The Three Musketeers (1948)
February 21, 2020 | by Shannon
Over the years, there have been countless film versions of Alexandre Dumas’ captivating novel, The Three Musketeers. While I can’t say I’ve seen every film incarnation of the Dumas book, I have seen quite a few! And of them all, this 1948 version starring Lana Turner, Gene Kelly, Vincent Price, Van Heflin, Angela Lansbury, Gig Young, and June Allyson, is the BEST.
There are so many wonderfully executed elements to 1948’s The Three Musketeers, and Lana Turner, with her entrancing portrayal of the villainous Lady de Winter, is one of the key reasons why the film is so entertaining. Not surprisingly, Lana’s life off camera just before, during, and after filming was equally enthralling!
The Three Musketeers plays on TCM this upcoming Thursday, so read my post, enjoy the luscious photos, and be sure to catch the film next week!
Dumas’ story is set in France, 1625, and D’Artagnan (Gene Kelly), a swashbuckling youth from Gascony, dreams of joining the King’s Musketeers. With a letter of recommend from his father, D’Artagnan sets off for Paris to become a musketeer. But D’Artagnan runs into trouble on his way to Paris when he smart mouths the entourage of the beautiful and villainous Lady de Winter (Lana Turner). And as we’ll soon find out, Milady is an enemy you don’t want to have!
D’Artagnan arrives in Paris, and is accepted as a cadet in the Musketeers. But before he can enjoy his new position, D’Artagnan must survive three duels his smart aleck tongue got him into! And don’t forget, it’s only his first day in Paris!
D’Artagnan’s three duels are with Athos, (Van Heflin), Porthos (Gig Young), and Aramis (Richard Coote), three best buds who also happen to be musketeers. D’Artagnan is in for it!
The Four Musketeers?
But D’Artagnan quickly befriends Athos, Porthos, and Aramis when, at the designated dueling location, the four men are surrounded by the evil Cardinal Richelieu’s (Vincent Price) men. Richelieu is King Louis’ (Frank Morgan) adviser, and seeks to grasp control of France from Louis. He wants to destroy Athos, Porthos, and Aramis because they are loyal to the king.
D’Artagnan, joins up with the other three musketeers, and together, the four of them successfully ward off Richelieu’s Guard with some amazing and highly entertaining sword fighting. (More on that later!)
Take a few minutes to watch the AMAZING Gene Kelly in the first sword fight of the film!
Our Guys Save the Queen
A little romance enters the story when D’Artagnan falls in love with Constance (June Allyson), a confidant of Queen Anne’s (Angela Lansbury). Constance returns D’Artagnan’s affections, and soon D’Artagnan and his friends find themselves enlisted by the queen to retrieve some jewels she foolishly gifted to her lover, Britain’s Duke of Buckingham (John Sutton). Richelieu is aware Queen Anne gave the jewels to Buckingham, and plans to turn King Louis against not only his wife, but an alliance with Britain by informing him of Anne’s gift to Buckingham.
So D’Artagnan and his friends’ mission to bring the jewels back to the queen before the king discovers their disappearance is pretty important!
D’Artagnan reaches England, and Buckingham gives him the jewels, but they discover that two of them are missing: Lady de Winter, working as Richelieu’s spy, stole two of the jewels after a romantic evening tryst with Buckingham! (Of course Milady is conniving, but isn’t Buckingham a creep as well for cheating on Anne after she gave him all those jewels?!!!)
Buckingham’s jeweler (of course he’s got a jeweler!) quickly makes two replicas, and D’Artagnan speedily gets the jewels back to Queen Anne just before Richelieu’s plan succeeds! The king remains oblivious to Anne’s dalliance, and France and Britain remain at peace.
The Cunning Lady de Winter
But now Richelieu is impressed with D’Artagnan’s skills, and plots with Lady de Winter to bring D’Artagnan to their side! So they kidnap Constance. Then, to discover where they have taken Constance, D’Artagnan begins spending time with Lady de Winter. But soon D’Artagnan falls for Milady’s spellbinding beauty and allure! Luckily his infatuation doesn’t last long: D’Artagnan discovers that Lady de Winter bears the brand of a common criminal, and that she is the good for nothing ex-wife of his friend Athos!
