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Monday, December 8, 2014

Zorro and the Three Musketeers (1963) review


Gordon Scott (Zorro/Count of Seville/Military Inspector/Count of Teruel), Jose Greci (Donna Isabella), Giacomo Rossi-Stuart (Aramis), Livio Lorenzon (Porthos), Franco Fantasia (Count of Seville), Nazzareno "Tony" Zamperla (D'Artagnan), Nerio Bernardi (Cardinal Richilieu), Ignazio Leone (Sancho), Mario Pisu (Duke of Asturia), Gianni Rizzo (King Philip), Maria Grazia Spina (Manuela), Roberto Risso (Athos), Benito Stefanelli (Richelieu soldier)

Directed by Luigi Capuano

The Short Version: It's five times the buckle swashing in adventure specialist Capuano's marriage of Johnston McCulley's Spanish swordsman and Alexandre Dumas's French musketeers into an historical mishmash of epically light-hearted proportions. It's a comedy fantasy adventure all the way, but an impoverished budget keeps this from being anything more than a fractured fairy tale. Gordon Scott keeps the wind in its sails as a spirited Zorro who spends more time disguising himself as other people than he does donning the iconic black outfit. One of Gordon Scott's lesser, if fitfully fun Saturday matinee style features.

In the mid 1600s, Cardinal Richelieu of France declared war with Spain. One of these skirmishes between the two countries was for ownership of a strategic fortress in the Pyrenees at Vandremond. King Philip's cousin, Donna Isabella is kidnapped and held within the castle walls of St. Denis in France. The Count of Seville, who aspires for the hand of Isabel, is secretly aligned with the Cardinal; and while pretending to be in Spain's best interest, his real intentions are to hand over battle plans to the enemy in exchange for Isabella and the riches that come with marriage. Zorro, a mysterious Spanish swordsman intercepts and defeats the Count and his men, burns the plans, and then heads into French territory under the guise of the Count of Seville. Upon his arrival, he is to meet with the Three Musketeers (four including D'Artagnan) as his escort for the alleged mercy mission. At first meeting as friends, the Musketeers later learn the Count is an imposter. Unable to trust a spy, the plan to free Isabella fails; yet during the fray, the Musketeers realize Zorro's honorable motives and unite together against Cardinal Richelieu and the traitorous Count of Seville. 

For this story's purposes, a narrator tells us "this small war isn't mentioned in any of the history books"; and that it shouldn't considering the (fictional) protagonists lived in eras three centuries apart! Much like Umberto Lenzi's action-packed ZORRO CONTRO MACISTE (1963), Luigi Capuano and his team unite two unlikely sources -- Johnston McCulley's Zorro, and the valiant Musketeers of Alexandre Dumas. The result is average at best, but still entertaining. Around the time the peplum and fusto films were losing their herculean grip on the box office, and the Euroaters were about to ride into town, there was a mass wave of Errol Flynn style tales of derring-do and pirate adventures. With the market quickly saturated, a handful of crossovers appeared around the same time. Capuano was arguably the greatest helmsman of these Sword and Seafaring spectacles. Some of his examples include the Zorro flick THE MASKED CONQUEROR (1962); the lady pirate pulp of TIGER OF THE SEVEN SEAS; (1962), the classy swashbuckler THE LION OF ST. MARK (1963); a couple SANDOKAN films with Ray Danton from 1964; and the entertaining crossover, HERCULES AND THE BLACK PIRATE (1964), that, in its original version, is a Samson film.

In Capuano's Zorro and Musketeer meeting, the budget appears to be fairly low by Italian standards with our story unfolding on a noticeably limited number of sets; some of which are incredibly flimsy and look like they're made of cardboard (on one occasion, the walls of a tavern bend!). Most of the film is shot on these studio bound environs -- one in particular that stands in for the castle of St. Denis gets a lot of mileage. There are some nice location shots, but these are few and far between. There are even more minuses on Capuano's report card, but in spite of this, his film remains amusing as mediocre as it is. 

Fans of the Spanish masked man may be disappointed to learn that Gordon Scott only dons the famous Zorro tresses twice throughout the proceedings; and the second time is but for a mere few seconds. The rest of the time he disguises himself in other ways by feigning various identities so as to rescue the fair Isabella; which brings us to the type of antics this picture excels at. First and foremost, ZORRO AND THE THREE MUSKETEERS is a comedy, and a fairly humorous one. Some of the jokes probably come off better to Italian viewers, but for the most part, the mirthful dialog and occasional silliness keep this one from flatlining. Capuano has eschewed the more adult tone of his superior THE LION OF ST. MARK (another Zorroesque type sword slinger) for a kid-friendly one.

The high volume of comedy accounted for here would eventually infiltrate the peplum, and ultimately become the signaling death-knell for any welcome worn genre. Aiding and abetting this funny business are several sidekick comedy relief characters; but no midgets, unfortunately. With such a heavy dose of invasive comedy, everyone appears to be having a swell time parrying, dodging, and thrusting their rapiers at assorted members of Richelieu's ineffective militia.

Bearing a typical, but suitably pulpy storyline, the action sequences propelling it are adequate; and made all the merrier by a few impressive instances of dangerous stunt work. Prolific actor and stuntman, Franco Fantasia not only plays the villain, but also acted as the weapons master. Likely he choreographed the action sequences as well. As per the bulk of these movies, it's the action that tells the story, and not the characters. Introductions are handled in bar fights, or exchanges of sword skills akin to a thousand kung fu films. This too works against the film. So much is crammed into the script, no one gets enough time to stand out. Zorro and the Musketeers are but a novelty to make movie theater cash registers sing; and apparently it did as ZORRO AND THE THREE MUSKETEERS performed better than some of the more prestigious features released that year.

