“The Three Musketeers” (1921)

The toughest stunt Douglas Fairbanks (flying through the air in this screen cap) ever did in a movie.

The toughest stunt Douglas Fairbanks (who is flying through the air here) ever did in a movie.

I’ve been wanting to tackle The Three Musketeers in a Thursday Lit post for a while but just can’t find a good way to approach it.

It’s a very human tale, full of blemishes and silliness as only the French can portray them. Modern film makers always take that out in favor of the action parts.

The result isn’t the same story at all – yet it’s the only one most people know.

Musketeers also is considered literature but it’s basically just a newspaper serial. Yes, that’s a literary form but not something to take very seriously.

It’s more like, “That Executioner of Lille, you know?” “Yeah! And Constance’s husband is so stupid, but I feel kind of ashamed of what D’Artagnan does.” “OMG, the fleur-de-lis! I knew it! I just knew it!”

And so on and so on. This story surely was the Avengers or Pacific Rim of its time. It’s the only work of Alexandre Dumas, Sr., that I’ve read, and apparently the man just went all out insane when he wrote.

Dumas wasn’t limited by FX and CGI concerns and could use all three dimensions because he was working with words, not images. The result will blow your mind.

So…I just don’t know how to write about The Three Musketeers but will try to address the book this coming Thursday. In the meantime, here’s Douglas Fairbanks’ 1921 version, which catches some of the original awesome flavor of the novel although he modernized it, too.

Fairbanks portrays D’Artagnan close to the how I generally imagine that character’s stupid self-esteem, simplistic idealism and great energy. The Gascon’s grittiness certainly could not be portrayed on film in the 1920s – it’s also been overlooked in more recent adaptations.

The version below is totally silent. It really should have only one soundtrack, by the American composer Louis Gottschalk (you’ll see his name in the credits), and that’s not easy to come across online.

Apparently the Gottschalk soundtrack is only available today on the 1999 Kino version of Musketeers, done with synthesizers. I’m not sure if the DVD available through Netflix has this soundtrack; it may.

Don’t worry, though – Fairbanks is at the top of his form, and there’s also plenty of action to keep your mind on the movie. If you have a little John Williams or Hans Zimmer soundtrack music to play in the background, so much the better, but it isn’t necessary.

In any case sure to keep an eye out for a deceptively simple one-handed somersault Fairbanks makes at around 40:00. It happens so quickly I almost despaired of getting a screen capture of it. Fairbanks said it was the most difficult stunt he ever did in a movie – coming from him, that’s impressive.

Ladies and gentleman, our Saturday feature, The Three Musketeers, starring Douglas Fairbanks!

Categories: Saturday Silents, Silent movies

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