Archive for November, 2011

All for one and one for all.

First Commentary (continued) by Adam-Troy Castro

The Three Musketeers (1935). Directed by Rowland V. Lee. Written by Rowland V. Lee and Dudley Nichols, from the novel by Alexandre Dumas. Starring Walter Abel, Ian Keith, others. 97 minutes **

The Three Musketeers aka The Singing Musketeer (1939). Directed by Allan Dwan. Written by M.M. Musselman, William A. Drake, and Sam Hellman, from the novel by Alexandre Dumas. Starring Don Ameche and the Ritz Brothers. 73 minutes. *

The Three Musketeers (1948). Directed by George Sidney. Written by Robert Ardey, from the novel by Alexandre Dumas. Starring Gene Kelly, Van Heflin, Vincent Price, June Allyson, Lana Turner. 125 minutes. ***

The Three Musketeers (1973) and The Four Musketeers (1974). Two-part film directed by Richard Lester. Written by George MacDonald Fraser, from the novel by Alexandre Dumas. Starring Michael York, Oliver Reed, Raquel Welch, Charlton Heston, Christopher Lee, Faye Dunaway. 105 minutes, 108 minutes. Both ****

The Three Musketeers (1998). Directed by Stephen Herek. Written by David Loughery, from the novel by Alexandre Dumas. Starring Charlie Sheen, Rebecca DeMornay, Tim Curry, Chris O’Donnell, Oliver Platt. 105 minutes. **

The Three Musketeers (2011). Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson. Written by Alex Davies and Andrew Litvak. Starring Orlando Bloom, Milla Jovovich, Others. 105 minutes. Not reviewed here, but Holy Mother Of God.

Other Versions Not Covered By Us: Far, far too many to mention.

Welcome back to our epic two-part survey of past movie versions of The Three Musketeers, which we split into these two installments because that was an awful lot of movie neepery for one blog post and because we knew that we’d be spending an awful lot of room, in this one, discussing just why one of the many versions is so frequently described, by so many sources, as “definitive.” Indeed, we’ll spend more time explicating the reasons than we spent discussing the 1935, 1939, and 1948 versions combined.

Definitive is that loaded a word.

As we shall see, the version in question wasn’t so widely gifted with the adjective just because its D’Artagnan looked pretty. 

In the meantime, this brief recap: so far we’ve discussed the 1935 version starring Walter Abel, which was not overwhelming but which did manage to be watchable; the 1939 version starring the Ritz Brothers, which led to some confusion on my part over why my old man would ever mislead me with the intelligence that the Ritzes were so much funnier than the (to him) over-rated Marxes; and the 1948 version starring Gene Kelly, which was old Hollywood doing what Hollywood did best, in Technicolor and with one of the past century’s great dancers turning his soft-shoe wizardy into a fair substitute for brilliant swordsmanship. The last of the bunch, I said, came as close to any of these versions had to actually conveying the entire story, as written in two novels (usually published together) by the great Alexandre Dumas. 

There have been others, before and since, but this is one of the most frequently-filmed stories of all time, and sanity puts a limit on what your faithful essayists are willing to do. If you’re curious about the version we most regret omitting in this compendium, it’s the serial that featured Lon Chaney and a pre-stardom John Wayne in a version that moved all the action to the French Foreign Legion. It sounds beyond awful, but in an entertaining way. We make no judgments because we never got to it. Nor did we ever get to the Disney cartoon with Donald, Mickey and Goofy – despite much urging on the part of the wife – or the one that featured Barbie. At a certain point, even inclusiveness has its limits.

No, we’ll leave those unmentioned, and proceed directly to that “definitive” take and the many reasons it excelled why so many others fell short; followed by a brief look at a subsequent version that was so inferior to it that for years this viewer resented it beyond reason.

(Spoiler Warnings go without saying, as always, but I especially mean them in this case. I’m serious. If you don’t know the story of The Three Musketeers, and don’t want to know, stop reading. )

The Story Behind The Film

Richard Lester first envisioned his Three Musketeers as a vehicle for The Beatles, with whom he had made A Hard Day’s Night. It never happened, but it’s interesting to contemplate what that film would have been like. I doubt it would have had any fidelity to Dumas (the Fab Four disrespected conventional narrative too much for that), and believe that it would have likely been just a farce played as a vehicle for songs; but even so, which Beatle would have been D’Artagnan? (My own preferred casting, for this hypothetical version we’re all probably better off not yhaving seen: Ringo as a bumbling D’Artagnan, Paul as Lord Buckingham, John as Cardinal Richelieu, and George Harrison as Athos. Think on that, come up with your own casting choices and wipe it from your mind. However you shuffle the cards, it would have stunk up the joint.)

Whatever happened, Lester returned to the material in the early seventies, under the auspices of the Salkinds, who here pulled off a bit of a sleazy trick that lent the movie a bit of notoriety entirely unconnected to its quality: to wit, they told the cast they intended to make an epic, close to four-hour version, when in fact they always intended to cut the finished product in half and release it as two separate films.  This was a serious no-no in a business where name actors are paid a per-film rate, and a colossal act of hubris for a production that cast a current or slightly past-current who’s-who of stars. Lawsuits ensued and were eventually settled, though some members of the cast harbored resentment for life.

The upshot is that, the legal issues aside, the precedent was actually good for the business. By demonstrating that a story could be deliberately spread out over more than one film and that several could be shot at once, the Salkinds had created a  model that was later very useful on any number of big-budget franchises where it would have been impossible to keep re-building the sets and re-gathering the cast. They used it on their own Superman series (this time, telling the cast what they had in mind). Later franchises that benefited from the example were Back To The Future (Parts 2 and 3),  The Matrix (also parts 2 and 3), and, most notably, the three installments of Peter Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings.

None of which has any bearing on that “definitive” issue.

And part of what does is this: it appears to have been one of the only versions that managed the all-important trick of getting D’Artagnan right.

He’s Just A Kid

Most prior filmic versions of D’Artagnan, including the Walter Abel, Don Ameche and Gene Kelly versions already discussed, relay his deeds during the story with various degrees of fidelity – and, as in the case of Gene Kelly, with compensating charm to cover whatever they do get wrong – but otherwise, completely miss who he is. They treat him as a generic swashbuckler, grinning in the face of danger, charming the ladies, and laughing as he humiliates the bad guys with superior swordsmanship.

This is perhaps inevitable, as classic Hollywood regarded that as what a swashbuckler was like. Most of them had interchangeable dashing personalities. Errol Flynn was famous for a series of films, often co-starring Olivia DeHavilland and Alan Hale, ranging from The Adventures of Robin Hood to The Adventures Of Marco Polo to The Adventures of Don Juan, not to mention a number of others that didn’t follow that particular titling formula, where he played what was, in terms of personal manner the exact same person, plunked down into various different historical eras. He was a guy who showed teeth and laughed in the face of danger and took what he was doing seriously but always had a glint in his eye about it. Though Flynn wasn’t the first to follow this formula – indeed, the first two of the Musketeers movies we covered pre-date his best, the Robin Hood film – he pretty much made it his own, and a generation of swashbucklers that followed him all tried to emulate his example.

The problem is, this isn’t precisely what Alexandre Dumas had in mind when he took the memoirs of the actual real-life D’Artagnan and used them as the springboard for his own fanciful narrative.

And that’s this: D’Artagnan is supposed to be a  gifted but naïve kid living out a fantasy and having reality shoved in his face. 

Trained to sword expertise by his father, D’Artagnan has also been mercilessly drilled on a personal philosophy certain to get any kid killed: to wit, do not brook even the most offhand insult, and fight duels with anybody who impugns your honor. It is the reason why he challenges a well-dressed, and at this point much more dangerous swordsman, Rochefort (Christopher Lee), over some casual mockery; and why he finds himself scheduled for three consecutive duels to the death, with three of the most dangerous people in town, within mere hours of his arrival in Paris. He thinks that’s the way he’s supposed to act. He’s living up to what his father expects of him.
Most film versions bury this aspect in favor of his heroism, giving us a D’Artagnan who is very much already a hero, a D’Artagnan who, even when knocked unconscious by Rochefort in the Walter Abel version, simply looks like a capable guy who fell to a baddie who had gotten the drop on him. Not this D’Artagnan. He is not up to it yet. The version written by George MacDonald Fraser and directed by Richard Lester is indeed full of slapstick (more on that, later), but it’s no mere gag when in an early scene D’Artagan grabs a rope and swings on it, intent on knocking Rochefort off his horse, but instead misses his foe completely and winds up looking like a fool. It’s the act of a kid who is not yet up to his self-image. 

