The Three Musketeers. Part Ten – Walk to the Scaffold

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The war is over and Milady de Winter once more vows vengeance on her enemies, especially D’Artagnan.  She’s tracked down D’Artagnan’s mistress, Madame Bonacieux, who is sheltering in a convent and anxiously awaiting the arrival of her lover.

Although she’s been absent for a few episodes, Kathleen Breck picks up where she left off (alas) by still playing Madame Bonacieux as a wide-eyed giddy schoolgirl, which makes her fate something of a mercy killing for the audience. And given her broad performance during the serial it’s no surprise that she also milks her death scene for all its worth.  You can probably guess how Brett’s D’Artagnan takes it (not very well at all).  It’s just as well that the ever pragmatic Athos is on hand to tell him that “women weep for the dead, men avenge them.”

Even in this final episode, it’s clear that Peter Hammond was attempting to push the limitations of studio shooting as far as he could (the convent set features several high camera shots, not easy to do with the sort of cameras in use during the mid sixties).

Mary Peach’s bosoms once again heave impressively as D’Artagnan and the others track her down, list her crimes and find her guilty.  Naturally enough, the sentence is death.  Her executioner (Kevin Stoney) is already known to her and it’s poetic justice that he’s the one who’s tasked to carry out the act.  Shot on film, Milady’s final scene is extravagantly played by Peach, but unlike some of the other broad performances it works well.

Although some of the playing throughout the serial isn’t subtle and Peter Hammond’s direction is rather idiosyncratic, there’s still plenty to enjoy in The Three Musketeers.  The 25 minute format means that each episode zips along and there’s plenty of familiar faces – Kevin Stoney in this episode, Pauline Collins and Milton Johns, amongst others, earlier on – who pop up in small roles.

It’ll be interesting to shortly compare this to The Further Adventures of the Musketeers, especially how the recasting (Joss Ackland for Jeremy Brett, John Woodvine for Gary Watson) blends with the returning Brian Blessed and Jeremy Young.  The additional six episodes and shared directorial duties (Christopher Barry and Hugh David) should also give the sequel a different feel.  My review can be found here.

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The Three Musketeers. Part Nine – Assassin

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With a limited budget, the battle scenes we see throughout the serial have to be somewhat impressionistic.  This is demonstrated at the start of Assassin, as D’Artagnan and the Musketeers are seen defending a hill fort.  Although there’s a limited number of extras – representing both their allies and their enemies – sound effects, smoke and hand-held camera work all have to create the impression of many more.

The jumpy camera-cuts do effectively suggest the confusion of battle though, and it’s amusing that the Musketeers and D’Artagnan are cool enough to stop for a bite to eat and a discussion of their current troubles.  Milady de Winter’s mission to England spells trouble for all of them and although some of her plans (such as arranging the assassination of the Duke of Buckingham) don’t directly involve them, it’s still vital that they stop her.  A letter to Milady’s brother-in-law (who, we remember, had his life saved by D’Artagnan) should do the trick.

Presumably The Three Musketeers, like many series and serials of the time, had an allocated amount of film work per episode.  Since the previous episode had no filming at all, this may account for the more generous allocation in Assassin.  Some of it – for example, showing Milady’s arrival in England and her travels through the country –  aren’t strictly speaking vital to the plot, but they provide gloss and an expansive feeling (otherwise it would be too easy for the story to simply jump from one interior set to the next).

Milady de Winter’s reunited with her brother-in-law, but it’s not a happy meeting.  “Spy, bigamist, would-be-assassin, branded criminal. I’m sending you to our Southern colonies. In a few months the tropic sun would have burnt out that fatal beauty and sucked dry your evil mind.”  He leaves her a prisoner, guarded by young Felton (John Kelland) but Milady is easily able to manipulate this pious, worthy man.  Once again, it’s a pleasure to watch the delight on Mary Peach’s face as Milady manipulates yet another hapless victim.  She clearly has deep powers of persuasion, as not only is she able to obtain her release, she also convinces him to kill Buckingham.  A powerful lady indeed.

The scene where the Cardinal confronts D’Artagnan and the Musketeers is, like the earlier scene with Brett, Blessed, Young and Watson, shot on film.  This clever piece of scheduling meant that they weren’t required for the studio recording, therefore giving them a week off.

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The Three Musketeers. Part Eight – The Cardinal

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The revelation that Milady de Winter is Athos’ treacherous wife, whom he believed was put to death years ago, spins the story in a different direction.  Athos doesn’t fear for his own life – we’ve already seen that he doesn’t care if he lives or dies – but this revelation also places D’Artagnan’s life in immediate peril.

