Quentin Tarantino Reveals The Movie He Is Too Scared to Watch

Quentin Tarantino recently discussed his love of Richard Lester films… and why one scares him too much to ever view.

Quentin Tarantino on Red Carpet
Photo: Daniele Venturelli / Getty Images

It is not a surprise to learn that Quentin Tarantino is a lifelong admirer of Richard Lester’s The Three Musketeers (1973) and The Four Musketeers (1974). Filmed as one movie but released in two volumes during the early ‘70s—a concept Tarantino popularized further some decades later with Kill Bill—the Musketeer movie(s) stood among the most popular action and comedy films of their day, and featured the type of swaggering bravado performances from the likes of Oliver Reed and Faye Dunaway that have long appealed to Tarantino’s sensibilities.

Nonetheless, it was still a surprise that when discussing those movies on a recent podcast, Tarantino revealed his love for Lester’s Musketeer duology is also responsible for one of his few fears in cinema: watching the belated sequel to that sprawling effort, 1989’s The Return of the Musketeers. While appearing on the Unspooled podcast alongside Roger Avary to promote their own podcast, The Video Archives, Tarantino spoke at length about his love for the ‘70s Musketeer movies. Yet when Unspooled co-host Paul Scheer brought up that he also watched The Return of the Musketeers in preparation, Tarantino made this following confession.

“I’ve always been afraid to see that movie… That’s actually one of the only movies on the planet Earth that I’m afraid to see, because I love these two so much that it seems like a compromised vehicle for them to all get back together again, and I’m just afraid…. the only reason that I’m afraid is because of the high esteem I hold this one movie.”

Indeed, Tarantino is adamant that The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers should be viewed as one film, as was the filmmakers and cast’s original intent until producers Alexander, Ilya, and Michael Salkind got other ideas. Additionally, both movies are based on Alexandre Dumas’ single, trenchant 1844 novel, Les Trois Mousquetaires. And as Tarantino noted, the appeal of Lester’s films was that while being a narratively faithful adaptation of that book’s plot (and arguably the only English-language adaptation to boast this feat), Lester’s comedic and skeptical voice puts it through a distorted lens.

Ad – content continues below

Said Tarantino, “It’s as much of an auteur piece as anyone has ever done… He tells the story that’s in the book but he has his own complete point-of-view about it, and his point-of-view is not the point-of-view of Dumas, and he’s taking the piss out of these characters. But I think it’s coming a little more from a full shotgun blast of ‘70s cynicism… Lester constantly shows that both the Musketeers and Richelieu’s guards are fools, marionettes dancing to the tune of either an evil person or a complete ineffectual buffoon.”

The movie certainly was a blast of entertainment to ‘70s audiences who appreciated the same style of droll slapstick Lester pioneered with his 1960s Beatles movies, A Hard Day’s Night (1964) and Help! (1966). But now that humor was utilized in a swashbuckler format that played its story relatively straight, complete with blistering performances from the likes of Reed and Dunaway, as well as a supremely underplayed Charlton Heston as the villainous Cardinal Richelieu. Both movies were box office hits, and the first volume saw Raquel Welch win a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical, one of the high points of her career.

However, the Lester who made The Return of the Musketeers in 1989 was in a very different place. Despite beginning the decade with some success by replacing Richard Donner on Superman II, Lester’s work on Superman III and subsequent efforts were less well received. While there was precedent to continue the Musketeers’ story beyond the original The Three Musketeers story—Dumas wrote several sequels in his “d’Artagnan Romances,” including a book titled Twenty Years Later and a multi-volume effort best known in English by the title The Man in the Iron Mask—Lester came to The Return of the Musketeers in a less confident state. It had been four years since his last movie, and there is an air of attempting to recapture lost glory to the ‘89 effort.

While most of the cast of the ‘70s movies returned for the belated sequel, which loosely adapted Dumas’ novel Twenty Years Later, the film was not an official sequel to The Four Musketeers since it was produced without the Salkinds (who refused to allow Lester to use footage from the ‘70s movies). It also featured far less of the swagger. Most tragically though, a horse riding accident during the filming of The Return of the Musketeers injured actor, and longtime Lester collaborator, Roy Kinnear so badly that he died of a heart attack the next day. Lester later admitted the disastrous incident shook him badly enough to cause his own retirement from directing after Return’s release.

But for Tarantino, it is more than an on-set nightmare that leaves the idea of watching The Return of the Musketeers with a bad taste.

“I just think that the epic that he made back in ’73 is one of the most un-compromised auteur efforts that anybody has ever done,” Tarantino said. “So why would I want to see a compromised, not done for the right reason, wannabe, left-handed-seems-like sequel to one of his greatest works done 20 years later for an audience who doesn’t care?”

Ad – content continues below

Avary, who collaborated with Tarantino on the writing of Pulp Fiction, noted it might have been different if this same creative team made a sequel shortly after the release of The Four Musketeers.

“If the movie had been made in 1975 and then released—there are reasons, it’s the [second] novel, so there is a legit reason to make it. It just needed to be made immediately following.”

Tarantino agrees while suggesting even as late as 1983, there might have been a creative justification for returning to the well—but not by 1989. Today, “legacy sequels” are treated as a must-see novelty by audiences, but 30 years ago, there was a perception of diminishing returns and even desperation to such projects, which the quality of The Return of the Musketeers did not dispel. And for Tarantino that is apparently still the rare thing in the world of cinema: something too scary to watch.