as she works her stuff on naive York. Lee and Dunaway have delicious romantic and villainous chemistry together.
Back in England, the Duke (Simon Ward) is being shown a demonstration of a new submarine, which, while it works generally, he prefers the use of good old English ships. He's about to send aid to the Protestants at La Rochelle and perhaps claim his Queen in the bargain. His footmen hilariously come out to greet him at the edge of the submarine with their chair in hand, part of the pervasive absurdist humor found in both Musketeers movies.

With her dressmaker Welch now missing for days, the Queen (Geraldine Chaplin) is beside herself. Like several women I've known in my life, she hates everything in her closet and has "nothing" to wear. One of her ladies in waiting (a young Sybil Danning) tells her that Welch is "not to be found." Take note below of the presentation of these ensembles, each with its own set of footwear as well as a bi-fold mirror for every one of them!
York is bereft after Welch's kidnapping and attempts to illicit sympathy from his musketeer pals Finlay and Chamberlain, but they are too distracted with their practice and training to be of any use to him.

He then comes upon a rather plastered Reed who proceeds to tell York a story that will cure him of love... He tells of "a friend" he once knew, a wealthy count, who took as his bride a beautiful, but unknown, woman. He offered her his home, his wealth (including the heirloom necklace shown here) and his love.

(Michel Legrand didn't do the music for this second half of the two films, the duty falling to Lalo Schifrin. While I greatly prefer Legrand's music overall, some of Schifrin's themes are lovely, too, including the music for this sequence.)

Everything is fine until one day out riding (with Dunaway doing her own vigorous horse- backing), the wife is thrown to the ground. As she rises, her sleeve has been shoved down, revealing a seared fleur-de-lis brand on her shoulder. The mark is that given to a thief or harlot to shame them forever.
A flashback within the flashback shows Dunaway being scorched with the poker as she screams out one of those agonizing cries that only she is capable of doing. It's a searing screen moment though, unlike this publicity shot, we never see her face at this point of the movie.

She reacts to his discovery violently, thrashing at him with her riding crop, though he is also distraught over her duplicity and wrestles her to the ground in fury. She disappears and he loses his fortune and reputation over the matter.

York hasn't exactly pieced it together at this point that it is Dunaway (and Reed himself) to whom Reed is referring. Reed handles this scene beautifully. So often a roguish blowhard on screen, he was also capable of immense tenderness and subtlety (not to mention sentiment) in his acting.

He's hardly finished proclaiming that he'll be true to Welch when York is shown heading to Dunaway's with a thank you gift (a vaguely phallic flower.) She isn't home, but her maid Nicole Calfan is happy to see him again. In fact, she invites him in to her bedchamber to get to know her better, though York has his doubts about the strength of the bed frame.
Dunaway then arrives home (having been out and about in her hand-drawn carriage) to find Calfan nowhere in sight. (The chauffeurs are overheard making the remark, "She's put weight on," something that Lester surely delighted in, but one can't imagine Dunaway appreciating!)

This entire sequence bodes like a Mommie Dearest (1981) dress rehearsal. She calls for Calfan and when she takes too long to arrive (with the need to get dressed and all!), Dunaway slaps her across the face with her gloves.

Dunaway asks if York has arrived at the house and Calfan remarks that no, "he did not come," prompting York to peer back at the bed and shake his head "no!"

At her dressing table, Dunaway reaches into the past and opts to wear Reed's family heirloom necklace. I love the way she says, "I shall wear this tonight." (But I love the way she says pretty much anything!) York overhears her telling Calfan her plans to kill him and give Welch to Lee's grooms, so he angrily decides to bed her and then wrest Welch's location out of her.
The morning after their lovemaking, York is awakened by the now limp head of the flower he brought the night before. He presses Dunaway for an answer to where Welch is being held captive and in the tussle he, too, reveals her dreaded branded shoulder.

This brings out the monster in her and they wrestle around furiously until she grabs her trusty two-knife set of acid-filled glass daggers! (I cannot tell you how cool these seemed to me when I first saw them as a preteen viewer.) Also, in what is one of the gayest things I will ever admit to here (and that is SAYING something), I was pressed into doing my step-sister's hair for her late-1980s wedding and, as she had this very same length and color, I used this precise look shown here as inspiration, never telling her where I thought of it. Everyone loved it!  LOL
York barely manages to escape, half-naked, out the window while Calfan tries to cover for him. Dunaway is locked in her own bedroom screaming to get out. When the maid finally unlocks the door, she is greeted with a steely glare and then is whalloped over and over for her disloyalty! (Note how the face on the door looks on at the spectacle.)
York rejoins his musketeer friends at a tavern and while getting money from his pocket pulls out the necklace that he accidentally took from Dunaway after their tryst. Reed immediately recognizes it and warns him not to toy with this woman. York concedes that, yes, she is a deadly force to be reckoned with.