Similarly, in the scene where D’Artagnan meets the Musketeers for the serial duels, the dynamic between them is for the first time in this compendium played for the point intended by the author. First, we get one of Dumas’s grace notes: D’Artagnan helpfully offering his mother’s ointment to salve the old wound of the foe, Athos, who he’s here to fight to the death. It’s a moment of splendid naivete and tremendous good-heartedness on D’Artagnan’s part, and Oliver Reed as Athos plays the reaction perfectly: with surprise, a little leavening of his prior anger at the boy, and a commitment to the duel that, in the eyes of this reader of the book and watcher of the film, amounts to a private decision to let D’Artagnan off with a little wounding. After the subsequent fight with the Cardinal’s men, when D’Artagnan has proved capable of holding his own in a fight, it is about ten times more believable that the famous trio would take the young Gascon boy under their shared wing. Not only because he’s worth a damn, but because it would be a shame to let this kid worth a damn get himself killed before he amounts to something.
D’Artagnan’s inexperience manifests in other ways: his gullibility, the moment of startling clumsiness where he wreaks havoc in the office of an authority figure he wants to impress, the defiant speech he gives to Buckingham in  order to make a dramatic exit  just before he has to return with the shame-faced admission that he needs Buckingham’s help getting back to France.

Even his romantic adventures fit this pattern. In the prior film versions, when D’Artagnan declares himself in love with Constance almost at the moment he meets her, and immediately devotes himself to her service, it seems the straightforward act of a man; here, it’s the posturing of a boy, no less sincere, but more the manifestation of someone trying to be a dashing hero than someone who already is one.  It’s a subtle difference, but Michael York summons enough innocence to convey it. He’s role-playing.

More to the point, these two films capture a plot element present in Dumas that is scarcely touched upon in any other Three Musketeers version, before or after: to wit, as a lover, D’Artagnan has the attention span of a goldfish. He adores Constance, but when she’s not around, he allows himself to become the boy-toy of Milady; when Milady’s not around, he cheats on her with a servant. Whatever pretty face is in view, is the pretty face he’s madly in love with. Constance may spend much of the second film pining for him in a nunnery, in the era’s version of the Witness Protection Program, but D’Artagnan’s still getting his ashes hauled regularly. It’s not that he’s a cheating bastard. It’s that he’s not yet a grownup. He doesn’t become one, not really, until the end of the second film, when he arrives too late to save his lady fair. At which point, another of the film’s stylistic attributes pays off.

The Fighting Style And Why It Matters

The best fight scenes in any of the previous versions belonged to Gene Kelly, but that D’Artagnan was not just talented at fighting; he was a prodigy, a genius, a guy who, as I’ve said, didn’t so much duel his enemies as play with them, the way a cat humiliates a mouse.

Many of the great swashbucklers of movie history took a similar tack; they played up the artistry of the thing, pitting hero against villain in exquisitely choreographed duels that permitted both to shine as martial artists.

The swordfights in almost all of Lester’s version were, by contrast, not so much exhibitions of craft, as brawls. There was no elegance about them. The contestants tripped, prat-fell, stumbled over things, used their fists and their cloaks whenever possible, tried to do fancy things and failed, slipped and fell on ice, and oftentimes looked stupid…a comical, but in context deadly serious, demonstration of the difference between the way a fight looks when you have a choreographer on your side and the way one looks when you’re trying not to get killed. It’s messy. Frank Findlay is the poster child for this. In the second movie, he has a trick he’s been working on, that involves throwing his sword like a dart; but it’s a trick that leaves him disarmed if the toss fails. (Throughout both films he’s almost as surely as D’Artagnan the guy stuff happens to.)

It is about a hundred times more satisfying than any number of movie fight scenes that look like every step was planned out beforehand. Indeed, compare this franchise’s fights to the three way duel at the end of Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace,  a dizzyingly choreographed battle that ranges across two vast rooms, involves three combatants wailing away at one another with dizzying swordcraft…and is, to these eyes, woefully dull, simply because it looks too rehearsed, perfect, and fake. (The second best fight in The Four Musketeers is one fought on a frozen lake, where the combatants can barely stand up long enough to swing this swords correctly, and spend just as much time falling on their respective asses.)

But what happens in the course of the two films? D’Artagnan and his friends fight enemies in Paris, in the French countryside, and on the road to England…finally, at the end of the two films, arriving at the convent Milady de Winter has infiltrated,with her agents and the Cardinal’s men, to kill Constance. D’Artagnan arrives in Constance’s room minutes after Milady has strangled his great love to death. (To viewers previously unfamiliar with the story who had expected D’Artagnan to arrive in the nick of time,  it is stunning.) Furious with grief,  D’Artagnan races through the convent halls, his anger building…until he spots his old enemy, Rochefort.

The neophyte fights the master. And, for the first time, in almost four hours of film, a swordfight is choreographed in the old-Hollywood manner. It is one of the greatest swordfights in the history of film, two masters battling each other with a fury that belies some of the old movie duels whose combatants looked like they were trying to look pretty rather than kill each other. It is real and it marks the moment when D’Artagnan is exactly what he has thus far only pretended to be.

This is not a happy ending, except insofar as justice is more-or-less served and D’Artagnan is left with the company of his old friends. But it is something we don’t get often enough: a story, in the sense that its main character has undergone a significant transformation and we’ve gotten to see exactly how.

Other Significant Accomplishments

Unlike many prior filmed versions of the tale, Lester’s Musketeers takes place in a persuasive time and place. It’s not some indoor set, not some production drowning in its own lush style; this is a world of drudgery and toil, where the gap between the poor in the streets and the rich in their palaces is extreme, and we get to see both (notably in the living condition of D’Artagnan’s servant Planchet).

There are spectacular set pieces, both based on Dumas and the screenwriter’s invention, that none of the prior versions attempted. One of these would be that fight on the frozen lake. But another is one of the greatest scenes in the novel: an extended sequence where, in order to gain a few minutes of privacy from Cardinal spies, Athos makes a bet that he and his friends can eat breakfast at a fort under heavy fire. This, they do – an act that their fellows regard as pure courage – but, in addition to showing us again just how formidable these fellows are, it serves the fine story purpose of allowing them to exchange information important both to each other and to the audience, while simultaneously battling an army intent on killing them. It is a terrific scene, and as painless an exercise in exposition as has ever been filmed.

The political background is superior. In many filmed versions of the story, the Musketeers fight for a king who deserves their loyalty. This guy is an easily-gulled cuckold who never quite knows what’s going on, and who looks bored out of his mind and deeply resentful when obliged to present his men with medals.

The characterization of the lesser but still important players is also far superior.

For instance, in most other versions, Constance is just a generic good girl, with no function other than to pine for D’Artagnan. These films take advantage of the observation we’ve already made, that for the story to work Constance must be a beautiful blithering idiot, and actually plays her that way, attributing to her a level of ineptitude that might have rendered her wholly not worth the trouble were she not played by a lady as comely as Raquel Welch. (Welch, who enjoyed a long and profitable career despite usually not being very good, is somehow terrific here; go figure).
The film’s Milady de Winter (Faye Dunaway) is the most frightening in film history, the only one so far who captures the character’s utter inhumanity. Faye Dunaway, in one of the greatest roles of her career, plays her as a woman who’s been so profoundly hurt that the only remaining option is stone sociopathy. Earlier versions – even  Lana Turner’s – downplayed her physical resourcefulness and rendered her a generic bad girl, but here she graduates, before our eyes, from secondary villainess to the human face of evil described by Dumas.

