Today is the 42nd anniversary of the U.K. and U.S. release of Richard Lester’s film The Three Musketeers (1974). In its honor, we look at the film’s genre-defining costumes by Yvonne Blake.
Anyone who has read this blog long enough knows that we here at Frock Flicks have a love-hate relationship with the costume films of the 1970s. On the one hand, you have such greats as Elizabeth R (1971), which went to extreme lengths to not only preserve the history of Elizabeth I’s reign as closely as possible, but also to provide a very faithful visual spectacle as to how her world looked in situ. On the other hand, you have The Count of Monte Cristo (1975), which really does nothing flattering for the decade in terms of historical accuracy or costume design and even manages to mangle a fair bit of Alexandre Dumas’ original story in the process.
Falling, at least in my humble opinion, on the side of Elizabeth R is Richard Lester’s The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers: Milady’s Revenge. Split into two feature-length films, this is really just one long film that follows Dumas’ novel fairly faithfully. It stars pretty much everyone who was an important actor-type in the early 1970s. I mean, look at this roster: Charleton Heston, Christopher Lee, Oliver Reed, Richard Chamberlain, Michael York, Spike Milligan, Faye Dunaway, and Raquel Welch (more on Raquel in a bit … She’s kind of a special case, and I’ll get to why after I finish gushing about the film in general) to name just a few of the bigger names associated with the production.
No doubt about it, the 17th century is one of the WEIRDEST eras for fashion, particularly male fashion; but unlike succeeding versions of The Three Musketeers, Lester’s version does not shy away from it — in fact, he seems to glory in its absurdity. What ensues is a gorgeously weird spectacle that feels both authentic and alien, which as far as I’m concerned, is pretty much the gold standard for any historical film. Yes, history was bizarre, but embrace it! Revel in it!
The costumes (with the exception of Raquel Welch’s gowns — again, I’ll deal with her in a min) were designed by Yvonne Blake and are about as weird-fabulous as you can imagine. Every inch of these films was designed and blocked with what was obviously a level of detail that bordered on obsessional. So much so that I have to actually feature background scenes and costumed extras in this post which I almost never do–usually because no one seems to give a toss about them.
So, let’s dig in!
Milady de Winter – Faye Dunaway
Milady has by far the most costume changes of the entire cast, and each one is more fabulous than the last. Faye Dunaway was not one of the top-billed actors in this film, but she is arguably the prime antagonist of most of the men and so Milady gets TONS of screentime.
The Three Musketeers – Traveling Costume:
The Three Musketeers – Blind Man’s Bluff Gown:
The Three Musketeers – Underwear:
The Three Musketeers – Silver Ballgown:
The Three Musketeers – White Gown:
The Four Musketeers – Dressing Gown #1:
The Four Musketeers – Traveling Costume:
The Four Musketeers – Dressing Gown #2:
I am reasonably certain that the inspiration for this dressing gown came from this loose gown from the V&A (the pattern of which is detailed in Patterns of Fashion 3: The Cut and Construction of Clothes for Men and Women C. 1560-1620 by Janet Arnold — though the book wasn’t published for the better part of 10 years after the movie came out). I spent a quite a bit of effort trying to get a clear image of the back of the gown in the film, but unfortunately, it is worn during the bedroom fight scene where Milady attempts to kill D’Artagnan.
The Four Musketeers – Black Stays:
Period? Nope. But pretty awesome. I always get a special thrill when I see Milady removing or inserting a busk into her stays. She does this at least once in both films.
The Four Musketeers – White & Grey Traveling Gown:
The Four Musketeers – White Damask Overgown:
The Four Musketeers – White Satin Undergown:
Queen Anne of Austria – Geraldine Chaplin
The Three Musketeers – The Merry-Go-Round Dress:
We only catch a glimpse of this one literally whirling past while Queen Anne, played by Geraldine Chaplin (daughter of Charlie), rides on a merry-go-round with her ladies in waiting. It shows up again in The Four Musketeers draped over a chair, while the Queen frets about her clothing options.
The Three Musketeers – Brown & Gold Riding Gown:
The Three and Four Musketeers – Pink Gown:
The pink gown appears in one scene in each movie.
