Euphoria #19

Regular Shadowplayer and acclaimed Mick Travis impersonator Alex Livingston suggests the scene of Spike Milligan’s arrest from Richard Lester’s THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1973).

“before i think about it too much and sink into a tarpit of indecision, i am going to nominate a scene from richard lester’s the three musketeers. christopher lee and his guards drag raquel welch from her bedroom whilst spike milligan fumbles to reload his flintlock pistol, utterly blind to the possibility that he may not have the upper hand. i think it is basically the muttering that does it for me here”

I’ve thrown in the following sequence because I like the sedan chair gag, and an appearance from Frank “Captain Peacock” of Are You Being Served? is always a bonus.

Raquel Welch phoned Richard Lester up in the middle of the night to complain about the boob jokes in the film.

“This bit where a hand reaches from a heap of melons and grabs my wrist — I don’t think it’s funny.”

“Well I do.”

At which point she called the producers and threatened to quit. Colossal panic — the funding was contingent on her involvement. They sweet-talked her back on-board, but she still pulled stunts like wearing costumes modelled on Lana Turner’s in the ‘forties version, rather than on historical fact like everybody else.

Christopher Lee bored everyone rigid with his endless anecdotage, except producer Pierre Spengler, who found him fascinating. Lee can pick up an anecdote, if interrupted, and continue it MONTHS LATER, if required. But my costume designer friend Ali, who worked with him on GREYFRIAR’S BOBBY, got on very well with the Great Man. As Sidney Greenstreet says, “I’ll tell you right out, I am a man who likes talking to a man who likes to talk.”

Spike Milligan stared at the historical recreations in complete awe: “People really lived like this,” he would say, with tears in his eyes. 

we must bustle

The movie has one of the most disparate casts ever assembled. Charlton Heston shares a scene with Milligan, finding him “very funny but not over-the-top”. OF COURSE he’s over-the-top! He’s in a completely different comedy register from everybody else in the film! But Lester excels at uniting different styles of acting / muttering.

Alex adds:

“out of maybe five films that i considered taking my euphoric moment from, three featured faye dunaway. isn’t that funny?”

Not funny, Alex, JUST SENSIBLE.

the revenge of milady

Footnote: any Americans unfamiliar with Milligan’s brand of surreal TV can educate themselves using the University of Youtube. Maybe start HERE.

5 Responses to “Euphoria #19”

  1. I’ll take this version of “Musketeers”, as impish and comedic as it is, over the DiCaprio version any day. And, you’re right, the cast was formidable. Your behind the scenes anecdotes were interesting–I can’t imagine anyone being bored listening to the stories Christopher Lee could tell…


    Especially Lester’s marvelous, little-seen The Bed-Sitting Room (“Quick! Put a sign in my windo! ‘No colored, no children and above all NO COLORED CHILDREN!’ “) and Joe McGrath’s masterpiece The Great McGonagall (with Peter Sellers as Queen Victoria.)

  3. I find Chris Lee rather a loveable figure in a long English tradition. It’s not that his stories aren’t interesting, it’s his single-minded devotion to imparting them that’s sort of funny.
    On the Wicker Man DVD: “How did you first come across the book this film is based on?”
    Lee: “Well, I think that’s really a question for Robin Hardy.” Nanosecond pause. “I first came across the book…”

    I think I’m going to propose BBC Scotland honour McGrath with a documentary. I bet he’s got some stories to tell.

    The Bed Sitting Room is indeed quite something. “Good evening, I am the BBC.” And to think it all happened because Lester’s chauffeur found Joe Orton murdered, which kind of cancelled the Rolling Stones musical he was writing for Lester.

    Always cringe *slightly* at Milligan’s “racial humour”. A Son of India, he was definitely being ironic MOST of the time, but some of his jokes and some of his serious statements show a certain…lack of sensitivity.

    The Running Jumping Standing Still Film is a KEY TEXT in my paticular version of Film Studies, though.

  4. i had forgotten that captain peacock breathed on his hand to warm it up – what a gentlemanly thing to do; it is kind of a pity that he missed his chance. now i have heard the story about raquel welch, i am glad that dunaway dunaway with her in the sequel

  5. I don’t know if he missed his chance or not. she goes “Oh!” but then also waves goodbye as if he’s a dear friend, which is confusing.

    I would think managing Dunaway AND Welch might be quite a task. Interestingly, I’m told that in person, Welch is dainty and delicate looking, and Dunaway big and rangy, pretty near the opposite of their screen appearance.

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