Battle begins between France and Britain, and Richelieu sends Lady de Winter to England to assassinate Buckingham. He gives Milady a carte blanche—basically a letter granting her full protection from the law regardless of what she does. When Milady reaches Buckingham, he is already aware of her plan, and she is imprisoned. Constance, now staying with Buckingham after being rescued from Richelieu, is assigned to be Milady’s jail warden.
In Buckingham’s eyes, Constance is the only one capable of resisting Lady de Winter’s feminine wiles, being a woman herself.
A New Mission
But we all know that no one is safe from the beauty and conniving of Lady de Winter! Milady successfully convinces Constance to bring her a knife under the pretense of wishing to end her own life. But instead, she murders Constance and Buckingham before dashing off to Lille to inherit Athos’ family estate, a gift from Richelieu.
D’Artagnan and Athos vow to avenge the murders of Constance and Buckingham, and catch up with Lady de Winter in Lille. Milady asks them for mercy, but, as Athos so powerfully responds,
“How many times have you asked for mercy and received it, and then repaid it in blood? How may times have you taken men’s love, their pity, their aspirations, and their lives? What has been the essence of your evil? That you understood goodness. We don’t forgive you, Charlotte. We can’t. We do not dare.”
Lady de Winter is beheaded by the executioner of Lille.
Richelieu's Revenge is Thwarted
Richelieu’s men find D’Artagnan, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis in Lille shortly after Milady’s death, and take them back to Paris for punishment.
But just as Richelieu is about manipulate the death sentence for all four of our musketeers, D’Artagnan presents the carte blanche Richelieu gave Lady de Winter.
Smart move by D’Artagnan, bringing that back to Paris!
The carte blanche basically blackmails Richelieu into sparing the lives of D’Artagnan, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis: it is an incriminating piece of evidence that demonstrates Richelieu’s manipulations in provoking conflict between France and Britain.
So D’Artagnan and his friends are set free, and happily leave the king’s presence with their futures decided: Aramis will become a monk, Porthos will marry a rich widow, Athos will live on his family’s estate in Lille, and D’Argagnan will begin a Musketeer mission to England.
George Sidney's Vision
If you’ve seen this version of The Three Musketeers, you know that Dumas’ novel is presented in a very tongue-in-cheek fashion by director George Sidney. Even in moments of suspense, such as the sword fight scene at the beginning of the film between our guys and Richelieu’s men, Sidney brought great fun and humor to the screen:
Gene Kelly as D’Artagnan literally gives Richelieu’s men a butt wag with that classic Gene Kelly ham-y smile (you know the one!), even as he athletically leaps, bounds, and expertly defeats his enemies. George Sidney said his goal was to present The Three Musketeers as
“a Western with costumes…I didn’t approach it as a classic. The dueling was pure choreography and the fights are pure Western stuff.”
I’ve never thought to compare The Three Musketeers to a Western, but after reading George Sidney’s words, I totally see the parallels, and think Sidney definitely accomplished his goal!
And speaking of those swashbuckling sword fighting sequences, Gene Kelly’s flashy moves and daring feats may be familiar to you whether you’ve seen The Three Musketeers or not: his acrobatic fighting towards the end of the film was lifted straight from The Three Musketeers and used in 1952’s Singin’ in the Rain as the dueling shots in the Lockwood and Lamont silent film The Royal Rascal.
Isn’t that a fun little piece of film history??!
Lana Turner: MGM’s Biggest Star
By the time The Three Musketeers began filming at the beginning of 1948, Lana Turner was a huge star. So big, in fact, that her mere presence in a film meant big bucks to MGM (her studio), as well as accolades for her leading men! According to Lana’s daughter Cheryl in Lana: The Memories, The Myths, The Movies [aff. link],
“Mother was lucky to have some of the best leading men in the business, and her co-stars felt even luckier to have her. When a national poll of box-office attractions gave top-ten rankings to Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, and Van Heflin, with Mother number one on the list, the men took out an ad in the trades thanking her. All three of them had been her recent co-stars.”