The Three Musketeers – Silver Ballgown:
The Three Musketeers – Black & Gold Gown:
I’m a sucker for a good black gown, and so this one, with its petal ruff and onyx and pearl tiara, is my favorite in the whole film.
The Four Musketeers – Underwear:
This scene is perhaps best known for the line “That dress makes me look like a burst cushion!”
The Four Musketeers – Hunting Habit:
Another one of my favorite scenes because so much random stuff is happening in the background. There’s the hanging, musketeers wandering about, and a pipe organ in the middle of the field. You know, just a regular picnic for the Queen of France.
Beatrice – Gitty Djamal
The Four Musketeers – Cream Gown:
The Four Musketeers – Taupe Riding Habit:
The Four Musketeers – Maroon Riding Habit:
King Louis XIII – Jean-Pierre Cassel
The Three Musketeers – Chess Game Suit:
The Three Musketeers – Silver Suit:
The Three Musketeers – Black Suit:
The Duke of Buckingham – Simon Ward
The Three Musketeers – Blue Suit
The Three Musketeers – Blue & Gold Suit
The Three Musketeers – Green Suit:
This costume is for sale (for the low, low price of £3,495.00) via The Prop Gallery.
The Three Musketeers – Grey Suit:
The Three Musketeers – Fancy Shirt:
The Four Musketeers – Blue & Gold Damask Suit:
This outfit always struck me as 10 years out of date compared to the rest of the outfits Buckingham wears. It’s straight up 1600-1610, whereas all the other male characters are shown wearing 1620s-1630s. Still, it’s gorgeous, and it’s on my boyfriend, so I’m not going to complain too hard.
Porthos – Frank Finlay
The costumes of the musketeers aren’t terribly noteworthy (lots of black on black), with the exception of the foppish Porthos whose gold damask outfit is the only non-black suit among them. I also need you all to realize the inordinate amount of time I spent trying to screencap this outfit because pretty much every scene Porthos is in, he’s flinging himself off every surface.
Cardinal Richelieu – Charleton Heston
The Three Musketeers – Cardinal’s Robes & Overgown:
In general, aside from being obviously well made and from very expensive fabrics, Richelieu’s costumes are pretty boring. That is, until you see just how obsessive the costume design crew got with his “basic” outfit. An excellent case-in-point is the lining of Richelieu’s overgown, which is a fabulous purple and gold damask. I could probably write an entire treatise on why this lining is the signifier of a costume designer who believes that audiences are smarter than they are given credit for and actually care about little details like this.
The Four Musketeers – Traveling Costume:
Another example of the care and attention to detail where you’d least expect it (or maybe, if you’re like me, where you’d most hope to see it): the stitching on the darts in Richelieu’s falling collar.
Like I said at the beginning, this film is packed with fabulously costumed extras. Here’s some of my favorites.
The Three Musketeers:
The Four Musketeers:
Ok, so now that I’ve gone on at length about the amaze-balls costumes in these films, it’s time to address the 800-lb. gorilla in the room:
Constance – Raquel Welch
Despite being described by Dumas as “intelligent,” the Constance in this film is a klutzy ditz — but honestly, that’s the least of the issues I have with her. The biggest problem that I, and the vast majority of people who love this movie, have is that Raquel Welch was inexplicably cast as D’Artagnan’s love interest. Or rather, I should say that it’s not “inexplicable” so much as “a blatant grab for viewership by including one of the most famous women of her age in this film, regardless of appropriateness for the role.” And, to be fair, she’s not bad. She’s actually kind of fun in her own campy way. And apparently, this role netted her a Golden Globe. No, the real issue is with her costumes.
You see, Ms. Welch apparently had a say as to who got to design her costumes for the film, and the person she chose was her boyfriend at the time, Ron Talsky. I can imagine that the two took one look at the “weird” high-waisted designs by Yvonne Blake and went, “Uh, nope.” According to an interview given by Welch in Creating the Illusion: A Fashionable History of Hollywood Costume Designers by Jay Jorgensen and Donald Scoggins:
(Editorial comments are mine.)