Later, York is apprehended by some Cardinal's guards who take him to see the big man himself. Heston, in lieu of constantly tangling with the young man, offers him a commission in his own organization. York refuses to leave the King's service or his newfound friends.

Lee overhears this exchange between the men before heading to Dunaway's. As she is dressing (or rather being dressed by Calfan), he tells her that Welch has been a bit of a problem to her captors, attempting to escape, and has offered no useful information.
Dunaway's dress has an interesting corset underneath with "air- conditioned" breast cups and a slot down the middle for a rather intimidating shard of metal!

The musketeers are enjoying a spa day (note Reed in the water being handed some wine or ale by servant Roy Kinnear) when Calfan enters the establishment to give York the news of Welch, including her location.

Chamber- lain and Finlay tell York that they will go and rescue Welch for him since he is being called upon to go and fight in the unending conflict at La Rochelle.

Chamber- lain is trying to unbuckle Welch when she, mistaking him for a regular guard, kicks him and he drops the key! When the real guard comes in, Reed screams at her not to let him have the key... so she puts it down her cleavage! Yet she still has one arm shackled! To the delight of all male viewers of the movie, she has to bounce up and down and shake the key out the other end.

Next she heads to the window where Finlay is on stilts, positioning her on his shoulders as he tries to spirit her away. Trouble is, the place has vicious guard dogs who grip the bottom of the stilts. Somehow despite this (and the fact that Welch holds on by covering up Finlay's face with her hands!), they get her out of there. This shot is between takes, showing the two stars laughing it up. the musketeers drop off Welch at a huge, remote convent for safekeeping.
During his tenure on the front of the uprising, York gets word that his friends are on their way to meet him. He heads out to greet them halfway - and does spot them - but the whole thing is an ambush.

Lee and several men are lying in wait for York and soon attack him. The swordplay extends to a frozen over lake, which makes for some slippery dueling between Lee and York.

Eventually, the other musketeers enter the fray, but not before Lee and York, then Finlay, wind up falling through the ice and into the freezing cold water. They fend off everyone, but manage to bring one injured henchman back to the front for interrogation. (As this was actually searing hot Spain, the actors had to pretend to be so cold when they were probably burning up!)

There, Reed is wrenching the hapless fellow's arm when Kinnear arrives with wine that had supposedly come from the musketeers and which York was saving until they could all be together to drink it. When he gives some to the captive, who by now is praying for a drink, they realize that it's all been poisoned!

At La Rochelle, the battle rages on, but the Queen doesn't lack for diversion. A huge calliope plays while she looks over a huge spread of delicacies. Get a load of the dish (a cheeseball with meat?) in the shape of a horse's head! During this interlude, Chaplin's handmaiden shown here, a spy, tells Heston that Dunaway is at a nearby inn, awaiting his latest instructions.

Thanks to information they got from the captive, Reed, Finlay and Chamber- lain are lying in wait at the same inn. Reed overhears Heston telling Dunaway what he now wants her to do. She is to sail England again, this time as an ambassador, to convince Ward not to come to France and aid the Protestants. If he persists, she is to assassinate him!

Dunaway hardly balks at this order, but she wants something more than money as payment. She will kill Ward if need be, but in return she also wants permission to kill York and Welch! Heston is highly reluctant to put such a contract in writing, but he does so in a fashion, wording it in a particular way that will exonerate her without implicating him.

Heston departs, but while Dunaway is still in the room, Reed slips in, giving her a start.

She can hardly believe her eyes that her ex-husband is now a grizzled musketeer while he is amazed that she is every bit as beautiful, yet lethal, as she ever was. He tells her there's something he wants from her and she replies, "Nothing between us," which amuses him.

He informs her that if she doesn't hand over the paper that the Cardinal just wrote and signed, he's going to shoot her in the stomach there and then! She finally gives in and tosses it towards him. He doesn't so much care about the fate of Ward, France's enemy, but adds that if she harms one hair on York's head, he'll kill her.

For now, though, the musketeers are back on the front at La Rochelle. The rollicking foursome (and hapless servant Kinnear) are often up to some shenanigans and this time Reed bets that they can eat their breakfast on top of the ruins right near the enemy!

While there, they are immediately under fire. This sequence gives us the rare opportunity to see the musketeers actually brandishing muskets! It's interesting that in most all depictions (including previous packaging of the famous candy bars) the musketeers are seen with swords in their hands and almost never muskets.

The battle rages on (check out the teeming hordes of extras used in this scene) and the musketeers manage to do in a fair amount of the rebels before heading back to camp.