Gordon Scott, famously late of six Tarzan films, made a name for himself in Europe for an astonishing number of very popular peplum and strongman movies; a few of which gave your buckles a good swashing. Scott was gifted with starring roles in some of the best films of this sort, but sadly, and despite his rip-roaring antics as Zorro, this is one of his lesser affairs. However, it's highly unlikely that Capuano's character collision would be as entertaining without Gordon Scott leaving his mark throughout it. Scott is at his most amicable here, playing Zorro in the exact opposite fashion of his St. Mark hero, or any of his gladiator roles. He's still very stoic, handing his sword fights with his usual energetic zeal.

The Musketeers fare far worse. The four of them are virtually interchangeable, with little discernment between them. Only Giacomo Rossi-Stuart exhibits a personality outside of leaping all over the sets, constant drinking, slinging witty barbs, and belly-aching fits of laughter. The character of D'Artagnan was a major player in the Dumas novel, later becoming a Musketeer himself. He's already a member when the festive foursome are introduced, and is about as durable as the material the sets are made of. The famous exclamation of "all for one and one for all" takes on new meaning for our French swordsmen -- there may as well have only been one of them. 

Jose Greci, an Italian actress well known for her roles in Italian fantasy-adventure films, is arguably the signature face of the genre, if not the most elegant. Her beauty graces such efforts as the Mark Forest gladiator epic COLOSSUS OF THE ARENA (1962), the crossover pulp of HERCULES AND THE MASKED RIDER (1963), and a rare villainess role in the riotous comedy peplum, SEVEN REBEL GLADIATORS (1965). Her part in the scheme of things is to be rescued and provide a barely there love interest for the Spanish fox. This romantic angle is about as durable as everything else, serving to only be a formulaic device needed for these sorts of films to sustain a 90 minute running time.

There's actually a secondary romance between Aramis (Rossi-Stuart) and Isabella's maid Manuela (Maria Grazia Spina) that, for a brief moment felt like it might amount to something; but it is quickly forgotten about by the finale. The climax itself is surprisingly weak. Possibly time was running out, and with an already miniscule budget, there wasn't enough of either to close things out with a satisfying duel. Zorro clashes for the second, and final time with the Count of Seville in a very brief sword fight with the Musketeers encircling them. Everything ends well, and people live happily ever after, although Manuela seems to have gotten a raw deal. After teasing a romance between her and Aramis, the final moments sees the Musketeers pledging their undying friendship to Zorro before parting ways. Suddenly Manuela seems to not exist as the four embark on what is likely some other low budget Euro project. At least Zorro and Isabella embrace and exchange a plastic kiss for the camera before "fine" closes the curtain amidst Carlo Savina's romantic cue that is as robotic as everything else.

Italian version
Spanish version

There are at least two versions of ZORRO E I TRE MOSCHETTIERI (1963) out there. The Italian version runs 88 minutes and is full 2.35 widescreen. The German and Spanish releases both run 80 minutes and comprise a 1.85 ratio, but with more room at the top and bottom. The former has a more stable image, but the latter has stronger colors. While the Italian is longer, the Spanish version contains one lengthy sequence not found in the Italian original. Creating jarring plot holes and narrative discrepancies with these omissions, if you hadn't seen the two versions, you'd probably not notice in this indistinguishable instance of disposable entertainment. Below are the differences:


1. The actual introduction of the Musketeers in the Golden Lion Tavern precedes Zorro's first encounter with the Count of Seville. They immediately stir up trouble with a mass of Cardinal Richelieu's soldiers. When we first meet them in the Spanish version, they are already at the Inn, and the feather ruffling of Richelieu's men across the room has less of an impact.

2. The Count of Seville reports his fight with Zorro to King Philip, but inflates the numbers, stating Zorro was leading a regiment of French soldiers that outnumbered them. Additionally, the Spanish cut excises a brief shot of Zorro (masquerading as the Count of Seville) laughing with the Musketeers just prior to this scene as well.

3. Cardinal Richelieu's arrival at St. Denis castle is cut in the Spanish version, as is dialog between Zorro and the Musketeers while enjoying a meal before the Cardinal enters the room.

4. During the finale, the Musketeers devise a plan to rescue Zorro from certain death. They plan to get those involved in the execution drunk the night before. The problem is, the Musketeers themselves have a bit too much to drink. Portions of the morning after have been deleted showing Zorro's four benefactors sleeping late. Also present here, but cut in the Spanish print is a conversation between Isabella and her maid, Manuela. More funny business with all the protagonists sidekicks, and some footage of Zorro being led to his execution are missing in that version.


1. After the Four Musketeers help Zorro escape the castle of St. Denis, he again assumes yet another disguise, this time as a French military inspector in what amounts to another plot to rescue Donna Isabella. He arrives back at the castle and sets about freeing his sidekick, Sancho. Both versions pick up with Isabella playing a harpsichord while entertaining the Musketeers. While it's never explained just how Zorro manages to get away with assuming this new identity, his sudden appearance at the castle in the Italian version is a jarring plot hole.

With all the squandered potential, ZORRO AND THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1963) ends up as little more than fluff, but pleasing fluff. There's fun to be had with lots of humor and a rapier wit. The usually energized Gordon Scott keeps the films batteries charged, even if the picture gets sloppier towards the end. Those who will get the most out of this assembly line adventure are young kids and fans of these vintage Italian style peril-filled pulp. 
This review is representative of the Spanish R2 DVD from Rider Films.

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