The Back Row’s Weekly Serial Review: The Three Musketeers

Quick Facts
Released in 1933
Directed by Colbert Clark and Armand Schaefer
Written by Colbert Clark, Bennett Cohen, Wyndham Gittens, Norman S. Hall, and Barney A. Sarecky
Starring John Wayne, Jack Mulhall, Raymond Hatton, Ralph Bushman

Basic Story Line
Three Legionnaires help Lieutenant Tom Wayne clear his name and bring an end to the mysterious El Shaitan’s gun running ring.

Before Paul Anderson’s gawdy spectacle The Three Musketeers in 3D is released, I thought you should know about an even worse version of Alexander Dumas’ classic novel.

To begin with, like the last two serials I’ve reviewed, the title is extremely misleading. It is billed as a modernization of Dumas’ novel. True, it has three characters who call themselves the three musketeers, and John Wayne (yes, the John Wayne) plays a sort of  D’Artagnan character, but that is where the similarities end. The novel is about a talented but arrogant young swordsman who wants to join the musketeers. Through the course of the story, he matures and, with the help of his friends, learns about love, loyalty, sacrifice, and loss. This serial is a confusing tale of an American pilot who is trying to uncover the identity of a gun runner named El Shaitan.

My issues with this serial go well beyond the fact that it has nothing to do with its supposed source material. Both the writing and directing fail to capture my interest. It reuses a lot of footage and has not one, but two flashback episodes. It has a catchy theme song but other than that there is no soundtrack. All you have to listen to is bad dialogue and bad sound effects. The story is a confusing jumble of contradictions that is impossible to follow. The confusion is not helped by the fact that half the cast is wearing baggy robes and have their faces covered, while the other half are all in uniform.

There are a few things I like about this serial, however. The Three Musketeers are amiable characters who enjoy eating, drinking, fighting, and are both loyal and cunning. The story tries to be clever but this, more often than not, backfires. One character tries to incriminate Tom in a murder by cutting off the bottom of one letter and replacing it with another. No one seems to be smart enough to notice that they are obviously reading two half sheets of paper. The writers try to make the identity of the villain a secret by casting suspicion on various characters. Some of these characters turn out to be good guys at the end. Unfortunately that involves ignoring the fact that these people tried to have our heroes killed on multiple occasions. This serial’s sloppy writing overwhelms any good things I may have had to say about it.

I never thought I would say this, but this serial actually makes Undersea Kingdom seem watchable.

Things to watch for
-Lon Chaney Jr. appears twice.

The Back Row Weekly Serial Drinking Game
While watching a serial, anytime you or a friend point out a plot hole or inconsistency, take a drink. (Note: Here I usually try to make a witty comment about what should and should not be considered a plot hole or inconsistency. This one is all plot hole and inconsistency.)
Odds of getting sloshed: High. Very high.

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