Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The 5th Musketeer (1979)

          An unsuccessful attempt to piggyback on the success of Richard Lester’s joyous movies The Three Musketeers (1973) and The Four Musketeers (1974), this lavish production is actually the umpteenth screen adaptation of The Man in the Iron Mask, the classic novel that French scribe Alexandre Dumas wrote as part of his ongoing Musketeers series. The storyline, of course, involves real-life French King Louis XIV and the fictional character Dumas invented—Louis’ twin brother, Philippe. (Both characters are played by Beau Bridges.) Upon learning of his twin’s existence, Louis and his underlings lock Philippe in a dungeon, his face hidden behind an iron mask, lest Philippe challenge Louis’ right to the throne. However, because Philippe was protected since childhood by the noble musketeers, the now-aging swordsmen come to their young friend’s rescue.
          There’s a lot more to the plot, such as the clash between Louis’ conniving mistress (Ursula Andress) and the Spanish aristocrat (Sylvia Kristel) set to join Louis in an arranged marriage, but as in all musketeer movies, the palace intrigue mostly exists to motivate thrilling swordplay. The best thing about the movie, by far, is the sumptuous imagery created by legendary British cinematographer Jack Cardiff. The picture looks great from start to finish, and the most attractive scenes—like a tense standoff between the musketeers and evil nobleman Fouquet (Ian McShane)—boast the visual depth of great paintings. Additionally, screen icon Olivia de Havilland adds dignity during her brief appearance as the Queen Mother, evoking the many Errol Flynn swashbucklers in which she costarred. But then there’s the problem of the movie’s half-hearted storytelling.
          The script, credited to David Ambrose and George Bruce, is humorless and turgid, while Ken Annakin’s direction is serviceable at best; were it not for the movie’s resplendent look, The 5th Musketeer would feel completely second-rate. Casting is another major problem. Bridges seems so modern (and so American) that he’s not believable in either of his roles; he also lacks the effervescence needed to thrill the audience while bounding across the screen with an exposed blade. The quartet playing his mentors is awkward, as well. Alan Hale Jr. (yes, the Skipper from Gilligan’s Island), Cornel Wilde, and José Ferrer all appeared in studio-era swashbucklers, so they more or less suit the milieu, but Lloyd Bridges, like his son Beau, is too contemporary for the period setting. Furthermore, none of them seems the least bit invested in the material. Kristel, better known for her lurid Emmanuelle movies, is pretty but forgettable, so only Andress and McShane set off (mild) fireworks in their cartoony bad-guy roles. As for the other noteworthy studio-era veteran in the cast, Rex Harrison, he’s a bored-looking non-presence.

The 5th Musketeer: FUNKY

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