After the high drama of the opening scene, we quickly change gear as Porthos is brought face to face with the cuckolded husband of his latest mistress, Madame Coquenard. Porthos is humiliated by the elderly Monsieur Coquenard, who capers around in a bizarre fashion (complete with antlers on his head!) before collapsing.

D’Artagnan is summoned for a meeting with the Cardinal. Pasco’s Cardinal remains conversational and reasonable – as stated before, it makes a change from portraying Richelieu as a cackling villain and it only serves to make him all the more deadly. He doesn’t attempt to suborn people through fear, instead he uses the much subtler weapon of charm. And even when he gives D’Artagnan an ultimatum, Pasco still doesn’t raise his voice. “Up till now, whether you knew it or not, my hand has been behind you. The moment I withdraw my hand, why then my friend I would not give one farthing for your life. You will remember hereafter, if any misfortune befalls you.”

There’s more odd shot changes during this meeting. Every so often, the camera cuts away from the two actors to show the various suits of armour dotted around the room. If it happened once you might believe it was a miscue from the vision mixer, when it happens again it must be a deliberate choice.

Later, the Cardinal enlists the assistance of the three Musketeers to escort him to a meeting. This is a baffling move, since his meeting is with Athos’ hated wife Milady de Winter, whom he’s planning to send to England to meet with Buckingham.

The Cardinal wishes to prevent Buckingham from intervening in France’s civil war and has chosen the Englishman’s love, the Queen of France, as the lever. If Buckingham doesn’t withdraw his army, then the Queen’s honour will be tarnished beyond repair. With the three Musketeers ear-wigging in the next room, they now know all of the Cardinal’s plans ….

Once again an episode closes strongly, this time as Athos confronts his wife. Both Jeremy Young and Mary Peach are excellent in this short scene. Considering the wrongs he’s suffered, you might expect that vengeance would be uppermost on his mind, but, as highlighted before, he’s more concerned about D’Artagnan’s fate.

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The Three Musketeers. Part Seven – All Cats are Grey in the Dark

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Milady de Winter has succeeded in winning the love of D’Artagnan, but tells the Cardinal that she’ll only reciprocate in order to convert him to their side. Interestingly he reacts strongly against this, as he wants no suborned followers. If D’Artagnan is to serve him then it must be because he wishes to act for the glory of God. Appearing in just this single scene, Richard Pasco continues to impress as the wily Cardinal, offering a subtle performance that contrasts sharply with some of the more, shall we say, exuberant turns.

Speaking of exuberant, D’Artagnan turns up at the house of Milday de Winter, only to be told by her maid Kitty (Pauline Collins) that her mistress doesn’t love him at all. Considering that he spent the previous episode bemoaning the loss of his one true love, Madame Bonacieux, he clearly seemed to have quickly forgotten her once Milday fluttered her eyelashes at him (he’s clearly a fickle type). When Milady returns, Kitty hides him and this enables him to hear Milady utter the following words. “One day I will have D’Artagnan’s head on a platter.”

The Musketeers are tasked to escort the King in his upcoming campaign against the Huguenots. Porthos would sooner be fighting the English and given the current political climate it looks as if that will happen soon.

Aramis’ desire to leave the secular world has been a running thread throughout the serial and now it seems to be on the verge of happening. Porthos isn’t best pleased about this (and Brian Blessed shows this displeasure in his most typical way – he raises his voice). The cultured, religious Aramis contrasts well with the sensual, rumbustious Porthos and the pessimistic, nihilistic Athos – over the course of the seven episodes to date their various differing character traits have been skilfully drawn out.

The news that Aramis’ love still loves him changes everything though. All thoughts of taking holy orders are instantly forgotten, demonstrating that, just like D’Artagnan, he’s ruled by the women in his life.

More directorial flourishes are in evidence after Milday receives a letter which pleases her, but upsets Kitty. The picture rapidly cuts between Milday’s ecstatic face and Kitty’s distressed one. Elsewhere, a lack of location filming means that the friendly duel between Porthos and Aramis has to take place on a rather unconvincing studio set dressed as a forest clearing. Animal sound effects and a gentle breeze attempt to sell the illusion, but it’s no substitute for the real thing.

D’Artagnan’s climatic confrontation with Milady reveals that she bears the mark of the fleur-de-lys. Which means there’s a great deal of wailing and the return of the projected fleur-de-lys on the wall. It’s a strong way to conclude an episode that’s mostly chugged along in second gear (which is understandable in a ten-part serial – there’s bound to be a few episodes where the plot doesn’t advance a great deal).