Nowhere is this more in evidence than in an extended sequence where, imprisoned by Buckingham, she has three days to seduce her jailer before being exiled to America (a fate worse than death, in that particular era). Her only guard is a sexless puritan who has been described as immune to the charms of women. And in three days, he’s not only hers…but so turned against his former master that it is he who plunges the knife into Buckingham’s heart. Milady brilliantly, and hilariously, and terrifyingly has sold herself to her “incorruptible” jailer as a Joan of Arc figure, with a direct pipeline to God.

Few other versions we’ve seen attempt to tell this part of the tale. The 1948 version contains a version of it, substituting the disastrously naïve Constance for Buckingham’s right-hand man; and it was probably right to do so, since that allows the film to compress the plot and get to the deaths of Constance and Buckingham that much earlier. But it’s not pure Dumas. In the Lester version, we see, step by step, how the impressively resourceful Milady, who cannot seduce her jailer’s body, seduces his soul instead. It is relentless, and it ratchets up the suspense when she next sets her vengeful heart on D’Artagnan’s girlfriend. Can nothing stop her in time? (No.)

The film’s Cardinal Richelieu (Charlton Heston, in one of the great roles of his late career), is given a depth he possesses in no other film version, a depth he only possesses in the novel and, briefly, in the 1948 performance of Vincent Price; he’s a man who schemes for power and has no problem arranging contract killings, but is capable of shaking his head in dismay, as the book’s Richelieu did, when Milady appeals to him for permission to kill D’Artagnan. This is, of course, a man who had only recently sent killers against D’Artagnan himself; but there’s a subtle difference between arranging assassination for power and allowing a minion to kill for a grudge, and the Cardinal dwells on that line. Heston’s weary, appalled “No” sells that difference – which is a lot of weight to put on a syllable, and goes a long way to explaining why fans of this film were so dismayed when the next version of the story had Tim Curry playing the part as a ranting super-villain.

The characterization also allows the classic ending, where D’Artagnan hands the Cardinal’s signed kill order back to him, and the Cardinal, recognizing the irony of the moment, wearily lets D’Artagnan go. In Dumas, the Cardinal is blown away by the sense that the boy before him has a hidden destiny, a greatness, more important to France than the Cardinal himself; in this movie, he simply appreciates being hoist by his own petard. Only a film deft in subtle characterization, and a performance capable of carrying it, could render the Cardinal’s contradictory behavior understandable…which is why it’s so rarely been attempted.
Christopher Lee as Rochefort…sorry, I see no reason why I should need to finish that sentence. Christopher Lee as Rochefort. That’s about as good as it gets.

In all versions of The Three Musketeers, only D’Artagnan and one of the titular three, Athos, are actually important to the tale; Porthos and Aramis almost fade into the background. Oliver Reed’s Athos is a brawling, heavy-drinking, embittered fellow with a past, as he’s supposed to be and some versions like Van Heflin’s have managed to be  — but that is not the same thing as saying that the other two are stinted. One, Richard Chamberlain’s Aramis, is pretty much just “the other guy,” odd enough considering that the man playing him was about to come a huge star and that he’s the kind of player who would normally be center place in something like this. More to the point, Frank Findlay’s Porthos is a splendid comic creation: the kind of guy who is always getting himself into mishaps, who can fight and even win but somehow never emerges with victory intact.

In short, why is this version “definitive”? Not because it gets some things right; because it gets virtually everything right, from the texture to the performances to the nuanced morality of the villains. It captures exactly why this has always been considered a great story. No version is ever likely to out-do it. The sad thing is that the quality decline, after this point, was not just noticeable but precipitous. And that’s without devoting any discussion to versions with cannon-bearing airships.

(There was another installment,  eventually, based on the Dumas novel Twenty Years After; it was not nearly as good, but then I don’t intend to discuss it. I mention it here because if I don’t, people will inevitably rush to call it to my attention. I know, I know.)

The Three Musketeers (1993)

A number of people have objected to my vehement hatred of this, widely called “The Disney version” despite the existence of that previous take with Mickey, Donald, and Goofy.

I’ll confess to personal resentment borne of the hubris on display when, asked in an interview about how his take would differ from the classic that came before (that he also confessed to never seeing), Charlie Sheen snotted, “Ours will finally do it right.”

Sorry. But considering the results, them’s fighting words.

Turning the Cardinal into a super-villain who twirls his red cloak like a cape and rants at length about ruuuuuling France is not, by contrast, doing it right.

Having D’Artagnan say to the Three Musketeers, “The Three Musketeers! I’ve heard of you!”, as if they’re famous celebrities, and not just three members of a larger fighting force acknowledged by the film, who just happen to hang out together, is not doing it right.

Turning its Constance into a girl who speaks to D’Artagnan once, for about thirty seconds, and later confesses to the Queen that she loves him with all her heart is not, by contrast, doing it right.

Declaring, oddly, that Rochefort just happened to be the guy who killed D’Artagnan’s father, an invention that adds another layer of “Oh, come on,” to the proceedings, is not, by contrast, doing it right.

Adding misplaced japanese swordsmen is not, by contrast, doing it right.

Having the Musketeers show up twice to rescue D’Artagnan, in circumstances that are awfully convenient but never bother to explain how they knew where to find him, let alone managed to get where he is, is not, by contrast, doing it right.

Exclamatory dialogue so disrespectful of the audience that at one point the Cardinal must address the secondary villain with an eyepatch and point out, in dialogue, that he only has one eye, is not, by contrast, doing it right.

Jokes that rarely achieve wit and most often fail the “dopey” test are not, by contrast, doing it right.

Reducing Milady, who was in the last film one of the most chilling villainesses in movie history, to a wronged woman who is here conveniently arrested and convicted and marched to her execution on the side of a cliff, just when the Musketeers need her to be so redeemed by love that she provides precisely the information they need at the time they need it, is not, by contrast, doing it right.

Having the unbearably earnest boy king defeat the Cardinal by decking him is not, by contrast, doing it right.

None of that, Mr. Sheen, is “winning.”

In 1998, I hated every minute of this concoction. I hated how every story point had been rendered idiotic. I hated how every line of dialogue was bland and flavorless. I hated the clear contempt for an audience the makers had believed incapable of understanding anything else and I hated the gulling of a generation that would now think they knew the tale of The Three Musketeers. I couldn’t imagine anything worse.

Exposure to scenes from the 2011 Paul W.S. Anderson version tells me that in 1993 I didn’t know how lucky I was.

I am forced to admit that the 1993 version was guilty of no more than reducing it to a dumbaction movie for an attention-deficit generation, and what what really irritated me at the time was not the awfulness, but the hubris – and not the hubris of daring to remake what had already been  done perfectly, as that was their right but the hubris one actor demonstrated by  claiming in specific reference to Lester’s take that this new version would be “finally done right” and thus implying that the prior version had been done wrong.

So I watched it again, straining for impartiality.

And I have to admit – while it’s more energetic than good – there’s quite a bit in it that is not actively bad.

Tim Curry was good. Yes, he was. He was there to deliver a cartoon and he did quite well at that endeavor.

Oliver Platt was good. He had infectious fun in a silly part, and it’s difficult to watch him without some of that fun rubbing off. It’s, really, the second-best performance ever given in any Three Musketeers movie, by any actor named Oliver.

Charlie Sheen gave the usual Charlie Sheen performance, but in 1993 that was not particularly bad. Keifer Sutherland is pretty good at selling Athos’s misery, even if he is no Oliver Reed. There’s also, buried in all that awful dialogue, one pretty good scene involving a discussion of “wenching” (even if it takes place in the middle of a cross-country ride to save the day and gives the impression that the Musketeers got bored with saving the day and paused to get drunk).

Some of the action sequences don’t suck, and are pretty enough, even if the final large-scale battle at the king’s palace substitutes scale and bombast for any issues we might have reason to care about.

Honestly. I take it all back. If you’re too tired or too lazy to be discerning, there are worse times to be had at the movies. (The Ritz Brothers version, for example.)

The problem, really, is that for all too many people these days, “just fine for audiences too tired or lazy to be discerning” seems to be the first, last, and only criterion.

And part of the problem with accepting a remake that is extravagantly dumb is that, a few years later, you get a remake that is appallingly dumb. The insults get larger.

