The 3 Musketeers is a brilliant comedy directed by Allan Dwan. By the films release, Dwan was already a masterful director with over a hundred silent and sound features under his belt. This was his second Dumas adaptation after Douglas Fairbanks in The Iron Mask; like the fairbanks film, Musketeers has some great and exciting fights and stunt work; unlike Mask, its wisp of a plot has only a bit to do with Dumas and a whole lot to do with the Ritz Brothers. In other words, this is not comedians playing it somewat straight like Groucho doing the Mikado.
This is Harry, Jimmy and Al Ritz, my all time favorite comic team and since this is the film that made me love them and has a place in my all time top ten, I feel I should say a few gushy things about it, and only a few really in the spirit of brevity that this film employs (it runs 71 mins). I am researching and writing a book about the Ritz Brothers careers in Hollywood so plenty more gushy things will be at your local bookstore fairly soon (God willing).
I like Dwan’s use of title cards in the film; the cards tend to keep plot points coherent and contain funny animated images (a bit like the one below taken from a Warner Brothers cartoon) of the Brother. These images always make me giddy for the funny business to come since the Brothers are not on screen for the first 10 minutes.
What happens in the first 10 minutes? An upstart D’ Artagnan (Don Ameche) wants to be a king’s musketeer so heads of to a tavern on the Rue Pigalle to duel with musketeers that he had insulted in a letter and make a name for himself. He sings a charming song “C’est Paris.” It is worth noting that (unlike in the Marx films) only the charming characters get songs and they are all catchy.
The Ritz Brothers are inn keepers at the tavern and they begin their scenes with a song as well, which as former vaudeville performers (and some of the jokes in the film are as old as Vaudeville, being called upon to retrieve a note from a lady’s bosom only to find several in there, the line “no noose is good noose” it is all still funny though), they handle with great aplomb.
The Brothers, unlike the Marx, have interchangable personalities, this makes it easier for them to relate to each other and be together onscreen. In some of the Marx films, it was simply improbable chance that had those characters meet and contrivance that kept them together for the duration. Each brother here has a boisterous mirthful angle not seen again until Jerry Lewis or Joe Besser. Witness the late in the film Noisemaker scene below (or the trunk scene to which I cannot find a link), the brothers claim they were dancers first and the jokes came later. The scene has a strange audacious rythm that I find hilarious.
Back to the plot, the real musketeers get fall down drunk at the tavern before the upstart arrives. The brothers try on their uniforms and through a series of misunderstandings end up aiding Ameche on a mission. Why do they impersonate musketeers (it is punishable by death after all), and why does D’ Artagnan play along after he knows they are not who they claim to be? I guess because all are dreamers playing, but as dreamers they turn out to be capable. My favorite scene in comedy history involves all four men fighting the king’s guards. It is a fight that includes pots, chicken soup, running in circles until each person takes a rest and a right hook, one character did not know he had in him.
Glad this film is on here