The Three Musketeers (1921) - Fred Niblo
As part of our program to screen at least one silent film every to months at our cinema, we showed a copy of Douglas Fairbanks' The Three Musketeers (1921) this month (the one before that had been my favourite Lubitsch, Die Bergkatze from 1920). Like The Mark of Zorro one year earlier this one was also directed by Fred Niblo, who I finally seem to find some interest in.
After reading wpqx's comments on the subsequent Fairbanks production Robin Hood (1922), which I haven't yet seen myself, I have to believe The Three Musketeers was made and conceived in the same way. Huge and eloborate sets which must have cost a fortune, combined with some action scenes in a running time of 119 minutes that must have seemed epic for a supposed action film at those times. Unfortunately the 16mm print we received must have been one of the worst prints (if not THE worst) I had ever set my eyes on. The set-design was almost impossible to glimpse in its beauty, and the characters were often mere shadows who couldn't be recognized by there faces in certain scenes, but only out of the context of the film. The print was also missing some footage (unfortunately most of it action-related), but it wasn't only because of that one absolutely had to be familiar with the storyline of Dumas' novel to follow the plot. I find "The Three Musketeers" to be among the very best of literature ever produced, and so far all attempts I've seen who tried to adapt it for the screen (and there were quite many) have failed miserably in this aspect. It's not so much that the novel doesn't lend itself to adaptation. the problem is that you cannot compress a work of hundreds of pages into a movie of two or three hours. One would probably need at least ten of those to do the complexity of the material justice. Nevertheless I've found most versions of the novel so far very entertaining, and I always try to see an additional one if I find an opportunity to do so. Fairbanks' version was very entertaining (if I am allowed to draw such a conclusion after seeing such a horrible print), and judging by the reactions of the rather huge audience most of them would have agreed with me. Fairbanks portraits the flamboyant D'Artagnan with much gusto, and I absolutely have to see the film again to properly enjoy the incredible sets and the seemingly impressive cinematography. As far as entertainment value goes, this is one of Fairbanks' best entries. The direction by Fred Niblo seemed (as usual) a bit lacking though, having the most problems with a proper pace for the storyline and a constant rhythm which is never achieved. Some moments are incredibly (and unncecessarily) dragged out, while much of the fun is presented in too short a time-span.