I’ve lost track of the number of people who have told me, in relation to the one with dirigibles, that when they go to movies they don’t want to think, they don’t want to feel, they just want to turn their brains off and watch things crash into each other at great speed.

I’ve had intelligent people say this to me.

Of that  I will currently only say, I’m too tired to have the argument…especially since the MacDonald / Lester version provides my argument.

Really, it’s possible to provide derring-do, adventure, swordplay, thrills, charisma, and humor, and do so in the context of a story that makes sense and means something. You don’t even have to look at the Lester Musketeers. Just look at the films made by Errol Flynn.

Don’t get me started, people. Really. Just…don’t get me started.

And now, the wife bursts through the palace window, a rapier gleaming in one gloved fist…


Second Commentary by Judi B. Castro

The Three Musketeers (1935). Directed by Rowland V. Lee. Written by Rowland V. Lee and Dudley Nichols, from the novel by Alexandre Dumas. Starring Walter Abel, Ian Keith, others. 97 minutes **

The Three Musketeers aka The Singing Musketeer (1939). Directed by Allan Dwan. Written by M.M. Musselman, William A. Drake, and Sam Hellman, from the novel by Alexandre Dumas. Starring Don Ameche and the Ritz Brothers. 73 minutes. 1/2

The Three Musketeers (1948). Directed by George Sidney. Written by Robert Ardey, from the novel by Alexandre Dumas. Starring Gene Kelly, Van Heflin, Vincent Price, June Allyson, Lana Turner. 125 minutes. **1/2

The Three Musketeers (1973) and The Four Musketeers (1974). Two-part film directed by Richard Lester. Written by George MacDonald Fraser, from the novel by Alexandre Dumas. Starring Michael York, Oliver Reed, Raquel Welch, Charlton Heston, Christopher Lee, Faye Dunaway. 105 minutes, 108 minutes. Both ****

The Three Musketeers (1993). Directed by Stephen Herek. Written by David Loughery, from the novel by Alexandre Dumas. Starring Charlie Sheen, Rebecca DeMornay, Tim Curry, Chris O’Donnell, Oliver Platt. 105 minutes. ** *

The Three Musketeers (2011). Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson. Written by Alex Davies and Andrew Litvak. Starring Orlando Bloom, Milla Jovovich, Others. 105 minutes. Not reviewed here, but Holy Mother Of God.

Other Versions Not Covered By Us: Far, far too many to mention.

I know we had to cover these films. I knew there might be a bunch of ‘em out there.  But come on guys!!! 29 versions of one story?  And you still haven’t beaten that horse to death?

OK, I admit to enjoying seeing Gene Kelly acrobatically dancing out a fight or two.

And, the 1935 version didn’t stray too far from the story I knew. 

The Touchstone/Disney production tried hard to bring in the teen audience on casting alone, and the guys did a decent job.  There’s nothing unwatchable here, but its just a bit off.

Heck, even the Disney version (the one with Mickey, not Kiefer) kept me happy as a child.

But the advertisements alone for this new “steampunked” musketeers had me baffled.  I guess historical accuracy isn’t needed if wire fu is available. Has every audience, worldwide, given up on the ability to remember two minutes into the past?

Now, mind ya’all  like my hubby, I prefer the 1973 mega version (I choose to think of it as one really looong film, rather than two really good films that just happened to be shot at the same time).  The casting of Michael York as D’artagnan made me a fan for life.  I was already well aware of Richard Chamberlain (reruns of Dr Kildaire had already hit my TV).  I was re-introduced to Oliver Reed (not realizing he was the hated Bill Sykes until many years later).  But the surprise of the film has always been Raquel Welch and her ability to pull off a decent comedic turn.  She was more than just the body in the fur bikini.  The sets were and locales were nearly perfect. The swordplay almost realistic.  And the fun just what was ordered.  Guys, we watch these films at least once a year just because.

Now has my love for this one(two) punch blinded my eye to the possibility that the definitive version is yet to be made?  Naahh!  I hope they keep trying.  Lets go for at least ten more versions in my lifetime.  Just one request to any future filmmakers who do attempt this feat.  PLEASE!!!!! Read the source material, not just the Cliff’s Notes.

A Remake Chronicles Extra

(The following piece of one of the funniest dissections of awful writing, ever; it is not collected nearly often enough, hence this public service. –ATC)

A Cure For The Blues
by Mark Twain

By courtesy of Mr. Cable I came into possession of a singular book
eight or ten years ago. It is likely that mine is now the only copy
in existence. Its title-page, unabbreviated, reads as follows:

“The Enemy Conquered; or, Love Triumphant. By G. Ragsdale McClintock,
[1] author of ‘An Address,’ etc., delivered at Sunflower Hill,
South Carolina, and member of the Yale Law School. New Haven:
published by T. H. Pease, 83 Chapel Street, 1845.”

No one can take up this book and lay it down again unread.
Whoever reads one line of it is caught, is chained; he has become
the contented slave of its fascinations; and he will read and read,
devour and devour, and will not let it go out of his hand till it
is finished to the last line, though the house be on fire over
his head. And after a first reading he will not throw it aside,
but will keep it by him, with his Shakespeare and his Homer,
and will take it up many and many a time, when the world is dark
and his spirits are low, and be straightway cheered and refreshed.
Yet this work has been allowed to lie wholly neglected, unmentioned,
and apparently unregretted, for nearly half a century.

The reader must not imagine that he is to find in it wisdom,
brilliancy, fertility of invention, ingenuity of construction,
excellence of form, purity of style, perfection of imagery,
truth to nature, clearness of statement, humanly possible situations,
humanly possible people, fluent narrative, connected sequence of events–
or philosophy, or logic, or sense. No; the rich, deep, beguiling charm
of the book lies in the total and miraculous ABSENCE from it of all
these qualities–a charm which is completed and perfected by the
evident fact that the author, whose naive innocence easily and surely
wins our regard, and almost our worship, does not know that they
are absent, does not even suspect that they are absent. When read
by the light of these helps to an understanding of the situation,
the book is delicious–profoundly and satisfyingly delicious.

I call it a book because the author calls it a book, I call it a work
because he calls it a work; but, in truth, it is merely a duodecimo
pamphlet of thirty-one pages. It was written for fame and money,
as the author very frankly–yes, and very hopefully, too, poor fellow–
says in his preface. The money never came–no penny of it ever came;
and how long, how pathetically long, the fame has been deferred–
forty-seven years! He was young then, it would have been so much to
him then; but will he care for it now?
As time is measured in America, McClintock’s epoch is antiquity.
In his long-vanished day the Southern author had a passion for
“eloquence”; it was his pet, his darling. He would be eloquent,
or perish. And he recognized only one kind of eloquence–the lurid,
the tempestuous, the volcanic. He liked words–big words,
fine words, grand words, rumbling, thundering, reverberating words;
with sense attaching if it could be got in without marring the sound,
but not otherwise. He loved to stand up before a dazed world,
and pour forth flame and smoke and lava and pumice-stone into
the skies, and work his subterranean thunders, and shake himself
with earthquakes, and stench himself with sulphur fumes. If he
consumed his own fields and vineyards, that was a pity, yes; but he
would have his eruption at any cost. Mr. McClintock’s eloquence–
and he is always eloquent, his crater is always spouting–is of the
pattern common to his day, but he departs from the custom of the time
in one respect: his brethren allowed sense to intrude when it did
not mar the sound, but he does not allow it to intrude at all.

For example, consider this figure, which he used in the village
“Address” referred to with such candid complacency in the title-page
above quoted–“like the topmost topaz of an ancient tower.”
Please read it again; contemplate it; measure it; walk around it;
climb up it; try to get at an approximate realization of the size of it.
Is the fellow to that to be found in literature, ancient or modern,
foreign or domestic, living or dead, drunk or sober? One notices
how fine and grand it sounds. We know that if it was loftily uttered,
it got a noble burst of applause from the villagers; yet there isn’t
a ray of sense in it, or meaning to it.

