The Return of the Musketeers – A Botched Reunion?

The Return of the Musketeers is the last of the Dumas adaptations on instant Netflix.

Return of the Musketeers

The Return of the Musketeers (1989) РRated PG

With the British crown hanging in the balance, D’Artagnan (Michael York) implores his band of long-retired Musketeers — Porthos (Frank Finlay), Aramis (Richard Chamberlain) and Athos (Oliver Reed) — to join him for another adventure. Much has changed since Milady de Winter’s death 20 years ago, while other things are eerily similar: For one thing, Milady’s daughter (Kim Cattrall) seems to be following in her mother’s footsteps.

One Line Review: They do indeed return but somewhat worse for wear.

Richard Lester’s The Three Musketeers (1973) is one of the finest swashbucklers ever made, exceeded only by Lester’s The Four Musketeers: Milady’s Revenge. This assumes one counts them as separate films even though they were filmed simultaneously. Both films strode the fine line between comedy and drama masterfully. Both films feature incredible swordplay, fantastic characters, great laughs, and high drama.

One of the biggest challenges to any Three Musketeers adaptation is making each musketeer distinctive. This is where The Musketeer failed dismally. Expanding the adaptation to two films allows the characters room to breathe. D’Artagnon (Michael York) is young, impressionable, and brash. Aramis (Richard Chamberlain) is studying for the priesthood but has a soft spot for the ladies. Porthos (Frank Finlay) is narcissistic, a vain and self-important man but still a loyal friend. Athos (Oliver Reed) is a drunk with a tragic past.

Return of the Musketeers (1989) re-unites the cast, writer (George MacDonald Fraser), and director (Richard Lester). Not only do you have the same actors playing the musketeers but Geraldine Chaplin reprises her role as the Queen and Roy Kinnear as D’Artagnon’s manservant and comic foil Planchet. Even Christopher Lee returns as Rochefort which is odd to say the least.

Kim Cattrall plays Justine de Winter. While young and attractive, she is no Faye Dunaway. Phillippe Noiret is Cardinal Mazarin, not only is he no Charlton Heston but the musketeers even bemoan the loss of Cardinal Richeliu at one point. C. Thomas Howell plays Raoul. Jean-Pierre Cassel has a lot of fun as Cyrano de Bergerac.

With the first two films being absolute classics, what went wrong here? Just about everything. The story was based on Dumas’ Twenty Years Later so historically Cardinal Richeliu could not appear. The director Richard Lester was sick for most of the production. The leading lady dropped out and was replaced by Kim Cattrall.

Then the unthinkable happened. The Spanish crew misunderstood Lester’s directions and the result was that actor Roy Kinnear (Planchet) had a horse accident, breaking his pelvis. Taken to the hospital, he died of a heart attack the next day. Richard Chamberlain (Aramis) quit the film over the incident and Richard Lester essentially stopped directing afterwards.

The upshot of this was that Planchet’s role is mostly shot from behind with a stunt double and a voice actor dubbing in the lines. Aramis’ role is considerably shortened (almost a cameo). The roles of Cyrano de Bergerac, Cardinal Mazarin and the Duke of Beaufort are all dubbed by British actors.

The Return of the Musketeers is still enjoyable but it is very choppy and the timing isn’t right on many of the scenes. There are no incredible setpieces as in the Three Musketeers (the laundry swordfight, the convent swordfight) and The Four Musketeers (the swordfight on ice, breakfast at the bastion). The comedy is also strained.

I think what it most reminds me of is The Expendables. Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Willis, Jet Li, and Statham have all been in great action films. The Expendables itself isn’t great but it evokes a certain nostalgia and it is nice to see all those icons in one film.

People Watch: Michael York would actually reprise his role as D’Artagnon one more time in The Lady Musketeer (2004) though no one else returns.