The new version of 'The Three Musketeers' may be the first screen iteration of the 17th Century epic that includes flamethrowers, a fleet of airships, and a Milady de Winter who bungee jumps and has ninja-like weapons skills. It's also in 3D. Other than that, however, Paul W.S. Anderson's take on the Alexandre Dumas classic is treading on awfully familiar ground. Since 1903, the story has been filmed dozens of times, and not just in France or Hollywood, but also in Mexico, Italy, the Soviet Union, Argentina, Egypt and Iran. There's even at least one porno version. So the 2011 film will have to fill some pretty big boots if it wants to join the list below, which traces 'The Three Musketeers' through some of its most memorable screen incarnations.
• 1921: This silent version was far from the earliest (there are at least four previous efforts), but it was the first to feature a star of the caliber of Douglas Fairbanks, the premier swashbuckler of the silent era. His D'Artagnan isn't as memorable as his Zorro or Thief of Baghdad, but he's still a lot of fun.
• 1933: John Wayne's version is called 'The Three Musketeers,' but it's a modernization that's pretty much unrecognizable as an update of the Dumas tale. The heroes are aviators fighting swarthy villains in an Arabian desert. Wayne looks like he'd rather be on a horse.
• 1935: Walter Abel plays D'Artagnan in a version generally considered lackluster, though it's clear that the 1948 version took a lot of inspiration from the film. It also took Ian Keith, who plays Richelieu henchman Rochefort in both movies.
• 1939: For some reason, this musical comedy version is the most fondly remembered 'Three Musketeers' of Hollywood's golden era. Don Ameche plays it straight as D'Artagnan, but the three veteran musketeers are played by the Ritz Brothers. Future 'Titanic' star Gloria Stuart is on hand as Queen Anne (curiously, her lines are dubbed). Allan Dwan, director of several Fairbanks adventures, oversees a handsome, lavish production.
• 1948: Gene Kelly has all the athleticism required of a cocky, young D'Artagnan, and Vincent Price makes for a deliciously evil Richelieu. (And yep, that's Angela Lansbury as Queen Anne.) Kelly's swordfighting footage gets reused three years later in the opening sequence of 'Singin' in the Rain.'
• 1952: A sequel called 'At Sword's Point' features the grown children of the musketeers. Cornel Wilde is D'Artagnan's son, future 'Gilligan's Island' skipper Alan Hale Jr. is the son of Porthos (of course). In a modern touch, Athos's daughter is fiery Maureen O'Hara, who proves just as skilled with a sword as the guys.
• 1973: This version is generally considered the best, thanks largely to Richard Lester's typically antic direction, a clever screenplay by George MacDonald Fraser (author of the Flashman novels), and an outstanding cast. Michael York is a bumbling young D'Artagnan, the irrepressible Oliver Reed is Athos, a dashing Richard Chamberlain is Aramis, and a wry Frank Finlay is Porthos. Raquel Welch is surprisingly funny in the ingenue role as Constance. And for hissable villains, you can't do better than Faye Dunaway as Milady de Winter, Christopher Lee as Rochefort, and Charlton Heston as Richelieu. Raucous and lively, it spawned two sequels, reuniting Lester, Fraser, and most of the same cast: 1974's 'The Four Musketeers' and 1989's 'The Return of the Musketeers.'
• 1993: Made by Disney, this not-bad version features an unlikely cast of musketeers: Chris O'Donnell (D'Artagnan), Charlie Sheen (Aramis), Kiefer Sutherland (Athos) and Oliver Platt (Porthos). Among the villains, Rebecca De Mornay is the standout; Tim Curry should be having a lot more fun as Richelieu. The swordfighting is good, the humor overly broad, the dialogue anachronistically contemporary. Still, it's fun to watch Platt amusing himself or Sutherland brooding like a rapier-wielding Jack Bauer.
• 2001: It's called 'The Musketeer' and centers primarily on D'Artagnan, though all four show up at least briefly, as played by relative no-name actors. (Star Justin Chambers eventually made good on TV's 'Grey's Anatomy.') As the queen, the iconic Catherine Deneuve lends the production more class, dignity, and French-ness than it warrants. Peter Hyams' movie exists mostly as an excuse for stunts and action set pieces; it's notable as the first Musketeers movie to use 'Matrix'-style wire fu. In that, it probably presages the 2011 Paul W.S. Anderson version.
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