Chaplin meets with York in a secluded canyon and implores him to save her lover Ward from the clutches of assassin Dunaway. He isn't able to go to England himself, but he does send Kinnear on a mission to warn the Duke of the pending treachery.

In England (and with Dunaway in one of her most stunning ensembles yet!), we see that her efforts to convince Ward to back off of helping the Protestants have failed. He puts her in a carriage and sends her on her way, so he thinks. She actually slithers out and hides in the wooded area nearby, readying her pistol to kill him, but gets one hell of a shock before she can do anything!
Thanks to Ward's Native American friends, Dunway's plans are foiled. She tries to worm her way out of the situation, but he informs her that she will be going nowhere but to The Tower of London, where she will be held until he can ship her off to the colony of America! Her pronunciation of the word "America" while responding to this is yet another reason why there is only one Faye Dunaway...

Knowing how wily she is, he places her under the personal guard of one of his most trusted and pious servants, a Calvinist immune to her charms (played by Michael Gothard.)

One simply cannot under- estimate Dunway, however. She instantly begins a campaign to win over Gothard in any way possible. First, she requests books of scripture, appealing to his religious side. Next she recites the verses aloud, her breasts heaving in and out with each sentence, making him feel funny "down there." LOL

She refuses to sleep for two nights. Then the has a full-on collapse into his arms and begins a (false) tirade about how Ward is actually planning to head to France to kill, not save, the Protestants as he joins up with his Catholic lover the Queen.

This - and a roll in the hay - works wonders for her and soon he is seeing her out of The Tower and into a waiting rowboat, even promising to do her bidding while she slinks out of the country. Although it's in long-shot, I believe that Dunaway truly did descend this treacherous ladder in her dress and fancy shoes and not a stuntwoman because when a cut finally comes, it is precisely the same positioning (and director Richard Lester was known to shoot with up to five cameras at once for coverage.)

By the way, this whole second part of the story didn't always make it into prior screen renditions. The first one to do so was the 1948 version with Gene Kelly and Lana Turner (seen here during her imprisonment.) Several films since that have continued the story after the diamonds, but opted to alter certain events to ostensibly please audiences.

In any event, Kinnear has struggled to reach England as quickly as possible and is just about to reach Ward to warn him when tragedy strikes. There's almost a feeling of the Robert F. Kennedy assassination in this scene, whether intentional or not.

Dunaway is back on French soil and rejoined with Lee. She haughtily tells him, "I reek of England and Calvinism," and is now ready to do in her other nemeses. (It's a bit of a blooper that she has on here the exact same dress she wore in The Three Musketeers when returning from England that time. But how did she reattain it, escaping as she did with only the one white gown on her back?) Do take note of the interior of their carriage, outfitted with swords and guns! The details in this movie are wonderful.

Lee had already tried to kill off Welch once at the convent, sending a killer to stab her to death during confession, but it all went wrong, with Welch dodging the sword over and over and the entire structure collapsing by the end.

Dunaway and Lee are headed to the convent, but so are York and the other musketeers. They briefly converge at a little village two miles away and before long are in hot pursuit.
Lee tells Dunaway to concentrate on getting to Welch while he and his other guards will fend off the musketeers. (Again, note the stunning architecture of the old building, which lends so much authenticity to the piece.)

Before long, Lee and the other Cardinal's guards on site are engaged in swordplay with York, Reed, Finlay and Chamberlain. It's a rather epic showdown and in the course of action, the dilapidated stable they're fighting in on and around becomes engulfed in flames, adding a whole other dimension to the fight.

By this time, between the two films, there have been sword fights on land, in the water, on ice and now surrounded by fire! As I mentioned earlier, Lester used as many as five cameras at once to capture the action and more often than not the actors were doing the stunt work (apart from highly dangerous things like falls, leaps or pratfalls up high) themselves.

During all this, the evil Dunaway has disguised herself as a nun as she searches the convent for Welch. Look at the painterly composition of this shot. It's cinematic perfection that could be framed and hung, though there is the fact that Dunaway has kept her old (fancy) shoes on, which does separate her from the other sisters!

She enters the chamber where Welch is anticipating the arrival of York and somehow manages not to be recognized as the woman Welch tussled with face-to-face at the costume ball months before! I guess she's just distracted by the commotion outside?
Dunaway's disguise works nonetheless and she encourages Welch to pray with her until York is free from the skirmish outside to come and rescue her.

By the time of the movie's conclusion, several characters have lost their lives, though the musketeers remain breathing. They take Dunaway into custody and Reed has a nasty surprise for her. He possesses that handwritten paper from Heston that reads, "By my will and for the good of the state, the bearer has done what must be done." He intends to keep it for use against her.