Incidentally, the ad read:
“Lana, Thanks a million. Love Clark, Spence, and Van.”
How cool is that?!!
An Insulting Offer
Based on all the money and prestige Lana consistently brought her co-stars and studio, you can imagine her surprise to discover, after reading The Three Musketeers script, that her assigned role of Lady de Winter was so small [aff. link]:
“I went straight to Mr. Mayer and refused the part…
So now, for the first time ever, the studio suspended me. There were meetings and negotiations; they rewrote the script to give me more to do, and finally I agreed to make the picture.”
But despite the rocky start to negotiations, The Three Musketeers ended up being a career highlight for Lana. As Lana shares in her autobiography [aff. link],
“Am I glad I did [make the film]! I enjoyed the filming enormously. George Sidney flavored the story with humor and comic swordplay. He had Gene Kelly leaping all over the place. It was my first picture in Technicolor and my first chance to play a truly villainous lady.”
Lana Holds Her Own
Lana was so thrilled at the chance to play “a truly villainous lady” that she took her part and ran with it! And it’s a good thing she did, for co-star Vincent Price, who plays the film’s other villain, Cardinal Richelieu, was known for his ability to steal scenes right out from under his co-stars!
According to Lana’s daughter Cheryl, Vincent Price became one of her mother’s most “favorite people in the world” after the experience of filming The Three Musketeers with him. Vincent’s villainous charisma in the movie inspired Lana to work even harder on her characterization of Lady de Winter:
“I had been playing Milady straight, but Vincent was stealing every scene. I studied him, and it challenged me, and I began to try things I never knew I could do. I found my own little touches—a certain sly look, the flap of a glove, a tilt of the head. I began to stylize the role….They were things I’d never been allowed to do before, things that were not in the pages of the script.”
If you ask me, Lana is more than a match for Vincent in The Three Musketeers! As beguiling a villain as Vincent Price is in the film, I am always drawn towards Lana in their scenes together. Lana’s beauty and gorgeous jewel-tone costumes of course help draw the eye to her, but it is Lana’s skill as an actress and those “little touches” she added to the role that maintain our attention.
Lana's Big Scene
Lana is particularly effective in her imprisonment scene with June Allyson’s Constance as her warden. Lana’s flashing eyes, determined look, and conniving pleas to Constance for a knife to end her life so blurred the line between real life and acting that she terrified June Allyson! As Allyson very complimentarily writes of Lana’s performance in her autobiography [aff. link],
“Lana did the scene without makeup, and she built so beautifully to the point where she is crying real tears that she had me mesmerized. If it had been for real, I would have given her the knife. That’s the kind of actress Lana was.”
Amen, June! I would have given Lana the knife as well.
A Lady of Fashion
At one point in the film, Cardinal Richelieu asked Lady de Winter,
“Can there be anybody more trustworthy, milady, than an ambitious woman of fashion…?”
And boy is Lana Turner a lady of fashion in The Three Musketeers! This was to be Lana’s first Technicolor film (unless you count her cameo in Du Barry was a Lady (1943)), and the importance of getting her look just right was not lost on any member of the Lana Turner Glam Squad.
As I mentioned above, the great Walter Plunkett, the renowned costumer responsible for the showstopping wardrobes of such classic films as Gone with the Wind (1939) and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954), lavishly costumed Lana in gorgeous jewel tones in The Three Musketeers. Delicate gems were even woven through Lana’s hair to further add pops of color, and show Lana’s beauty to full Technicolor advantage.
Lana’s make-up man, Del Armstong, also happened to be one of her dearest friends, and the two of them had a blast experimenting with makeup for the Technicolor lens. Lady de Winter was to have a beauty mark near her chin, and if you watch closely, you’ll see that beauty mark change places on Lana’s face throughout the film! Del and Lana even played around with different beauty mark shapes, from moons to hearts and stars. Lana said in her autobiography [aff. link] that she lamented for
“The poor script girl. She had to make sure the details were the same in every shot. I know we drove her crazy.”
Watch the Traveling Mole!
