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?