Said Tarantino, “It’s as much of an auteur piece as anyone has ever done… He tells the story that’s in the book but he has his own complete point-of-view about it, and his point-of-view is not the point-of-view of Dumas, and he’s taking the piss out of these characters. But I think it’s coming a little more from a full shotgun blast of ‘70s cynicism… Lester constantly shows that both the Musketeers and Richelieu’s guards are fools, marionettes dancing to the tune of either an evil person or a complete ineffectual buffoon.”
The movie certainly was a blast of entertainment to ‘70s audiences who appreciated the same style of droll slapstick Lester pioneered with his 1960s Beatles movies, A Hard Day’s Night (1964) and Help! (1966). But now that humor was utilized in a swashbuckler format that played its story relatively straight, complete with blistering performances from the likes of Reed and Dunaway, as well as a supremely underplayed Charlton Heston as the villainous Cardinal Richelieu. Both movies were box office hits, and the first volume saw Raquel Welch win a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical, one of the high points of her career.
However, the Lester who made The Return of the Musketeers in 1989 was in a very different place. Despite beginning the decade with some success by replacing Richard Donner on Superman II, Lester’s work on Superman III and subsequent efforts were less well received. While there was precedent to continue the Musketeers’ story beyond the original The Three Musketeers story—Dumas wrote several sequels in his “d’Artagnan Romances,” including a book titled Twenty Years Later and a multi-volume effort best known in English by the title The Man in the Iron Mask—Lester came to The Return of the Musketeers in a less confident state. It had been four years since his last movie, and there is an air of attempting to recapture lost glory to the ‘89 effort.
While most of the cast of the ‘70s movies returned for the belated sequel, which loosely adapted Dumas’ novel Twenty Years Later, the film was not an official sequel to The Four Musketeers since it was produced without the Salkinds (who refused to allow Lester to use footage from the ‘70s movies). It also featured far less of the swagger. Most tragically though, a horse riding accident during the filming of The Return of the Musketeers injured actor, and longtime Lester collaborator, Roy Kinnear so badly that he died of a heart attack the next day. Lester later admitted the disastrous incident shook him badly enough to cause his own retirement from directing after Return’s release.
But for Tarantino, it is more than an on-set nightmare that leaves the idea of watching The Return of the Musketeers with a bad taste.
“I just think that the epic that he made back in ’73 is one of the most un-compromised auteur efforts that anybody has ever done,” Tarantino said. “So why would I want to see a compromised, not done for the right reason, wannabe, left-handed-seems-like sequel to one of his greatest works done 20 years later for an audience who doesn’t care?”