McClintock finished his education at Yale in 1843, and came to
Hartford on a visit that same year. I have talked with men who at
that time talked with him, and felt of him, and knew he was real.
One needs to remember that fact and to keep fast hold of it;
it is the only way to keep McClintock’s book from undermining one’s
faith in McClintock’s actuality.

As to the book. The first four pages are devoted to an inflamed eulogy
of Woman–simply woman in general, or perhaps as an institution–
wherein, among other compliments to her details, he pays a unique
one to her voice. He says it “fills the breast with fond alarms,
echoed by every rill.” It sounds well enough, but it is not true.

After the eulogy he takes up his real work and the novel begins.
It begins in the woods, near the village of Sunflower Hill.
Brightening clouds seemed to rise from the mist of the fair Chattahoochee,
to spread their beauty over the thick forest, to guide the hero whose
bosom beats with aspirations to conquer the enemy that would tarnish
his name, and to win back the admiration of his long-tried friend.
It seems a general remark, but it is not general; the hero mentioned
is the to-be hero of the book; and in this abrupt fashion,
and without name or description, he is shoveled into the tale.
“With aspirations to conquer the enemy that would tarnish his name”
is merely a phrase flung in for the sake of the sound–let it
not mislead the reader. No one is trying to tarnish this person;
no one has thought of it. The rest of the sentence is also merely
a phrase; the man has no friend as yet, and of course has had no
chance to try him, or win back his admiration, or disturb him in any
other way.

The hero climbs up over “Sawney’s Mountain,” and down the other side,
making for an old Indian “castle”–which becomes “the red man’s hut”
in the next sentence; and when he gets there at last, he “surveys
with wonder and astonishment” the invisible structure, “which time
has buried in the dust, and thought to himself his happiness was
not yet complete.” One doesn’t know why it wasn’t, nor how near it
came to being complete, nor what was still wanting to round it up
and make it so. Maybe it was the Indian; but the book does not say.
At this point we have an episode:

Beside the shore of the brook sat a young man, about eighteen or twenty,
who seemed to be reading some favorite book, and who had a remarkably
noble countenance–eyes which betrayed more than a common mind.
This of course made the youth a welcome guest, and gained him
friends in whatever condition of his life he might be placed.
The traveler observed that he was a well-built figure which showed
strength and grace in every movement. He accordingly addressed
him in quite a gentlemanly manner, and inquired of him the way
to the village. After he had received the desired information,
and was about taking his leave, the youth said, “Are you not
Major Elfonzo, the great musician [2]–the champion of a noble cause–
the modern Achilles, who gained so many victories in the Florida War?”
“I bear that name,” said the Major, “and those titles,
trusting at the same time that the ministers of grace will carry
me triumphantly through all my laudable undertakings, and if,”
continued the Major, “you, sir, are the patronizer of noble deeds,
I should like to make you my confidant and learn your address.”
The youth looked somewhat amazed, bowed low, mused for a moment,
and began: “My name is Roswell. I have been recently admitted
to the bar, and can only give a faint outline of my future success
in that honorable profession; but I trust, sir, like the Eagle, I shall
look down from the lofty rocks upon the dwellings of man, and shall
ever be ready to give you any assistance in my official capacity,
and whatever this muscular arm of mine can do, whenever it shall be
called from its buried GREATNESS.” The Major grasped him by the hand,
and exclaimed: “O! thou exalted spirit of inspiration–thou flame
of burning prosperity, may the Heaven-directed blaze be the glare
of thy soul, and battle down every rampart that seems to impede
your progress!”

There is a strange sort of originality about McClintock;
he imitates other people’s styles, but nobody can imitate his,
not even an idiot. Other people can be windy, but McClintock blows
a gale; other people can blubber sentiment, but McClintock spews it;
other people can mishandle metaphors, but only McClintock knows
how to make a business of it. McClintock is always McClintock,
he is always consistent, his style is always his own style. He does
not make the mistake of being relevant on one page and irrelevant
on another; he is irrelevant on all of them. He does not make
the mistake of being lucid in one place and obscure in another;
he is obscure all the time. He does not make the mistake of slipping
in a name here and there that is out of character with his work;
he always uses names that exactly and fantastically fit his lunatics.
In the matter of undeviating consistency he stands alone in authorship.
It is this that makes his style unique, and entitles it to a name
of its own–McClintockian. It is this that protects it from being
mistaken for anybody else’s. Uncredited quotations from other writers
often leave a reader in doubt as to their authorship, but McClintock
is safe from that accident; an uncredited quotation from him would
always be recognizable. When a boy nineteen years old, who had
just been admitted to the bar, says, “I trust, sir, like the Eagle,
I shall look down from lofty rocks upon the dwellings of man,”
we know who is speaking through that boy; we should recognize
that note anywhere. There be myriads of instruments in this
world’s literary orchestra, and a multitudinous confusion of sounds
that they make, wherein fiddles are drowned, and guitars smothered,
and one sort of drum mistaken for another sort; but whensoever the
brazen note of the McClintockian trombone breaks through that fog
of music, that note is recognizable, and about it there can be no blur
of doubt.

The novel now arrives at the point where the Major goes home to see
his father. When McClintock wrote this interview he probably
believed it was pathetic.

The road which led to the town presented many attractions Elfonzo
had bid farewell to the youth of deep feeling, and was now wending
his way to the dreaming spot of his fondness. The south winds
whistled through the woods, as the waters dashed against the banks,
as rapid fire in the pent furnace roars. This brought him to
remember while alone, that he quietly left behind the hospitality
of a father’s house, and gladly entered the world, with higher hopes
than are often realized. But as he journeyed onward, he was mindful
of the advice of his father, who had often looked sadly on the ground,
when tears of cruelly deceived hope moistened his eyes. Elfonzo had
been somewhat a dutiful son; yet fond of the amusements of life–
had been in distant lands–had enjoyed the pleasure of the world,
and had frequently returned to the scenes of his boyhood,
almost destitute of many of the comforts of life. In this condition,
he would frequently say to his father, “Have I offended you,
that you look upon me as a stranger, and frown upon me with
stinging looks? Will you not favor me with the sound of your voice?
If I have trampled upon your veneration, or have spread a humid veil
of darkness around your expectations, send me back into the world,
where no heart beats for me–where the foot of man had never yet trod;
but give me at least one kind word–allow me to come into the presence
sometimes of thy winter-worn locks.” “Forbid it, Heaven, that I
should be angry with thee,” answered the father, “my son, and yet
I send thee back to the children of the world–to the cold charity
of the combat, and to a land of victory. I read another destiny
in thy countenance–I learn thy inclinations from the flame that has
already kindled in my soul a strange sensation. It will seek thee,
my dear ELFONZO, it will find thee–thou canst not escape that
lighted torch, which shall blot out from the remembrance of men
a long train of prophecies which they have foretold against thee.
I once thought not so. Once, I was blind; but now the path of life
is plain before me, and my sight is clear; yet, Elfonzo, return to thy
worldly occupation–take again in thy hand that chord of sweet sounds–
struggle with the civilized world and with your own heart;
fly swiftly to the enchanted ground–let the night-OWL send forth
its screams from the stubborn oak–let the sea sport upon the beach,
and the stars sing together; but learn of these, Elfonzo, thy doom,
and thy hiding-place. Our most innocent as well as our most lawful
DESIRES must often be denied us, that we may learn to sacrifice them
to a Higher will.”

Remembering such admonitions with gratitude, Elfonzo was immediately
urged by the recollection of his father’s family to keep moving.

McClintock has a fine gift in the matter of surprises; but as a
rule they are not pleasant ones, they jar upon the feelings.
His closing sentence in the last quotation is of that sort.
It brings one down out of the tinted clouds in too sudden and collapsed
a fashion. It incenses one against the author for a moment.
It makes the reader want to take him by this winter-worn locks,
and trample on his veneration, and deliver him over to the cold
charity of combat, and blot him out with his own lighted torch.
But the feeling does not last. The master takes again in his hand that
concord of sweet sounds of his, and one is reconciled, pacified.
His steps became quicker and quicker–he hastened through the PINY woods,
dark as the forest was, and with joy he very soon reached the little
village of repose, in whose bosom rested the boldest chivalry.
His close attention to every important object–his modest questions
about whatever was new to him–his reverence for wise old age,
and his ardent desire to learn many of the fine arts, soon brought
him into respectable notice.

