Movie Report: The Three Musketeers (1933)

Book coverWell, after watching the first four episodes of this twelve-episode serial on a budget DVD from way back, I ordered the whole set on a DVD from Amazon.

I’m pleased to say that its transfer was also a little cleaner than the cheap DVD, which is nice.

So the three “musketeers” of the title are three members of the French foreign legion: Reynard, Clancy, and Schmidt. Their unit comes under fire from Arab raiders, and a man in a biplane saves them. He is Tom Wayne played by John Wayne. They’re the only survivors from their unit, and they call themselves the modern Three Musketeers and Wayne their D’Artagnon. So it’s not based on the Dumas book at all.

Wayne is an American Army(?) aviator visiting his sweetheart at her brother’s house. As Wayne arrives, the brother is writing a letter exposing a gun-running ring that he was part of, but an Arab rebel leader nicknamed El Shaitan (the Devil)–the recipient of the guns–shows up to kill the brother. A member of his band cuts the letter that the brother had been writing to implicate Wayne.

So the storyline, then, is Wayne has to prove his innocence and expose El Shaitan. He has the help of the Three Musketeers who believe in him. Apparently this conspiracy to supply arms to the Arab rebels who want to fight the French might include American intelligence agents, officers in the French military, or perhaps the leader of a purportedly friendly Arab tribe. What! Intrigue in a serial from ninety years ago? Get out of town! Wasn’t that sort of thing invented in 2001 or 2002 or maybe all the way back in 1990-something? One might think so if one were young and undereducated.

At any rate, the running time was a little under six hours–we essentially binge-watched it over four nights. The episodes on this DVD seemed shorter than the others, but that might be because some of the repeated/replayed material in each episode. For example, they generally replayed the last scene and cliffhanger from the previous episode to catch people up who might not have seen the previous episode. Then it twists to show how Wayne got out of the scrape, and then we get some new action for ten or twenty minutes. In the later episodes, we get other flashbacks, too, as the filmmakers stretch their material into the full twelve episodes.

So, was it worth watching? You know, the boys thought it was entertaining enough–or better than reading books which would have been their alternative when video game time was over. Or perhaps they really do enjoy watching old films with their father. But if you want to kind of think of yourself as kind of knowledgeable about films, serials, and whatnot, it might be worth watching. I remember television stations in Milwaukee in the 1970s played old serials like Buck Rogers on, what, Sunday mornings? I remember my father watching them and being engaged with them. So perhaps it’s also if you want to connect with your children over something you connected, slightly, or at least remember from your brief time on earth with your father (spoiler alert: when I say “you” here, I mean “I”). Or, I suppose, if you want to have something to post about, a couple times if you’re me and for weeks on end if you’re Lileks.

What was I saying? Oh, yes, and if you want to be a John Wayne purist. It’s slower than modern pacing, really, and although intriguey, less intriguey than, say, The Blacklist, the last season of which I haven’t even watched because, come on, the intrigue has folded back in on itself in a Möbius fashion that hurts my eyes.

Alrighty, then. I think I have answered all of your questions. Thanks for coming. Sorry, no further pictures of Ruth Hall today, although in the last episode or two, a few female extras appeared briefly, so she was not the only woman in the desert with the whole movie crew.

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