The Three Musketeers (1973 live-action film)

The Three Musketeers (also known as The Three Musketeers: The Queen's Diamonds) is a 1973 film based on The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas. It was directed by Richard Lester and written by George MacDonald Fraser. It was originally proposed in the 1960s as a vehicle for The Beatles, whom Lester had directed in two other films.

The Three Musketeers
1974 poster
Directed byRichard Lester[1]
Produced byAlexander Salkind
Ilya Salkind[2]
Pierre Spengler
Written byGeorge MacDonald Fraser
Based onThe Three Musketeers
by Alexandre Dumas père
Music byMichel Legrand
CinematographyDavid Watkin
Edited byJohn Victor Smith
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • 11 December 1973 (1973-12-11) (France)
  • 29 March 1974 (1974-03-29) (US/UK)
Running time
105 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
United States
Budget$4.5 million[3]
Box office$10.1 million (rentals)[4]

The film adheres closely to the novel, and also injects a fair amount of humor. It was shot by David Watkin, with an eye for period detail. The fight scenes were choreographed by master swordsman William Hobbs.


Having learned swordsmanship from his father, the young country bumpkin d'Artagnan arrives in Paris with dreams of becoming a king's musketeer. Unaccustomed to the city life, he makes a number of clumsy faux pas. First he finds himself insulted, knocked out and robbed by the Comte de Rochefort, an agent of Cardinal Richelieu, and once in Paris comes into conflict with three musketeers, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, each of whom challenges him to a duel for some accidental insult or embarrassment. As the first of these duels is about to begin, Jussac arrives with five additional swordsmen of Cardinal Richelieu's guards. D'Artagnan sides with the musketeers in the ensuing street fight and becomes their ally in opposition to the Cardinal, who wishes to increase his already considerable power over the king, Louis XIII. D'Artagnan also begins an affair with his landlord's wife, Constance Bonacieux, who is dressmaker to the Queen, Anne of Austria.

Meanwhile, the Duke of Buckingham, former lover of the Queen, turns up and asks for something in remembrance of her; she gives him a necklace with twelve settings of diamonds, a gift from her husband. From the Queen's treacherous lady-in-waiting, the Cardinal learns of the rendezvous and suggests to the none-too-bright King to throw a ball in his wife's honor, and request she wear the diamonds he gave her. The Cardinal also sends his agent Milady de Winter to England, who seduces the Duke and steals two of the necklace's diamonds.

Meanwhile, the Queen has confided her troubles in Constance, who asks d'Artagnan to ride to England and get back the diamonds. D'Artagnan and the three musketeers set out, but on the way the Cardinal's men attack them. Only d'Artagnan and his servant make it through to Buckingham, where they discover the loss of two of the diamond settings. The Duke replaces the two settings, and d'Artagnan races back to Paris. Porthos, Athos, and Aramis, wounded but not dead as d'Artagnan had feared, aid the delivery of the complete necklace to the Queen, saving the royal couple from the embarrassment which the Cardinal had plotted.

Captain Tréville eventually inducts d'Artagnan into the Musketeers of the King's Guard.




According to George MacDonald Fraser, Richard Lester became involved with the project when the producers briefly considered casting The Beatles as the Musketeers, as Lester had directed two films with the group. The Beatles idea fell by the wayside but Lester stayed.[5] It would be Lester's first film in five years, although he had been busy directing commercials and had sought finance for other projects in that time, including an adaptation of the novel Flashman by George MacDonald Fraser..[3]

Lester says he had "never heard of" the Salkinds. They asked him if he was interested in doing The Three Musketeers and asked if he had read it. Lester said "Yes, I have read it, everybody's read it". He read "the first 200 pages, got excited and said yes".[3]

Lester said the producers "wanted it to be a sexy film and they wanted it to be with big sexy stars" such as Leonard Whiting and Ursula Andress. He said "I just didn't say no to anything in the early stages" and that the "die was cast" when he was allowed to hire George MacDonald Fraser to write the script.[6]

Fraser had never written a script before but thought that Flashman had the tone he was going for. In late 1972 Lester offered Fraser the job.[7] According to Fraser, Lester originally said he wanted to make a four-hour film and cast Richard Chamberlain as Aramis. It was later decided to turn the script into two films.[5] Fraser says he wrote them as two films, but no one told the actors.[8]

Lester says Fraser wrote the scripts in five weeks and they were "perfect... just wonderful."[7] "It's the journalism training," said Fraser.[8]


Lester says the Salkinds left him alone creatively for most of the film apart from insisting that Raquel Welch and Simon Ward be cast.[9] "Raquel is very big in all the small countries," said Ilya Salkind.[3]

"I did the picture because of Dick Lester," said Charlton Heston.[3]

In August 1973 Welch withdrew from the film due to creative and artistic differences. She announced she would instead make a film ''Decline and Fall of a Very Nice Lady.[10] However Welch wound up rejoining the film.