One mild winter day, as he walked along the streets toward the Academy,
which stood upon a small eminence, surrounded by native growth–
some venerable in its appearance, others young and prosperous–
all seemed inviting, and seemed to be the very place for learning as
well as for genius to spend its research beneath its spreading shades.
He entered its classic walls in the usual mode of southern manners.
The artfulness of this man! None knows so well as he how to pique
the curiosity of the reader–and how to disappoint it. He raises
the hope, here, that he is going to tell all about how one enters
a classic wall in the usual mode of Southern manners; but does he?
No; he smiles in his sleeve, and turns aside to other matters.
The principal of the Institution begged him to be seated and listen
to the recitations that were going on. He accordingly obeyed
the request, and seemed to be much pleased. After the school
was dismissed, and the young hearts regained their freedom,
with the songs of the evening, laughing at the anticipated pleasures
of a happy home, while others tittered at the actions of the past day,
he addressed the teacher in a tone that indicated a resolution–
with an undaunted mind. He said he had determined to become
a student, if he could meet with his approbation. “Sir,” said he,
“I have spent much time in the world. I have traveled among
the uncivilized inhabitants of America. I have met with friends,
and combated with foes; but none of these gratify my ambition,
or decide what is to be my destiny. I see the learned world
have an influence with the voice of the people themselves.
The despoilers of the remotest kingdoms of the earth refer their
differences to this class of persons. This the illiterate and
inexperienced little dream of; and now if you will receive me as I am,
with these deficiencies–with all my misguided opinions, I will give
you my honor, sir, that I will never disgrace the Institution,
or those who have placed you in this honorable station.”

The instructor, who had met with many disappointments, knew how to
feel for a stranger who had been thus turned upon the charities
of an unfeeling community. He looked at him earnestly, and said:
“Be of good cheer–look forward, sir, to the high destination you
may attain. Remember, the more elevated the mark at which you aim,
the more sure, the more glorious, the more magnificent the prize.”
From wonder to wonder, his encouragement led the impatient listener.
A strange nature bloomed before him–giant streams promised
him success–gardens of hidden treasures opened to his view.
All this, so vividly described, seemed to gain a new witchery from his
glowing fancy.

It seems to me that this situation is new in romance. I feel
sure it has not been attempted before. Military celebrities have
been disguised and set at lowly occupations for dramatic effect,
but I think McClintock is the first to send one of them to school.
Thus, in this book, you pass from wonder to wonder, through gardens
of hidden treasure, where giant streams bloom before you,
and behind you, and all around, and you feel as happy, and groggy,
and satisfied with your quart of mixed metaphor aboard as you would
if it had been mixed in a sample-room and delivered from a jug.
Now we come upon some more McClintockian surprise–a sweetheart
who is sprung upon us without any preparation, along with a name
for her which is even a little more of a surprise than she herself is.

In 1842 he entered the class, and made rapid progress in the English
and Latin departments. Indeed, he continued advancing with such
rapidity that he was like to become the first in his class,
and made such unexpected progress, and was so studious, that he had
almost forgotten the pictured saint of his affections. The fresh
wreaths of the pine and cypress had waited anxiously to drop once
more the dews of Heaven upon the heads of those who had so often
poured forth the tender emotions of their souls under its boughs.
He was aware of the pleasure that he had seen there. So one evening, as
he was returning from his reading, he concluded he would pay a visit
to this enchanting spot. Little did he think of witnessing a shadow
of his former happiness, though no doubt he wished it might be so.
He continued sauntering by the roadside, meditating on the past.
The nearer he approached the spot, the more anxious he became.
At that moment a tall female figure flitted across his path, with a
bunch of roses in her hand; her countenance showed uncommon vivacity,
with a resolute spirit; her ivory teeth already appeared as she
smiled beautifully, promenading–while her ringlets of hair dangled
unconsciously around her snowy neck. Nothing was wanting to complete
her beauty. The tinge of the rose was in full bloom upon her cheek;
the charms of sensibility and tenderness were always her associates.
In Ambulinia’s bosom dwelt a noble soul–one that never faded–
one that never was conquered.

Ambulinia! It can hardly be matched in fiction. The full name
is Ambulinia Valeer. Marriage will presently round it out and
perfect it. Then it will be Mrs. Ambulinia Valeer Elfonzo.
It takes the chromo.

Her heart yielded to no feeling but the love of Elfonzo, on whom
she gazed with intense delight, and to whom she felt herself
more closely bound, because he sought the hand of no other.
Elfonzo was roused from his apparent reverie. His books no longer
were his inseparable companions–his thoughts arrayed themselves
to encourage him to the field of victory. He endeavored to speak
to his supposed Ambulinia, but his speech appeared not in words.
No, his effort was a stream of fire, that kindled his soul into
a flame of admiration, and carried his senses away captive.
Ambulinia had disappeared, to make him more mindful of his duty.
As she walked speedily away through the piny woods, she calmly echoed:
“O! Elfonzo, thou wilt now look from thy sunbeams. Thou shalt
now walk in a new path–perhaps thy way leads through darkness;
but fear not, the stars foretell happiness.”

To McClintock that jingling jumble of fine words meant something,
no doubt, or seemed to mean something; but it is useless for us to try
to divine what it was. Ambulinia comes–we don’t know whence nor why;
she mysteriously intimates–we don’t know what; and then she goes
echoing away–we don’t know whither; and down comes the curtain.
McClintock’s art is subtle; McClintock’s art is deep.

Not many days afterward, as surrounded by fragrant flowers she sat
one evening at twilight, to enjoy the cool breeze that whispered
notes of melody along the distant groves, the little birds perched
on every side, as if to watch the movements of their new visitor.
The bells were tolling, when Elfonzo silently stole along by the wild
wood flowers, holding in his hand his favorite instrument of music–
his eye continually searching for Ambulinia, who hardly seemed
to perceive him, as she played carelessly with the songsters
that hopped from branch to branch. Nothing could be more striking
than the difference between the two. Nature seemed to have given
the more tender soul to Elfonzo, and the stronger and more courageous
to Ambulinia. A deep feeling spoke from the eyes of Elfonzo–
such a feeling as can only be expressed by those who are blessed
as admirers, and by those who are able to return the same with
sincerity of heart. He was a few years older than Ambulinia:
she had turned a little into her seventeenth. He had almost grown
up in the Cherokee country, with the same equal proportions as one
of the natives. But little intimacy had existed between them until
the year forty-one–because the youth felt that the character of such
a lovely girl was too exalted to inspire any other feeling than
that of quiet reverence. But as lovers will not always be insulted,
at all times and under all circumstances, by the frowns and cold
looks of crabbed old age, which should continually reflect dignity
upon those around, and treat the unfortunate as well as the fortunate
with a graceful mien, he continued to use diligence and perseverance.
All this lighted a spark in his heart that changed his whole character,
and like the unyielding Deity that follows the storm to check its
rage in the forest, he resolves for the first time to shake off
his embarrassment and return where he had before only worshiped.