“It was far more practical than flying to London [for costume fittings]. For the Three Musketeers, Ron designed my costumes for the role of Constance de Bonacieux, seamstress to the Queen of Spain [Ed. it’s actually the Queen of France]. Constance was not — in any way — royalty, nor was she titled and would not have been in the social stratosphere as either the queen or Milady de Winter (Faye Dunaway). Ron had all my Three Musketeers costumes made at Western Costume Company with Lily Fonda. In the fittings, we tried to fit me into the boarded front costumes of that fifteenth-century period [Ed. SIGH. That’s actually the 17th-century, Rachel], but the bust was pushed so high that it came bulging too obviously out of the top. So we took the liberty of allowing a bit more room in the bodice. My choice, granted. But I did not want to be a visual joke whenever I was on-screen. We also decided on fabrics that were not brocade or too rich looking, but more modest and less upper class. After all, Constance lived with her husband (Spike Milligan) in very modest almost farm-like circumstances.
Yvonne Blake designed the rest of the movie in London with Berman’s Costume House. They were magnificent. I never heard anything about what she thought, and I could understand if she didn’t like my choices. But I was happy that my character came off as more vulnerable and also funnier than if I’d been all trussed up.“
In my opinion, Constance’s outfits stick out like a sore thumb amongst the gorgeously strange period designs everyone else is wearing. They’re costume-y in a big, bad way. To whit:
Constance’s Green Gown:
Constance’s Yellow Gown:
Constance’s Peach Gown:
But in the end, having fun is really what Lester’s double-feature is really about. The wittiness of Dumas’ original story is wonderfully preserved in the script, but peppered with off-camera and background quips that manage to elevate the script from “yet another Three Musketeers rehash” into something surprisingly fresh. Even 40-odd years later, the films still hold up beautifully.
So, if you haven’t watched it before, you’re in for a real treat. Aside from the costumes, the cast is fabulous, the cinematography is stunning, and the script is genuinely funny. Oh, and the fight choreography is pretty badass if you’re into that sort of thing (seriously, the fight choreography was by William Hobbs who basically has staged every decent sword fight put to film between 1960 and 2005).
Do you love the Richard Lester The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers as much as I do?
They inspired me and my wife for 10 years of 17th-century reenactment. Our wedding was done in the period, made entirely by us — mostly her– and well worth the year it took to do it. As for Milady’s mysterious cap, it is based on the ‘montero,’ a Spanish mountaineer’s cap often worn by soldiers. At the time, we had many written references, but no pictures. Today, you can get one from any number of English Civil Wars suppliers.
Awesome! I knew I’d seen it before in period source material but I couldn’t place it and going digging smacked of effort.
Love love love! These movies inspired my husband and me to plan musketeer-era costumes for our wedding too. Then we took up 17th-century reenacting, not coincidentally with the McQuowns although they were in Philadelphia and we’re in Columbus. (Hello Michael!) The Three/Four Musketeers are still some of my all-time favorite movies.
I’ll second Michael that Milady’s cap is based on a montero. In some esoteric hat book, decades ago, I read that this was also referred to in France as a boukincan, in honor of le Duc de Boukincan, as the Duke of Buckingham was referred to in France. Very appropriate.
It ages me, but I saw them both in the theater and loved them. They inspired me to read the books and also were perhaps my first costume film. Thanks for the memories!
Not only do I love them for themselves, but I especially love them because Three Musketeers was the first date that my husband and I went on. We’re hardcore Hundred Years War re-enactors now, but for a while there it was touch and go.
A thousand times ouí. Would you mind sharing some details about the technical errors in Ms. Welch’s costumes? I agree that they’re wrong, but I’m not fully qualified to explain why; please, lecture me like I don’t know anything. :)
Seconded, pretty please
Wow, ok, this is going to need to be an entire post! Stay tuned. I’ll get around to it eventually. :)
Wow, I love Geraldine Chaplin’s hair! It looks just like all those Van Dyck portraits of Henrietta Maria. Like her costumes, Raquel Welch’s hair looks less period-appropriate than the other women’s hair in the film. The volume on the crown seems wrong.
