[Fresh on Blu-ray] Gene Kelly plays with swords in ‘THE THREE MUSKETEERS’, Errol Flynn leads a resistance against Nazis in ‘EDGE OF DARKNESS’

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Travis Leamons // Film Critic

THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1948)

Not Rated, 125 Minutes
Director: George Sidney
Starring: Gene Kelly, Lana Turner, Van Heflin, June Allyson, Angela Lansbury, and Vincent Price

Action, adventure, romance, and comedy, THE THREE MUSKETEERS has it all. Alexandre Dumas’ 1884 novel has been brought to the screen multiple times, but none are as colorful as George Sidney’s treatment. It starts strong with Gene Kelly’s D’Artagnan of Gascony having run-ins with three Frenchmen and scheduling duels at high noon, then one o’clock, and two o’clock. The duels were slated to be with Musketeers Porthos (Gig Young), Athos (Van Heflin), and Aramis (Robert Coote). Their allegiance is with King Louis XIII (Frank Morgan). His enemy is Richelieu (Vincent Price). Add June Allyson’s Constance – with whom D’Artagnan quickly falls in love – and Lana Turner’s Countess de Winter as the sizzle and spice to this lavish production, and all should be right.

Not exactly. The swashbuckling and cinematography are par excellence, and the action sequences are pretty spectacular (compared to even what we see on the big screen nowadays). Watching actors and their stunt performers leap off embankments taller than Yao Ming, scaling walls as if they were cat burglars, and riding horses at a blistering pace like the Lone Ranger sitting atop Silver, I was in awe. The moments, albeit brief and spread across two hours, were the biggest highlights. The other high points are reserved for the bright costumes and filming in Technicolor.

The movie is a bit of a slog with no real danger or any stakes outside of technical merits. Nobody stands a chance against the Musketeers, not even Vincent Price as the villainous Richelieu. He and other characters pop into a scene and then out. About the only character who leaves an impression is Athos, who takes to alcohol like a fish to water. No, this is clearly Gene Kelly having to do most of the work, which is fine if some singing or dancing were involved. He does neither.

THE THREE MUSKETEERS is a clear case of the parts outweighing the sum. While far from rivaling the classic THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, as a Saturday matinee, this blade may be a bit rusty but far from being completely dull.

Special features: A sizable visual improvement (with a 4K restoration from the Technicolor nitrate negatives!), this Warner Archive Collection (WAC) release retains the bonus features previously included on a 2007 DVD release, which are more to the effect of pre-show entertainment than anything else. We have a one-reel travelogue about London’s rebuilding after WWII plus Tex Avery’s “White Price Fleadom” (also available as part of WAC’s Tex Avery Screwball Classics: Volume 3). An MGM radio promo interview with Lana Turner promoting the film and the theatrical trailer complete the supplemental package.

Grade: B-


EDGE OF DARKNESS (1943)

Not Rated, 119 Minutes
Director: Lewis Milestone
Starring: Errol Flynn, Ann Sheridan, Walter Huston, Nancy Coleman, and Helmut Dantine

The end is just the beginning for Lewis Milestone’s wartime drama EDGE OF DARKNESS. As a German plane is flying over the Norwegian fishing village of Trollness, the pilots notice the Nazi flag is not flying. Upon investigation, German soldiers discover a quiet town. Not a single peep because there’s no one alive. These Norwegians went from a quiet resistance to a full-on army that went toe to toe with their Nazi overlords. The bloody aftermath – with streets littered with debris, bullet casings, and dead bodies – leaves little clues as to what occurred. Flashing back to the events leading up to the violent affair, we meet some of the important players in the underground resistance, led by Gunnar Brogge (Errol Flynn).

DARKNESS is total movie propaganda made at a time when American forces were fighting abroad in WWII. But it is fitting to have Milestone directing since his adaptation of ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT deals with a German youth whose enthusiastic outlook in fighting for his country wanes during the First World War. So now you have this strange dichotomy of a filmmaker raised in Ukraine, schooled in Germany, who is also fluent in Russian, making a Hollywood drama about simple townspeople taking arms against fascists. With decent acting, a sizable ensemble, and a fierce revolt, the film is quite effective.

Flynn is paired with Ann Sheridan, who plays his girlfriend Karen Stensgard. Gunnar is the head of the fisherman’s union and she’s the daughter of the town physician, Martin (Walter Huston). He’s vocal about their relationship and remains neutral when it comes to the Nazi occupation of their village. Gunnar is edging closer to leaving for England to join its larger resistance until a wounded man brings word of a secret weapons delivery to help bolster the Norwegian resistance for an armed attack. The locals are skeptical and reluctant to mount a defense. Complicating matters is the return of Karen’s brother, a Nazi sympathizer, whose views are shared by his uncle Kaspar, who owns the town cannery. As the days pass and Nazi soldiers begin to belittle and abuse without fear of retaliation, anger rears in an instance, giving Captain Koenig (Helmut Dantine) no choice but to apprehend the suspected resistance leaders for a town square execution.

This time it is the resistance, not the empire, that strikes back. Armed with smuggled guns and grenades, the townsfolk open fire. The revolt is expertly staged by Milestone and cinematographer Sid Hickox (THE BIG SLEEP). The pastor brandishing a machine gun from the church tower gives off INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS vibes, then there’s the town capturing the port before making their way to the hotel Nazi soldiers have used for their residency after overtaking Trollness. Far from realistic in its depiction, but I’m sure it left an indelible impression on American audiences and those abroad.

The biggest knocks against EDGE OF DARKNESS are the in medias res structure and the large cast, specifically characters that don’t add much to the overall story. A subplot involving a Polish dancer (Nancy Coleman) staying at the hotel would have been best removed. Cutaways to scenes with her seem to bring the film to a stop and it’s not on account of her beauty. All it does is further exemplify distain for Nazi oppression, which is well established already by Gunnar and the resistance. And the film’s opening, which gives off an ominous tone, becomes deflated with an optimistic ending that, while just in propagating the war effort, would have played better in linear fashion.

Considering the current state of what is happening in Ukraine, EDGE OF DARKNESS is a timely reminder of resistance against oppression. It is a worthy addition to the Warner Archive Collection for fans of Errol Flynn and wartime thrillers.

Special features: Previously included as part of a TCM spotlight DVD collection on Errol Flynn, this Blu-ray bolsters a new restoration while retaining a few “Warner Night at the Movies 1943” extras found on the original release and adding a vintage short. The theatrical trailer and the Looney Tunes short “To Duck or Not to Duck” from Chuck Jones are the two carryovers. Daffy Duck and Elmer Fudd in a boxing match. Hilarity ensues. The new addition is “Gun to Gun,” a two-reel Western short from 1944 where a rancher and his friend look to settle a debt with an unscrupulous fellow.

Grade: B