Richard Lester Penelope Gilliatt - Essay

Penelope Gilliatt

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The extension [of "The Three Musketeers" into "The Four Musketeers"] exists for a reason that is perfectly in keeping with the cheerful chaos of the work as a whole: meaning to shoot one film,… Lester simply shot enough footage for two films and decided to cut the thing down the middle with a headsman's axe…. (p. 79)

As one result of the Siamese-twin operation on the film, we get a rapid blast of the-plot-so-far delivered to us like grapeshot at the beginning of Part II. No one is likely to make head or tail of it, but then no one is likely to care, either. I daresay that if Dumas were alive he would turn in his grave,… but I don't suppose Lester's audiences, rapt in the high-speed bawdry of his film, are going to give the relatively staid original author much of a thought. There isn't the time; there isn't the sobriety. A spirit of unstoppable slapstick reigns over the picture, and cohesiveness is nowhere. Things go by fits and starts: giggling fits, false starts. The pratfall is king, and his queen is a particular kind of schoolboy pleasure in anachronism in which antique speech is always taking rude turns and, you feel, having the reviving effect on bored children of gazing out of the classroom window on a hot day when a master is droning on about the unchristianity of cruel wars' being fought between fellow-Christians. This is the thesis of the picture, if rampage can be said to have a thesis. (pp. 79-80)

[The] fragmentariness of the film is sometimes destructive of humor. It gives the jokes the nature of children's repartee: they are appealingly experimental, with a brave spirit of try-any-thing-once, but they are in danger of falling flat because the hilariously reckless narrative method builds up no credit system. Richard Lester's unique fractured style, which in his "Petulia" was a moving expression of the distress of urban people whose love for one another seemed so fragile that it was likely to splinter in their hands and cause them to bleed to death, is put here to much less reflective use. But the rowdy funniness of the film works with its own pop splendor. (p. 81)

Penelope Gilliatt, "Passion," in The New Yorker (© 1975 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), Vol. LI, No. 6, March 31, 1975, pp. 76-81.∗