A Technicolor Goddess
All the experimentation led to excellent results. Lana is truly a Technicolor dream to behold in The Three Musketeers, from the moment we first see her onscreen to her death scene at the end. Critic Jeanine Basinger described Lana’s look in the film by saying
“She was unreal. A proper goddess.”
I just think that is the perfect way to describe Lana in the film: a proper goddess.
The One That Got Away: Tyrone Power
In 1947, Lana’s romance with the man she would forever view as the great love of her life ended.
That man was Tyrone Power, a screen legend in his own right. (You may know him best as the title character in The Mark of Zorro (1940)).
As you can see, Lana and Tyrone made one beautiful couple! They dated for about a year and a half, but marriage, to Lana’s great heartbreak, was not in their future. Tyrone kind of dumped her and then literally flew off to marry someone else…
Bob Topping: A Love That Grew
Enter millionaire Bob Topping, a kind man who eventually earned Lana’s love through his sweetness to Lana’s daughter Cheryl, and his consistent, patient wooing of Lana, complete with always thoughtful—and usually extravagant—gifts.
Remember in my intro post to Lana, how I mentioned that one of her husbands proposed to her by dropping a fifteen-carat marquise diamond ring into her martini glass?
That was Bob Topping!
Aside from all the jaw-dropping extravagance, Lana shared in her autobiography [aff. link] that she really grew to love Bob because
“With Bob I felt I could be myself, not just the glamorous image that my roles portrayed and the studio worked to enhance.”
Awwww how sweet is that? Makes me like this Topping fellow!
A Proper Wedding
Lana married Bob Topping on April 26, 1948, a mere three weeks after filming wrapped on The Three Musketeers. And as Lana’s previous two (or three if you count Stephen Crane twice…) marriages had been quick, unceremonious affairs, she wanted her marriage to Bob to be an all-out wedding! [aff. link]
“This time I wanted a traditional wedding gown, flowers, a reception, and a perfect honeymoon. A beautiful celebration, with our good friends present.”
And that is just what Lana got! (If you exclude the intrusion of the press!) The wedding was held at Billy Wilkerson’s huge Bel-Air home (yes, the same Billy Wilkerson who discovered Lana sipping a Coke and started her film career in 1937!) Cheryl describes the opulence of the wedding so perfectly [aff. link], I can visualize it almost as if I were there!
“The decorations at the reception were decidedly over the top. The guests were heady from the overwhelming odor of bands of flowers. Huge ice sculpture doubles for the bride and groom stood on a pedestal, locked in an embrace. I was most attracted to an immense buffet table on which was arranged a miniature European village fashioned out of food.”
OOOOHHHH my goodness can you IMAGINE?!!
The wedding was indicative of how the Turner/Topping marriage would be: full of decadence, extravagant world traveling, and high living. The marriage would ultimately end in divorce in 1952, but there’s no denying that Lana and Bob certainly had some good times.
My Hometown Connection to Lana Turner
Lana’s marriage to Bob has a hometown connection for me: in 1951, Bob, Lana, and Cheryl went on a family vacation to Santa Barbara, and stayed at the luxurious Biltmore Resort. I certainly don’t have the means to be a guest at the Biltmore, but I love walking the grounds, peaking in at the Coral Casino swimming pool, and eating at their delicious restaurant, the Bella Vista.
The family vacation the Toppings took to the Biltmore is quite well documented, and I adore finding pictures of Lana poolside at the Coral Casino, or sharing a snack with Cheryl on the hotel grounds. Seeing these photos of Lana off screen, enjoying a family vacation at a place I frequently visit is absolutely thrilling: I can literally say that I have walked in the footsteps of one of my favorite Hollywood legends!
Next Week: My Lana Turner Fashion Tribute!
That’s it for today!
Next week I’m breaking a bit from the usual schedule. Rather than review a film of Lana’s, I will focus on an aspect of her life that was important to Lana quite literally from childhood to the day she died: fashion!
I’m so excited to share the elements behind the flawless Lana Turner look. I’ll focus on Lana’s personal style, her insights into the costume department at MGM, her evolving style over the years, and my favorite Lana outfits onscreen and off.
And of course, between now and then, be sure to catch The Three Musketeers on Thursday!