1) I hate every production of the Three Musketeers — the story bores the ever-lovin’ crap out of me. It’s the original bromance to end all bromances.
2) I freakin’ love the costumes in this production, especially the wacked-out headgear. I slogged thru this movie, mostly on fast-forward, just to see the pretty pretty costumes. Thanks, Sarah, for collecting them here so I can admire them again w/out having to deal with the mind-numbing so-called plot :)
These have always topped the list of My Favorite Movies. I saw them, reveled in every part and aspect of them, at least 2 dozen times in the theater. Of course, that was when you could see the early show and just stay in your seat to see the next showing… So maybe only 15 trips to the theater. I am going to try to find them to watch tonight with everyone who wants to come over and watch!
These movies ruined my life. They started me down the path of 27th c. reeanacting. I could have had a nice normal life. Still the best versions of the story. Say what you will about Raquel Welch, it was her clout the settled the dispute between the actors and studio over the second movie and allowed its realease.
I know what you meant, but I am positively swooning at the the idea of your typo!
Hooray for Ms. Welch! Besides, I really didn’t have a problem with her costumes. And being physically clumsy is not a sign of lack of intelligence.
Yeah, but being ditzy is. Her character was rewritten to make her more of an airhead than the way Dumas originally envisioned her. The added pratfalls were to accentuate this.
So MS Welch says. In fact, the decision to divide the film into two came from the producers. It was that or cut it back to one really bad film with a lot of gaps.
As some of you may know, there was a third film, “The Return of the Musketeers” with Kim Cattrall playing Milady’s daughter, out for revenge. (People tend to forget she’s a Brit.) It wasn’t as good over all as the the first two, but it did cover some of the plot of “Twenty Years After.” There are a surprising number of other films based loosely of the Dumas work and all have their moments, but 3M/4M still stands as the best.
Yes the producers decided to cut the film in two after the actors were shot and paid for one film. They didn’t discover the split It until the premiere of the Three Musketeers when they saw the trailer for the Four Musketeers. They immediately sued the Salkinds and stopped the release of the Four Musketeers. There was an impasse until Ms. Welch convinced the Salkinds to pay the actors at least something for the second movie. I heard that confirmed by Michael York and Charleton Heston (who makes the best Richelleau ever).
I have fond memories of watching these films as a child and again as a young adult. They pretty much set the bar for what period films CAN be if people give a damn.
For me, the only glaring goofs involved period firearms. In the coach scene, Milady’s muff pistol is a percussion cap Philadelpia Deringer of the type that killed Lincoln, a technology that would not exist for another 150 years. Sadly, there are several examples here in the art museum of wheellock pistols small enough to be easily concealed in a muff. The second goof was in the scene where Athos threatens Milady by spanning his wheellock 4 turns. Since it takes only a quarter-turn to span, or wind, the mechanism, he would have destroyed it. The wheellock was the state-of-the-art firearm of the time, but had several moving parts and was expensive to make. Add to that the fact that the mechanism was spanned, or wound, with a separate wrench called a spanner, which could easily get lost, and you can see the problem, especially in the heat of battle.
“Milady’s Muff Pistol” is so totally the name of my all girl, neo-punk garage band.
(Or my scandalous tell-all autobiography)
I’d be in the mosh pit for that band!
I have always adored these movies – they’re in my personal opt 10 – and the costumes are some of the most wonderful:as you said, almost alien and incredibly beautiful. I wanted Milady’s fabulous gowns so much for years….
I watched the first film yesterday and I agree with you on the costumes.
Sarah V — a lady’s muff is always a dangerous weapon.
Someone else had commented on the darts in a falling band in one of the pictures — it took us a very long time to work out the placement to guarantee a smooth lie.
I want to know why the peasants and villagers costumes didn’t matter. This was Paris. It was habit at that time for the households to hand down used clothing to their servants and yes the expensive embellishments were usually sold but not the basic clothing. Also the merchant class, while not up to royal or noble status, would have been above peasant or servant clothing. Yet in every scene ever the entire crowd is in the same peasant clothing, a chemise, a skirt and corset or cheep top and usually an apron, possibly add mop cap. Every movie from time began to the 1900’s it’s the same. Every re-fair every re-enactment the same, noble then peasant. Why?