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The Three Musketeers. Part Six – Branded

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The King is upset that the Queen isn’t wearing her diamond studs and the Cardinal sees the chance to discredit her by giving the King the two studs he obtained from Milady de Winter.   But the Cardinal is foiled when she reappears shortly afterwards wearing it – and since Buckingham was able to get it repaired in England, the Cardinal’s two diamond studs are superfluous.

It’s intriguing that Milady is the one who’s out for vengence.  She wants to see D’Artagnan stretched on the rack, whilst the Cardinal would prefer to win him over to his side.  He professes admiration for D’Artagnan’s bravery, although this doesn’t prevent him from deciding to strike at him through his mistress, Madame Bonacieux.  The Musketeers warned him this might  happen, so it’s maybe another sign of D’Artagnan’s inexperience that he gave no thought to protecting her.

Kathleen Breck continues to demonstrate that she could scream for England as she’s carried off by Rochefort’s men.  D’Artagnan is characteristically hysterical at the news, allowing Brett to go soaring over the top once again.

He’s neatly contrasted by Young’s pragmatic Athos, who tells him that he’s only lost his mistress, not his soul.  When D’Artagnan snaps back that Athos seems to love nobody, he agrees and has little sympathy for his friend’s claim that he shares a deep love with Madame Bonacieux.  “You child! Every man believes his mistress loves him. He’s deceived.” Athos’ deep cynicism constrasts well with D’Artagnan’s boundless romantic yearnings.  Athos then tells D’Artagnan a tale about a friend of his (although it’s obviously about him).

It’s another chance for Peter Hammond to craft some striking images.  Athos’ friend married a beautiful woman, but was shocked to discover some time in to their marriage that she bore the sign of the fleur-de-lys seared into the flesh of her shoulder – the brand of a criminal.  As Athos reaches this point in his tale, a giant fleur-de-lys is projected on the wall and Athos goes over and stands in front of it.  He then tells D’Artagnan that he put the woman to death, which explains why he has a rather jaundiced view of the female of the species.  It’s a wonderfully delivered monologue by Jeremy Young.  “Killing her has cured me of women. Beautiful, fascinating, poetic women. May god grant it does as much to you.”

Milady de Winter persuades her brother-in-law to kill D’Artagnan and then confides to her maid Kitty (Pauline Collins) that she’s a winner either way. If D’Artagnan dies, all well and good, if not then she inherits the family fortune. Mary Peach hasn’t had a great deal to do up to this point, but she seems to enjoy being able to let rip in this scene.

As D’Artagnan does battle with Lord de Winter (Patrick Holt), a voice-over (an unusual storytelling device for television, although one very common in radio) pops up to move the action along to the house of Porthos’ latest mistress, Madame Coquenard (Delia Corrie). He’s quite shameless in telling her that he needs money for a new horse, clothes for his servant, etc. And since her elderly husband is a wealthy man it seems logical he should provide the cash. Her cuckolded husband, listening outside the door, doesn’t seem too keen though!

D’Artagnan spares Lord de Winter’s life. Since de Winter would have told him that the duel was because of (imaginary) slghts made by D’Artagnan against his sister-in-law’s honour, it’s a little odd that D’Artagnan doesn’t treat Milady with more caution when they meet for the first time.

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The Three Musketeers. Part Five – Scandal

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Peter Hammond’s by now familiar directorial tic is firmly in evidence at the start of this episode, as D’Artagnan and the Musketeers pull up at a country inn.  Rochefort has arrived ahead of them and he (as well as the audience) observe their arrival through a slightly obscured window.

That Rochefort is something of an underhand cad is clearly demonstrated when he shoots one of the Musketeers’ servants.  His men, also carrying guns, then approach our heroes which, since they’re only armed with swords, hardly seems like a fair fight.

But it’ll come as no surprise that even with such uncompromising odds D’Artagnan and the Musketeers still manage to gain the upper hand.  Plenty of swashes are buckled, but it’s still a struggle for the greatly outnumbered Musketeers to hold their attackers off – and in order to buy D’Artagnan some time to complete his mission they urge him to make his escape whilst they stay behind, still fighting furiously.

When D’Artagnan reaches the coast he indulges in more swordplay.  For anyone who’s been upset of the lack of fighting in the last few episodes, the first ten minutes of this one (all shot on film) more than make up for it.

D’Artagnan meets with Buckingham. The Duke gladly gives back the Queens gift in another scene that’s uniquely shot. Buckingham has created a shrine to the Queen, complete with flickering candles, and Hammond chose to overlay even more candles over the picture. This gives the scene a rather strange look, but it sort of works.