At last we begin to get the Major’s measure. We are able to put
this and that casual fact together, and build the man up before
our eyes, and look at him. And after we have got him built, we find
him worth the trouble. By the above comparison between his age
and Ambulinia’s, we guess the war-worn veteran to be twenty-two;
and the other facts stand thus: he had grown up in the Cherokee
country with the same equal proportions as one of the natives–
how flowing and graceful the language, and yet how tantalizing
as to meaning!–he had been turned adrift by his father, to whom he
had been “somewhat of a dutiful son”; he wandered in distant lands;
came back frequently “to the scenes of his boyhood, almost destitute
of many of the comforts of life,” in order to get into the presence
of his father’s winter-worn locks, and spread a humid veil of
darkness around his expectations; but he was always promptly sent
back to the cold charity of the combat again; he learned to play
the fiddle, and made a name for himself in that line; he had dwelt
among the wild tribes; he had philosophized about the despoilers
of the kingdoms of the earth, and found out–the cunning creature–
that they refer their differences to the learned for settlement;
he had achieved a vast fame as a military chieftain, the Achilles
of the Florida campaigns, and then had got him a spelling-book
and started to school; he had fallen in love with Ambulinia Valeer
while she was teething, but had kept it to himself awhile, out of
the reverential awe which he felt for the child; but now at last,
like the unyielding Deity who follows the storm to check its rage in
the forest, he resolves to shake off his embarrassment, and to return
where before he had only worshiped. The Major, indeed, has made up
his mind to rise up and shake his faculties together, and to see
if HE can’t do that thing himself. This is not clear. But no matter
about that: there stands the hero, compact and visible; and he is
no mean structure, considering that his creator had never structure,
considering that his creator had never created anything before,
and hadn’t anything but rags and wind to build with this time.
It seems to me that no one can contemplate this odd creature, this quaint
and curious blatherskite, without admiring McClintock, or, at any rate,
loving him and feeling grateful to him; for McClintock made him,
he gave him to us; without McClintock we could not have had him,
and would now be poor.

But we must come to the feast again. Here is a courtship scene, down
there in the romantic glades among the raccoons, alligators, and things,
that has merit, peculiar literary merit. See how Achilles woos.
Dwell upon the second sentence (particularly the close of it) and the
beginning of the third. Never mind the new personage, Leos, who is
intruded upon us unheralded and unexplained. That is McClintock’s way;
it is his habit; it is a part of his genius; he cannot help it;
he never interrupts the rush of his narrative to make introductions.

It could not escape Ambulinia’s penetrating eye that he sought
an interview with her, which she as anxiously avoided, and assumed
a more distant calmness than before, seemingly to destroy all hope.
After many efforts and struggles with his own person, with timid
steps the Major approached the damsel, with the same caution
as he would have done in a field of battle. “Lady Ambulinia,”
said he, trembling, “I have long desired a moment like this.
I dare not let it escape. I fear the consequences; yet I hope
your indulgence will at least hear my petition. Can you not
anticipate what I would say, and what I am about to express?
Will not you, like Minerva, who sprung from the brain of Jupiter,
release me from thy winding chains or cure me–” “Say no more,
Elfonzo,” answered Ambulinia, with a serious look, raising her hand
as if she intended to swear eternal hatred against the whole world;
“another lady in my place would have perhaps answered your question
in bitter coldness. I know not the little arts of my sex.
I care but little for the vanity of those who would chide me,
and am unwilling as well as ashamed to be guilty of anything
that would lead you to think ‘all is not gold that glitters’;
so be no rash in your resolution. It is better to repent now,
than to do it in a more solemn hour. Yes, I know what you would say.
I know you have a costly gift for me–the noblest that man can make–
YOUR HEART! You should not offer it to one so unworthy.
Heaven, you know, has allowed my father’s house to be made a house
of solitude, a home of silent obedience, which my parents say
is more to be admired than big names and high-sounding titles.
Notwithstanding all this, let me speak the emotions of an honest heart–
allow me to say in the fullness of my hopes that I anticipate
better days. The bird may stretch its wings toward the sun,
which it can never reach; and flowers of the field appear to
ascend in the same direction, because they cannot do otherwise;
but man confides his complaints to the saints in whom he believes;
for in their abodes of light they know no more sorrow. From your
confession and indicative looks, I must be that person; if so deceive
not yourself.”

Elfonzo replied, “Pardon me, my dear madam, for my frankness.
I have loved you from my earliest days–everything grand and beautiful
hath borne the image of Ambulinia; while precipices on every hand
surrounded me, your GUARDIAN ANGEL stood and beckoned me away from
the deep abyss. In every trial, in every misfortune, I have met
with your helping hand; yet I never dreamed or dared to cherish
thy love, till a voice impaired with age encouraged the cause,
and declared they who acquired thy favor should win a victory.
I saw how Leos worshiped thee. I felt my own unworthiness.
I began to KNOW JEALOUSLY, a strong guest–indeed, in my bosom,–
yet I could see if I gained your admiration Leos was to be my rival.
I was aware that he had the influence of your parents, and the wealth
of a deceased relative, which is too often mistaken for permanent
and regular tranquillity; yet I have determined by your permission
to beg an interest in your prayers–to ask you to animate my drooping
spirits by your smiles and your winning looks; for if you but speak
I shall be conqueror, my enemies shall stagger like Olympus shakes.
And though earth and sea may tremble, and the charioteer of the sun
may forget his dashing steed, yet I am assured that it is only
to arm me with divine weapons which will enable me to complete my
long-tried intention.”

gazing at the stars; confounded as he was, here he stood.

Return to yourself, Elfonzo,” said Ambulinia, pleasantly: “a dream
of vision has disturbed your intellect; you are above the atmosphere,
dwelling in the celestial regions; nothing is there that urges
or hinders, nothing that brings discord into our present litigation.
I entreat you to condescend a little, and be a man, and forget it all.
When Homer describes the battle of the gods and noble men fighting
with giants and dragons, they represent under this image our struggles
with the delusions of our passions. You have exalted me, an unhappy girl,
to the skies; you have called me a saint, and portrayed in your
imagination an angel in human form. Let her remain such to you,
let her continue to be as you have supposed, and be assured that she
will consider a share in your esteem as her highest treasure.
Think not that I would allure you from the path in which your
conscience leads you; for you know I respect the conscience of others,
as I would die for my own. Elfonzo, if I am worthy of thy love,
let such conversation never again pass between us. Go, seek a nobler
theme! we will seek it in the stream of time, as the sun set in
the Tigris.” As she spake these words she grasped the hand of Elfonzo,
saying at the same time–“Peace and prosperity attend you, my hero;
be up and doing!” Closing her remarks with this expression,
she walked slowly away, leaving Elfonzo astonished and amazed.
He ventured not to follow or detain her. Here he stood alone.

Yes; there he stood. There seems to be no doubt about that.
Nearly half of this delirious story has now been delivered to the reader.
It seems a pity to reduce the other half to a cold synopsis.
Pity! it is more than a pity, it is a crime; for to synopsize McClintock
is to reduce a sky-flushing conflagration to dull embers, it is to
reduce barbaric splendor to ragged poverty. McClintock never wrote
a line that was not precious; he never wrote one that could be spared;
he never framed one from which a word could be removed without damage.
Every sentence that this master has produced may be likened to a
perfect set of teeth, white, uniform, beautiful. If you pull one,
the charm is gone.

Still, it is now necessary to begin to pull, and to keep it up;
for lack of space requires us to synopsize.

We left Elfonzo standing there amazed. At what, we do not know.
Not at the girl’s speech. No; we ourselves should have been
amazed at it, of course, for none of us has ever heard anything
resembling it; but Elfonzo was used to speeches made up of noise
and vacancy, and could listen to them with undaunted mind like
the “topmost topaz of an ancient tower”; he was used to making
them himself; he–but let it go, it cannot be guessed out; we shall
never know what it was that astonished him. He stood there awhile;
then he said, “Alas! am I now Grief’s disappointed son at last?”
He did not stop to examine his mind, and to try to find out what
he probably meant by that, because, for one reason, “a mixture
of ambition and greatness of soul moved upon his young heart,”
and started him for the village. He resumed his bench in school,
“and reasonably progressed in his education.” His heart was heavy,
but he went into society, and sought surcease of sorrow in its
light distractions. He made himself popular with his violin,
“which seemed to have a thousand chords–more symphonious than the
Muses of Apollo, and more enchanting than the ghost of the Hills.”

This is obscure, but let it go.

During this interval Leos did some unencouraged courting, but at last,
“choked by his undertaking,” he desisted.

Presently “Elfonzo again wends his way to the stately walls and
new-built village.” He goes to the house of his beloved; she opens
the door herself. To my surprise–for Ambulinia’s heart had still
seemed free at the time of their last interview–love beamed from the
girl’s eyes. One sees that Elfonzo was surprised, too; for when he caught
that light, “a halloo of smothered shouts ran through every vein.”
A neat figure–a very neat figure, indeed! Then he kissed her.
“The scene was overwhelming.” They went into the parlor. The girl
said it was safe, for her parents were abed, and would never know.
Then we have this fine picture–flung upon the canvas with hardly
an effort, as you will notice.