The film was originally meant to be shot in Hungary. However after visiting the country Lester felt this would not be feasible, in part because of restrictions of the government on filming.[11]

The movie ended up being shot in Spain[12] over seventeen weeks. Locations included Sergovia, where Lester had made A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

Lester says the producers assembled twenty minutes of footage and sold the film to 20th Century Fox.[13]

Lester says Michael Legrand "had about a week and a half" to write the music.[14]


Critical response

On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 83% based on reviews from 12 critics.[15]

Variety gave the film a positive review, and wrote: "The Three Musketeers take very well to Richard Lester’s provocative version that does not send it up but does add comedy to this adventure tale". They praised the various performances, but noted that although Dunaway is underused she gets to make up for it in the sequel.[16] Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote: "Mr. Lester seems almost exclusively concerned with action, preferably comic, and one gets the impression after a while that he and his fencing masters labored too long in choreographing the elaborate duels. They're interesting to watch, though they are without a great deal of spontaneity."[17]

Awards and nominations

Raquel Welch won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy for her performance. The film was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy.

George MacDonald Fraser won the Writers' Guild of Great Britain Award for Best British Comedy Screenplay.

Salkind Clause

The film was originally intended to be an epic which ran for three hours including an intermission, but during production, it was determined the film could not make its announced release date in that form, so a decision was made to split the long epic into two shorter features, the second part becoming 1974's The Four Musketeers.

According to Ben Mankiewicz on a May 14, 2016 showing of the film on TCM, during an advance screening, attended by the cast, after the movie ended a trailer for The Four Musketeers was shown, which none of the cast had heard anything about until then.

This incensed the actors and crew, since they were being paid for one film, and their original contracts made no mention of a second feature, resulting in lawsuits being filed to receive compensation for salaries associated with the sequel.

This led to the Screen Actor's Guild requiring all future actors' contracts to include what has become known as the "Salkind clause" (named after producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind), which stipulates how many films are being made.[18][19]


The Four Musketeers was released the following year, with footage originally intended to combine with this film's to be part of a much longer film.

In 1989, much of the cast and crew of the original returned to film The Return of the Musketeers, loosely based on Dumas' 1845 novel Twenty Years After.


  1. Shivas, Mark (5 August 1973). "Lester's Back and the 'Musketeers' Have Got Him". The New York Times. Retrieved 10 October 2010.
  2. Sloman, Tony (25 March 1997). "Obituary: Alexander Salkind". Independent. London. Retrieved 10 October 2010.
  3. Lester's Back and the 'Musketeers' Have Got Him By MARK SHIVAS. New York Times 5 Aug 1973: 105
  4. Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p232.
  5. George MacDonald Fraser, The Light's On at Signpost, HarperCollins 2002 p1-16
  6. Soderbergh p109
  7. Soderbergh p 109
  8. At the Movies: Costs of making 'Superman' go up, up and away. Buckley, Tom. New York Times 26 May 1978: C6.
  9. Soderberg p 110
  10. MOVIE CALL SHEET: Bart Signs Paramout Pact Murphy, Mary. Los Angeles Times 8 Aug 1973: d13.
  11. Soderbergh p110
  12. "Filming Locations for The Three Musketeers (1973), in Spain". The Worldwide Guide to Movie Locations.
  13. Sodeberg p 110
  14. Soderbergh p 113
  15. "The Three Musketeers (1973)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 26 November 2019.
  16. "The Three Musketeers - The Queen's Diamonds". Variety. 31 December 1972. Retrieved 11 October 2010.
  17. Canby, Vincent (4 April 1974). "Spirites 'Three Musketeers' (No. 6)". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 November 2019.
  18. Russo, Tom (9 April 2004). "Franchise This". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 10 October 2010.
  19. Salmans, Sandra (17 July 1983). "FILM VIEW; THE SALKIND HEROES WEAR RED AND FLY HIGH". The New York Times. Retrieved 10 October 2010.


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