It’s ironic that although the Queen is the woman he professes to love, his earlier dalliance with Milady de Winter obviously indicates that he’s not the faithful type! And just as we can lay blame on the Queen for giving him the gift in the first place, if he hadn’t entertained Milady in his bedchamber then she wouldn’t have been able to snip off a few of the diamond studs.

Poor Buckingham goes to pieces when he learns of Milady’s treachery. Simon Oates is once again highly entertaining as Buckingham, now rather highly strung as he and D’Artagnan try to prevent Milady from reaching the Cardinal as well as attempting to repair the Queen’s damaged gift.

Given some of the strange camera shots we’ve seen so far, I’m not sure whether the one some fifteen minutes in was an accident or another piece of Hammond planning. Buckingham and D’Artagnan exit from different sides of the frame, but the camera doesn’t follow them. Instead, for a few seconds we focus on an empty room whilst Buckingham’s voice continues off-camera. An intentional shot or a miscue? Hmmm.

It’s interesting that the three Musketeers don’t make any attempt to follow D’Artagnan after they finally manage to battle off Rochefort’s men. Instead they spend a convivial evening at the inn, eating and drinking – although there’s a twist. Porthos is perturbed to find that Athos wagered his horse in a bet with the landlord (and lost). Aramis is equally upset to discover his silver crucifix has gone the same way. Although this is nothing compared to the revelation that the meat they enjoyed earlier was Porthos’ horse! Lovely comic playing by all three actors, with a final pay off that Athos was lying to them all along and both Porthos’ horse and Aramis’ crucifix are unharmed.

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The Three Musketeers. Part Four – Audacity

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Peter Hammond’s showy camera-work continues in the first scene, as the Cardinal subtly manipulates the King (John Carlin). Several of the shots take place through a window, thus giving the audience a restricted view of the meeting (and also ensuring that we’re placed in the role of observers, eavesdropping on their conversation). The Cardinal professes that the Queen is wholly innocent of any inappropriate liaison with Buckingham, but then smoothly changes tack and suggests the King host a Ball in her honour. And wouldn’t it be an ideal time for her to wear the diamond studs he recently gave to her …..

Carole Potter’s Queen is distraught (again). Lying on her bed, crying woe is me, she’s fretting about how to get the diamond studs back from Buckingham in order to prevent a hideous scandal. Although as I’ve previously said, it was silly of her to give them away in the first place. Never mind, if she hadn’t then there wouldn’t have been much of a story.

Madame Bonacieux is convinced that she can count on her husband to travel to England and save the day, but he’s now the Cardinal’s man. Not only because he’s been paid off, but also for more pressing reasons. “Intrigue frightens me. I’ve seen the Bastille. I’ve seen the torture room. Wedges of wood to drive between your knees to crush your joints.” Peter Hammond’s love of mirror shots continues, as do scenes shot with restricted views. Here it’s because D’Artagnan is upstairs, viewing the confrontation between husband and wife through a crack in the floorboards. As with the opening scene of the episode, it allows the audience a chance to eavesdrop on a private conversation.

Paul Whitsun-Jones departs the serial in this episode. Later to star as the rather ineffectual baddy in the Doctor Who story The Mutants, it therefore came as something of a surprise that he was amongst the subtler actors in these early episodes. Kathleen Breck continues to be a stranger to subtlety, as Madame Bonacieux responds to her husbands departure by flinging herself across a table in a highly theatrical manner. “Dear god, what am I to do?” If I was uncharitable, I’d say a second take, but I’m not so I won’t.

It’s clear that her prayers will be answered, as D’Artagnan – due to his overpowering love for her – will do anything that she asks. “Since I love you. Since I would go through fire for you. Since I am brave, loyal to the throne, I’m your man.” Brett continues to push his intensity level up to eleven, especially when Madame Bonacieux appears to reciprocate his love. The moment when they kiss is an interesting one – as D’Artagnan is rather clumsy, to say the least. A bungled take or was this Brett’s choice, attempting to show how young and inexperienced (in so many ways) D’Artagnan is?

The Musketeers are sidelined in this episode until the last five minutes. It’s fair to say that at first they’re not best pleased at having to go to London, but duty calls. Despite the fact that D’Artagnan isn’t even a Musketeer, they seem to have no problem in accepting that not only is he is charge but that he won’t divulge the reason for their mission. For Athos, if it means a chance to fight and die then he’s content, whilst Porthos and Aramis also relish the chance for a scrap, even if they lack Athos’ apparent death wish.

With four of them, the odds are that at least one will reach London to deliver the vital message. And one is all they need. “All for one and one for all.”

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