All for One, and One for All

“I need a bath. I reek of England and Calvinism.”

Two of my favorite films of the ’70s are Richard Lester’s films, The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers starring … well, pretty much everybody. That’s part of the fun, but he imbues the films with the same lighthearted fun that the famous Beatles flicks had, despite not having the Fab Four starring as originally intended. That could have been fun too, but this is better.
Michael York plays the young hothead D’Artagnan, who wants nothing more than to join the ranks of the musketeers; Everyone’s favorite drunkard and man’s man Oliver Reed is Athos, Faye Dunaway plays the sexily sinister MiLady de Winter, Charlton Heston is the conniving Cardinal Richelieu, Christopher Lee is his eye-patched and wily henchman Rochefort, Porthos is played by Richard Chamberlain, and Frank Finlay digs into the role of Aramis with relish. Whew! And that’s not even including the secondary cast, such as the gorgeous Raquel Welch as D’Artagnan’s lover Constance, Roy Kinnear as the musketeer’s servant Planchet, and so many more. Even Spike Milligan as Constance’s father, who’d reprise his role in Mel Brooks’ spoof, History of the World, Part 1!
The battles are a perfect mix of serious and slapstick, and don’t shy away from the violence inherent in a swordfight. Hands are cut, arms are stabbed, necks slashed… and we take it all in stride, for this is the life of a musketeer. When they’re not mock-fighting in a pub to steal bread and wine because they’ve gambled their money away, or making bets that they can make breakfast on a battlement held by the enemy, they are battling with the treacherous swordsmen of Cardinal Richelieu, who wishes to further the religious war with the Protestants and gain power over the King. While there is plenty of time for character-based, bawdy humor, the plot isn’t given short shrift, and especially in the sequel we see the reasons for the intrigue as the unlikely heroes do their best to serve the king and queen without them ever knowing it.
I mentioned bawdy humor, but it is all solidly PG and certainly fine for children of proper mental age. Okay, my favorite gag is when Constance (remember, Raquel Welch in all her busty glory) hides from assassins by hopping on the side of a man’s coach and finds her bosom framed in his window. With classic Lester panache, we merely see the aristocrat arch an eyebrow and blow on his fingertips to warm them, and then we cut away to hear Constance squeak and run from her hiding place. Naughty for sure, but deftly crafted as a joke on parents watching as well.
There’s a lot to love in these movies. Christopher Lee as the towering villain and one of the greatest swordsmen; Charlton Heston enjoying his cameo as the power-hungry Cardinal; and of course, Faye Dunaway as the seductress spy and assassin MiLady, with her acid-filled glass daggers and feminine wiles- but the camaraderie between D’Artagnan and his musketeer friends is infectious. They quarrel and fight, but as the most infamous tagline of all time states, they are all for one and one for all. Brooding Athos is one of Reed’s best roles, and when we learn the source of his pain it’s a lovely twist. Porthos and Aramis tend to be more foppish but Chamberlain and Finlay have a lot of fun with the roles, and Michael York has never been better as the young firebrand who learns how to be a gentleman- of a sort- from these lovable rogues in the king’s service.
Sadly, the third entry- The Return of the Musketeers– also directed by Richard Lester and starring most of the gang, is not available on DVD. It came out shortly after Lester’s career fizzled, due to being terribly miscast as the director of the Superman franchise. The Saran-wrap “S” on Supe’s chest smothered any hopes of Lester continuing to make great films. But he made his bones by changing film history with A Hard Day’s Night and these films are just as much fun.

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Badass du jour: Oliver Reed, in Sitting Target

My only regret is that I didn’t drink every pub dry and sleep with every woman on the planet.” -Oliver Reed
My friend Pita-San wanted to see this movie, Sitting Target, with Oliver Reed and Ian McShane, so I went on the hunt. Turns out it was rated X in Britain when it came out for brutality. They had me at “brutality.” Of course I expected it to be tame now, and in many ways it is- there’s nothing as racy as Lee Marvin throwing a naked man out a window as in the spectacular Point Blank, or as brutal as um, Lee Marvin smashing a pot of hot coffee in a woman’s face, as in The Big Heat (Marvin’s a bad-ass among bad-asses). But it remains a gritty and yes, brutal thriller about a crook who busts out of prison to get revenge on his woman when she shacks up with a well-off acquaintance, instead of waiting for him.
That crook is Harry Lomart, played by Oliver Reed, a bad-ass on and off the screen. Let us have a moment of loudness to remember his passing, at the age of 63, during the filming of Gladiator. He was at lunch, drinking 3 bottles of rum, a half dozen beers, and various shots of whiskey and cognac, and had a heart attack after besting five Royal Navy sailors at arm-wrestling. There are method actors, and there are forces of nature that you are lucky enough to capture on film. Ollie “Mr. England” Reed, so self-proclaimed because he was one of few celebrities to flee Britain’s high taxes in the ’70s, was certainly one of the latter.
Sitting Target begins with Harry getting the bad news from his girl, who’s on the other side of the prison glass, talking to him on the phone. When he learns that she’s been untrue and is leaving him, he bashes through the barrier with one punch and seizes her by the throat. The guards beat him down with their truncheons, and drag him back to his cell. But he’s already been planning a breakout with pal Birdy Williams, played by Ian McShane (you know, Al Swearengen from “Deadwood,” among many other roles). Harry does his time by sticking to a cruel training regimen, working out in his cell. In an age when even hunks had the uni-ab, he’s got the definition of a Greek statue and he’s cold and hard as marble.
He breaks out by hiding during the night roll call, hanging from the ceiling in a feat of physical strength, and swinging down to clobber the guards when they search the cell. They’re the same guys who beat him when he choked his wife, and he gets his revenge. To show how driven he is to pay back his wife’s betrayal, when they finally escape the prison after dealing with guard dogs, search lights, and climbing across guy wires in the dark, Harry has to climb barbed wire with his bare hands. The other guys used rags to protect themselves, but there’s no time. So he does it the hard way.

Tell me he doesn’t look like The Terminator?

Once they are out, they are hot and have to leave the country, but not before Harry finishes his business. They break an unspoken rule of “no guns” in the underworld, and pick up a broomhandle Mauser with a removable stock, that can be fired full auto. This leads to a brutal gunfight with motorcycle cops in the back alleys that is probably what gave the film its X certificate. A cycle bursts into flames, and Douglas Hickox’s direction makes it seem documentarian and all too real. As Harry hunts down his wife and realizes he’s made more enemies with his obsession, double crosses lead to more gunplay and an excellent car chase through a railyard with a Land Rover. It’s a forgotten and memorable piece of ’70s crime, and while it may not be a classic like Get Carter, it’s a fine thriller that stands on its own, and deserves a DVD release.

Artful upside down boobies.

Reed is more famous for starring in Oliver! as Bill Sikes, and the excellent Three Musketeers films of the ’70s, and of course as Proximus in Gladiator. He played many colorful roles in everything from Tommy and The Devils to Vulcan in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. Every once in a while you find an actor who’s as colorful off screen as he is on screen, but Reed is one of the true originals. I look forward to watching more of his roles, but I know they can’t live up to the man.

One day I should like to live in Ireland. I love the Irish, the more I see of other races the more I believe the Irish are the only real people left, and apart from that they have space and clear air in which to wander and think and to feel free.