The distinctive looking bald man shown here with Reed (Oliver MacGreevy) scared the living hell out of me as a child. He actually entered my dreams (nightmares) for a while after first viewing this movie!

I covered the cast of this movie in the previous post, so I won't do so again here, but to mention just a few people who weren't featured as much in The Three Musketeers. Gothard, for example, has a much more key role in this half. Having appeared in with Reed in The Devils (1971) and in Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? (1972) with Shelley Winters, he continued to play in films like For Your Eyes Only (1981) and Lifeforce (1985.) A sufferer of depression, he ended his own life in 1992 at only fifty-three.

French actress Calfan began appearing in movies in the late-1960s and had a featured role in Jean-Paul Belmondo's The Burglars (1971.) She followed up Musketeers with a role in Dirk Bogarde's The Executioner (1975) and has continued to work in French film and television to this day. She is currently seventy.

Austrian Danning was already a sex symbol by the time she did this movie(s), though she has only one line of dialogue in the end. Somehow, she nonetheless scored decent billing though she is only ever seen fleetingly! (This shot of her in the background from the first film is typical.) What makes her of note for my purposes is that when she later became a more prominent star of sexy movies, she lent her name to a series of adventure video cassettes and one of them was The Four Musketeers!

I cannot adequately describe how awful this movie (and its predecessor) looked on grainy, DARK, pan and scan video back when that's all there was to be found. A couple of scenes in The Three Musketeers were so dim in the transfer that all one really saw was a black screen with dialogue and it was to be guessed by the viewer just what was happening!  Danning, now sixty-four, is of note to us also for having worked on both The Concorde... Airport '79 (1979) and Meteor (1979.)

A remarkable occurrence came along in 1989 when director Lester reunited many of the cast member of this two-part film for The Return of the Musketeers. It was based on another Alexandre Dumas novel called "Twenty Years After" and, though it hadn't been a full two decades since these initial movies came out, it was close! C. Thomas Howell (as Reed's son) and Kim Cattrall (as Dunaway's daughter!) represented the younger characters.
Sadly, a pall fell over the project very early on in shooting when Kinnear, cast again as the faithful servant of York (and, by default, the other musketeers), was involved in a serious accident caused by miscommunication among the crew. His horse slipped on some wet cobblestones and he fell, breaking his pelvis and suffering a heart attack that killed him. The movie was completed using a body double and voice double. While the movie was dedicated to him, it severely upset many of the cast and the unremarkable end result wound up without a U.S. release, instead debuting on the USA network two years after its making. The shocking loss of Kinnear, a frequent cast member of Lester films, sent the director into virtual early retirement.
Chamberlain had wound up with a pretty limited amount of screen time in The Three Musketeers, but was afforded a better part in The Four Musketeers. Likewise, Dunaway is at times (and certainly for me IS) the whole show in the second film. While I was captivated by her in the first one, it was this second round that crystallized for me an adoration that never ends. If you have even a passing appreciation of her as an actress, particularly her '70s performances, you will undoubtedly love what she does here. She unforgettable as far as I'm concerned.
Welch, on the flip-side, has very limited screen time in the sequel. She only appears in the same peach-colored dress throughout the entire film, too, which I must say stays awfully clean considering what all she goes through!

I will leave you with this wondrous Asian poster that features the visages of Dunaway, Welch and Heston in the clouds above the famed foursome below. Somehow, time and again, I find myself preferring the artwork in foreign release posters over the ones that are presented here. (The poster at the top of this post, while fun, is cartoony and has Welch's breasts hanging vulgarly outside the frame of the number 4!)


I forgot to mention that this time, Yvonne Blake's extraordinary costumes were not ignored come Oscar time. However, somehow, the clothes - which were created in or before 1973 - wound up in the 1976 Oscar race (for movies released in 1975!) The winner was Barry Lyndon (1975.)  During this period, the category of Best Costume Design was presented with elaborate tableau of the clothing, worn by dancers who would float (or gyrate!) around to show them off. By this time, the actual costumes for The Four Musketeers were long gone to who knows where, so the clothing shown on stage was not only inauthentic, but the dress meant to be Raquel Welch's (it wasn't) was not even designed by Yvonne Blake! It was a copy of one of the ones Raquel had personally designed for her by Ron Talsky (who shared the nomination but whose name wasn't announced.) Fortunately, Blake had already won for 1971's Nicholas and Alexandra. (You can view the squalor (presented by Jennifer O'Neill and Telly Savalas) here. One of the more bizarrely entertaining Best Costume presentations is this one from the year before with a rather dazzling Lauren Bacall (though the mic placement at the podium is, er, problematic...)