In the latest episode of “Surprise Picks from Discount Stores,” I’m covering the 1939 version of The Three Musketeers. I found this at a Dollar General for just $3. It was a movie I hadn’t even heard of before I spotted it. But since I still haven’t seen that many Ameche films, I figured it was an innocent purchase. After watching it though… well, at least it was only $3.
Even though it’s directed by Hollywood workhorse Allan Dwan (who also helmed the Frontier Marshall film that John Ford practically remade as My Darling Clementine and literally hundreds of other movies), this film is a comedy version of the classic Alexandre Dumas story. While the story itself is ageless, this film hasn’t dated well.
That’s because the titular musketeers are played by The Ritz Brothers, who were supposed to be Fox’s version of The Marx Brothers. While the Ritz Brothers’ stage work might be better known, their films are long forgotten and it’s easy to see why. Unlike the Marx Brothers or the Three Stooges, they were indistinguishable from each other. They were a three-headed monster that mixed crude jokes with rather predictable physical humor. In other words, if you grew up on the Marx Brothers or Stooges, you won’t be impressed by these guys.
One thing the film does have going for it is Ameche’s charisma. It does feel a bit like he was supposed to be Fox’s Errol Flynn, but Flynn doesn’t break into song while on horseback. The supporting cast is also pretty good, because they all play the story completely straight. Pauline Moore is a beautiful leading lady, while Lionel Atwill makes for a nice villain. You can also spot Joseph Schildkraut as King Louis XIII in just two scenes. Yup, even in the old days, winning the Best Supporting Actor Oscar didn’t always help your career.
The Three Musketeers was released on DVD in 2007 as part of 20th Century Fox’s Cinema Classics Collection. The only bonus material is two news reels, with one showing the Rtiz Brothers getting their hands cemented in front of the Chinese Theater. The second shows them on vacation and letting a girl almost drown. (Seriously, is that supposed to be funny?) You also get a pack of four lobby card replicas and a leaflet that’s supposed to make up for the lack of informative video extras.
It looks like this DVD is actually out of print, as it costs at least $19 on Amazon and isn’t even listed on FoxConnect.com. But honestly, it’s only worth $3. This version of the Dumas story is just a historical curiosity. It’s an entertaining way to kill 70 minutes, but there are much better 70-minute movies you can watch.