Advancing toward him, she gave a bright display of her rosy neck,
and from her head the ambrosial locks breathed divine fragrance;
her robe hung waving to his view, while she stood like a goddess
confessed before him.

There is nothing of interest in the couple’s interview. Now at this
point the girl invites Elfonzo to a village show, where jealousy is
the motive of the play, for she wants to teach him a wholesome lesson,
if he is a jealous person. But this is a sham, and pretty shallow.
McClintock merely wants a pretext to drag in a plagiarism of his upon
a scene or two in “Othello.”

The lovers went to the play. Elfonzo was one of the fiddlers.

He and Ambulinia must not been seen together, lest trouble follow with
the girl’s malignant father; we are made to understand that clearly.
So the two sit together in the orchestra, in the midst of the musicians.
This does not seem to be good art. In the first place, the girl would
be in the way, for orchestras are always packed closely together,
and there is no room to spare for people’s girls; in the next place,
one cannot conceal a girl in an orchestra without everybody taking
notice of it. There can be no doubt, it seems to me, that this is
bad art.

Leos is present. Of course, one of the first things that catches
his eye is the maddening spectacle of Ambulinia “leaning upon
Elfonzo’s chair.” This poor girl does not seem to understand even
the rudiments of concealment. But she is “in her seventeenth,”
as the author phrases it, and that is her justification.

Leos meditates, constructs a plan–with personal violence as a basis,
of course. It was their way down there. It is a good plain plan,
without any imagination in it. He will go out and stand at the
front door, and when these two come out he will “arrest Ambulinia
from the hands of the insolent Elfonzo,” and thus make for himself
a “more prosperous field of immortality than ever was decreed
by Omnipotence, or ever pencil drew or artist imagined.” But, dear me,
while he is waiting there the couple climb out at the back window
and scurry home! This is romantic enough, but there is a lack
of dignity in the situation.

At this point McClintock puts in the whole of his curious play–
which we skip.

Some correspondence follows now. The bitter father and the
distressed lovers write the letters. Elopements are attempted.
They are idiotically planned, and they fail. Then we have several
pages of romantic powwow and confusion dignifying nothing.
Another elopement is planned; it is to take place on Sunday,
when everybody is at church. But the “hero” cannot keep the secret;
he tells everybody. Another author would have found another
instrument when he decided to defeat this elopement; but that is
not McClintock’s way. He uses the person that is nearest at hand.
The evasion failed, of course. Ambulinia, in her flight,
takes refuge in a neighbor’s house. Her father drags her home.
The villagers gather, attracted by the racket.

Elfonzo was moved at this sight. The people followed on to see
what was going to become of Ambulinia, while he, with downcast looks,
kept at a distance, until he saw them enter the abode of the father,
thrusting her, that was the sigh of his soul, out of his presence
into a solitary apartment, when she exclaimed, “Elfonzo! Elfonzo! oh,
Elfonzo! where art thou, with all thy heroes? haste, oh! haste,
come thou to my relief. Ride on the wings of the wind! Turn thy
force loose like a tempest, and roll on thy army like a whirlwind,
over this mountain of trouble and confusion. Oh friends! if any
pity me, let your last efforts throng upon the green hills,
and come to the relief of Ambulinia, who is guilty of nothing
but innocent love.” Elfonzo called out with a loud voice, “My God,
can I stand this! arouse up, I beseech you, and put an end to
this tyranny. Come, my brave boys,” said he, “are you ready to go
forth to your duty?” They stood around him. “Who,” said he,
“will call us to arms? Where are my thunderbolts of war? Speak ye,
the first who will meet the foe! Who will go forward with me
in this ocean of grievous temptation? If there is one who desires
to go, let him come and shake hands upon the altar of devotion,
and swear that he will be a hero; yes, a Hector in a cause like this,
which calls aloud for a speedy remedy.” “Mine be the deed,”
said a young lawyer, “and mine alone; Venus alone shall quit her
station before I will forsake one jot or tittle of my promise to you;
what is death to me? what is all this warlike army, if it is not
to win a victory? I love the sleep of the lover and the mighty;
nor would I give it over till the blood of my enemies should wreak
with that of my own. But God forbid that our fame should soar
on the blood of the slumberer.” Mr. Valeer stands at his door
with the frown of a demon upon his brow, with his dangerous weapon
[3] ready to strike the first man who should enter his door.
“Who will arise and go forward through blood and carnage to the rescue
of my Ambulinia?” said Elfonzo. “All,” exclaimed the multitude;
and onward they went, with their implements of battle. Others, of a
more timid nature, stood among the distant hills to see the result of
the contest.

It will hardly be believed that after all this thunder and lightning
not a drop of rain fell; but such is the fact. Elfonzo and his
gang stood up and black-guarded Mr. Valeer with vigor all night,
getting their outlay back with interest; then in the early
morning the army and its general retired from the field,
leaving the victory with their solitary adversary and his crowbar.
This is the first time this has happened in romantic literature.
The invention is original. Everything in this book is original;
there is nothing hackneyed about it anywhere. Always, in other
romances, when you find the author leading up to a climax,
you know what is going to happen. But in this book it is different;
the thing which seems inevitable and unavoidable never happens;
it is circumvented by the art of the author every time.

Another elopement was attempted. It failed.

We have now arrived at the end. But it is not exciting.
McClintock thinks it is; but it isn’t. One day Elfonzo sent Ambulinia
another note–a note proposing elopement No. 16. This time the plan
is admirable; admirable, sagacious, ingenious, imaginative, deep–
oh, everything, and perfectly easy. One wonders why it was never
thought of before. This is the scheme. Ambulinia is to leave the
breakfast-table, ostensibly to “attend to the placing of those flowers,
which should have been done a week ago”–artificial ones, of course;
the others wouldn’t keep so long–and then, instead of fixing
the flowers, she is to walk out to the grove, and go off with Elfonzo.
The invention of this plan overstrained the author that is plain,
for he straightway shows failing powers. The details of the plan
are not many or elaborate. The author shall state them himself–
this good soul, whose intentions are always better than his English:
“You walk carelessly toward the academy grove, where you will find
me with a lightning steed, elegantly equipped to bear you off
where we shall be joined in wedlock with the first connubial rights.”
Last scene of all, which the author, now much enfeebled,
tries to smarten up and make acceptable to his spectacular heart
by introducing some new properties–silver bow, golden harp,
olive branch–things that can all come good in an elopement,
no doubt, yet are not to be compared to an umbrella for real
handiness and reliability in an excursion of that kind.

And away she ran to the sacred grove, surrounded with glittering pearls,
that indicated her coming. Elfonzo hails her with his silver bow
and his golden harp. They meet–Ambulinia’s countenance brightens–
Elfonzo leads up the winged steed.

“Mount,” said he, “ye true-hearted, ye fearless soul–the day is ours.” She sprang upon the back
of the young thunderbolt, a brilliant star sparkles upon her head,
with one hand she grasps the reins, and with the other she holds
an olive branch. “Lend thy aid, ye strong winds,” they exclaimed,
“ye moon, ye sun, and all ye fair host of heaven, witness the
enemy conquered.” “Hold,” said Elfonzo, “thy dashing steed.”
“Ride on,” said Ambulinia, “the voice of thunder is behind us.”
And onward they went, with such rapidity that they very soon arrived
at Rural Retreat, where they dismounted, and were united with all
the solemnities that usually attended such divine operations.

There is but one Homer, there is but one Shakespeare, there is but
one McClintock–and his immortal book is before you. Homer could
not have written this book, Shakespeare could not have written it,
I could not have done it myself. There is nothing just like it
in the literature of any country or of any epoch. It stands alone;
it is monumental. It adds G. Ragsdale McClintock’s to the sum of
the republic’s imperishable names.
– – –
1. The name here given is a substitute for the one actually
attached to the pamphlet.
2. Further on it will be seen that he is a country expert
on the fiddle, and has a three-township fame.
3. It is a crowbar.