You know the story, but the casting will surprise you. Gene Kelly plays D’Artagnan, a rural Frenchman who travels to Paris hoping to join the musketeers. Upon arriving, he offends three of said musketeers, prompting back-to-back duels. Soldiers loyal to the nefarious Cardinal Richelieu, played by Vincent Price, interrupt said duels. D’Artagnan fights alongside the musketeers, winning their respect. The four then set out to foil a Richelieu plot to use Lady de Winter, played by top-billed Lana Turner, to incite a war with Britain.
Though Kelly shines in the choreographed sword fights, of the two-hour-plus running time these scenes amount to about fifteen minutes. The rest of the time he struggles. Putting aside the absurdity of his playing a Frenchman, the script tries to play to his strengths. It shoehorns in several scenes of physical comedy, including one that sees him braying like a Tex Avery cartoon upon espying June Allyson. These scenes fall flat. Kelly has the physical talent, but lacks the timing and charm to make them feel organic. Even worse, these silly bits undermine the film’s attempt at genuine pathos later.
And that’s the other big problem. This feels like two films grafted together, one a comedy-adventure full of pratfalls and comedic duels, and another, darker melodrama with political intrigue and brutal murders. These darker bits seem to exist only to give top-billed Lana Turner something to do capped with a showy monologue. One wonders if the script began more even-toned, and if either Kelly or Turner’s casting triggered rewrites.
Indeed, the lone constant throughout seems to be Kelly’s jumping. He bounds over railings, stairs, streams, horses; you name it. He loves to jump like Tom Cruise loves to run.