Now the Three Musketeers were four with D'Artagnan (Michael York) joining them since he had saved the reputation of the Queen of France (Geradline Chaplin), but he now had to face the wrath of of the wicked Milady de Winter (Faye Dunaway). Before that, though, a seige had developed between the King's forces and a group of religious rebels, and the Musketeers had been sent to the site to do what they could. This worked out to be saving Rochefort (Christopher Lee) who had acted as a spy within the city walls but had been found out and sentenced to death by firing squad. Under orders, the Musketeers leapt into action...
You may well know by now that this version of The Three Musketeers had originally been intended as one epic movie, complete with interval, but the Salkinds, those three generations of producers, opted for an alternative solution: split the whole thing into two, then, according to them, they wouldn't have to cut any of the wonderful footage that director Richard Lester had shot. The cast and crew were somewhat taken aback by this development as not only had they not been consulted, they had only been paid for one movie and it took some legal wrangling to secure further pay, although it still wasn't as much as they would have earned if they had been hired for two separate movies.
But the project was perhaps better as a pair, because there was a noticeable change in tone between the first half and the second. The Three Musketeers had been light and fun, but for the sequel George MacDonald Fraser's script, following the Alexandre Dumas novel, had to take a darker turn, not least because of the unavoidable fact that one of the most sympathetic characters died at the hands of one of the villains. There were still chuckles, but there was less to laugh at this time around. However, on the plus side the Musketeers had more to do than play back up to D'Artagnan, with Oliver Reed's Athos in particular standing out, even winning a flashback that told of his involvement with Milady - although this told you more about him than it did about her, as with Dunaway's glacial performance she was as hard to read as ever.
Really, this was more the bad guys' movie, with Milady and Rochefort committing the dark deeds and Charlton Heston's Cardinal Richelieu manipulating things in the background. Lester still had time for a lyrical shot and the design was as impressive as before, but for some reason it felt more muted, with less of the outright extravagance of the initial instalment. Milady seduces her jailer (Michael Gothard) and persuades him to assassinate Buckingham (Simon Ward), and worse than that in our eyes she sets her sights on avenging herself against D'Artagnan by striking at those close to him. The cast handled this shift in tone expertly, and there was rarely a moment where you didn't worry for the fate of the good guys, but it was somehow less of a breeze this time. To compensate, the finale which saw D'Artagnan in a deadly swordfight with Rochefort was nothing short of superb, one of the most exhausting to watch duels in cinema history, though even this couldn't take away the note of regret that the film drew towards. Music by Lalo Schifrin.
Efforts like Royal Flash, Robin and Marian, gay bathhouse comedy The Ritz and Cuba made less impact, but in the eighties Lester was called in to salvage the Superman series after Richard Donner walked off Superman II; Lester also directed Superman III. Finders Keepers was a flop comedy, and Return of the Musketeers had a tragic development when one of his regular cast, Roy Kinnear, died while filming. Lester then decided to give up directing, with Paul McCartney concert Get Back his last film.