Lisa — probably mostly budget constraints. On the other hand., merchants often could afford to dress better than the aristocracy, often in violation of sumptuary laws which, by the 17th century were almost totally ignored. So some of those folk in rich clothes might well be merchants.
As soon as I saw Milady’s weird headgear, I went looking for images of Montero caps. We used to call them Donald Duck caps because all they needed was a tongue — looked like an open duck’s bill. Of course, at one 17th century event, a Montero with a bright yellow tongue showed up. As for Raquel Welch’s costumes, yes, they weren’t as authentic as they should have been, but frankly, they weren’t as egregious as many I’ve seen. At least they “looked period.” I was a member of McQuown’s wedding party back in the day and I still have and still love the gown I made for it. It’s the best thing I ever made. And I did look like a burst cushion — a very elegant burst cushion.
Still the best version of 3M I’ve seen to date.
These movies were my gateway drug into historical and costume flicks. I had watched Liz R and 6 Wives and enjoyed them, but seeing these on a big screen just blew my impressionable 10 year old mind. I fell in love with Oliver Reed and still have a weakness for brooding, dark men.
I laughed out loud when you said Simon Ward was your boyfriend- I loved him in this, too! Great fun, enjoy the heck out of this site!
I thought the casting of Charlton Heston as Richelieu was spot-on; they needed an actor who could believably intimidate Christopher Lee as Rochefort, and Heston nailed it (Lee was marvelous, as usual). Loved the rest of the two movies, except for the characterization of Constance.
I’m just curious, was the scooped bust on some of Milady’s costumes (like the silver dress in the silver ball scene) historically accurate? I’ve honestly never seen anything like it in any paintings I’ve seen from that period.
Timing! I just watched M3 again last week and wondered if FF had ever reviewed it. Like a couple of others commenting here, I saw them when they came out. The most fun I’ve ever had at the movies! Hilarious, AND a feast for the eyes.
The costumes are breathtaking–those silver gowns, the black stays, that petal collar… Ms. Dunaway and Ms. Chaplin are exquisite (plus Messers. Chamberlain, Ward and York are at their prettiest!). As for Raquel–well, she made Constance rather endearing, and she may have made the right call on her bustlines. As it was, her bosoms should have had their own credit.
This gives me hope that you have also reviewed 1968’s Romeo and Juliet along the way. The Renaissance is much more my thing. I was absolutely entranced–costumes, settings, music, actors. And Shakespeare, lite!
These (Three and Four) are my favorite costume movie of all time- as it is for many people in the costume industry. Thank you for this detailed and exhaustive look at all the clothing. And I especially appreciate your assessment of Raquel’s anachronistic costumes and the reasons why.
I love love love them so much! I must have seen each about 20 times during the initial run. (I got the theatre manager to give me the poster!) And then I’d run home and research and sketch. I even made little paper “dolls”. I was so obsessed. (That black gown of Anne of Austria’s with the petal ruff, is from a portrait of her by Rembrandt, IIRC.) I also loved the Michel LeGrand score from the Three. Listened to the soundtrack constantly, trying to teach myself all the songs on my flute.
There is not a single frame of either film that I do not love and cherish. (And if my mum were still around, you’d have to fight her for Simon Ward.)
P.S. Many of those costumes were reused a few years later, for a TV movie of “The Man in the Iron Mask” with Richard Chamberlain and Jenny Agutter, and filmed at Vaux-le-Vicomte.
Oh Laura, I totally understand that kind of movie mania. I did that poster thing once, too. Much as I loved 3M and 4M, my obsession was Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet when I was 17, swooning over Michael York. I had a passing resemblance to Olivia Hussey, so I ditched the bangs and let my hair grow till I could sit on it. Kids today have no idea how we suffered, having to wait an interminable five years for a re-release. And there was no IMDB for instantaneous reference to all the film facts. Resources were scarce and inadequate.
Can’t believe I missed that Man in the Iron Mask but I have no recollection. IMDB will fill in the blanks. I do remember the elegant Mr. Chamberlain in The Count of Monte Cristo, also a TV movie..