D'Artagnan (Gene Kelly), an inexperienced Gascon youth, travels to Paris to join the elite King's Musketeers. On his way, he encounters a mysterious lady at a roadside inn. When he picks a fight with one of her escorts, she becomes suspicious and has him knocked unconscious. His letter of introduction from his father to de Treville (Reginald Owen), the commander of the Musketeers, is burned. When he awakens, he continues on to the city.
In Paris, he nevertheless presents himself to de Treville, who recognizes d'Artagnan's description of one of his assailants and, saying "A man is sometimes known by the enemies he makes," makes him a cadet. The young Gascon spots the very man and in his haste to confront him, annoys three of the most skillful Musketeers: Athos (Van Heflin), Porthos (Gig Young) and Aramis (Robert Coote). Each challenges him to a duel. At the appointed place, upon learning they are all there to duel the same man the master swordsmen are amused by the newcomer's audacity. Before they can begin, however, they are interrupted by Richelieu's guards, who try to arrest the Musketeers. Outraged that the three are outnumbered, d'Artagnan joins them in dispatching their foes, displaying his superb swordsmanship in the process. As a result, he is welcomed into their ranks.
Later, d'Artagnan rescues (and falls in love with) Constance Bonacieux (June Allyson), a confidante of Queen Anne (Angela Lansbury). The queen had been given a matched set of twelve diamond studs by her husband, King Louis XIII (Frank Morgan). Foolishly, she gives them to her lover, the Duke of Buckingham (John Sutton), who is also the Prime Minister of Great Britain. Knowing of the queen's indiscretion, Richelieu (Vincent Price) sees a way to persuade the King to go to war with Britain. Richelieu arranges a ball and suggests to Louis that he have the Queen wear the diamonds.
D'Artagnan and his three friends volunteer to travel to Britain to retrieve the jewels, but along the way, they are ambushed by Richelieu's men. One by one, the Musketeers are forced to stay behind to hold off their pursuers. Finally, only d'Artagnan and his servant Planchet (Keenan Wynn) are left to reach the Duke. However, Richelieu had already sent the beautiful Milady, Countess de Winter (Lana Turner) to work her wiles on His Grace and steal two of the studs. Fortunately, the Duke's jeweler is able to make replacements quickly and d'Artagnan races back to France. He arrives just in time to save the Queen from disgrace.
Admiring d'Artagnan's resourcefulness, Richelieu has Constance abducted in an attempt to enlist him in his service. He also assigns de Winter to help persuade the young man. D'Artagnan tries to learn where Constance is being held from Milady, but begins to fall under her spell instead. When Athos discovers that the Countess de Winter is actually his treacherous wife, he tries to warn d'Artagnan, but is not believed. Then d'Artagnan finds out that Athos was telling the truth: He sees a brand on Milady's shoulder, the mark of a common criminal, just where Athos had told him he would.
Fighting breaks out between Britain and France. The Queen succeeds in freeing Constance and sends her to Buckingham for safety. When the war goes against him, Richelieu gives de Winter a carte blanche and sends her to Britain to assassinate his foe. The Musketeers learn of the plot and send Planchet to warn the Duke. Athos confronts Milady and recovers the carte blanche as proof of Richelieu's treachery. De Winter is imprisoned by the Duke and placed in the custody of Constance, but when the latter lets her guard down de Winter kills first her, then Buckingham. Athos and d'Artagnan arrive too late to save them.
D'Artagnan and Athos return to France with a self-imposed mission: find the Countess de Winter and give her justice for the murders of the Duke of Buckingham and Constance. They lose track of her on the road to Lille and return to Paris. Captain de Treville informs them that de Winter has not been seen in the city, and warns the Musketeers that she is under Richelieu's protection; if they continue their vendetta, if they are not killed they will have to flee to Spain as wanted men. They elect to proceed after Aramis recalls a conversation between Milady and Richelieu concerning the granting of a title and an estate near Lille.
Caught once again by the Musketeers at that estate, the ancestral home of Athos, she begs for mercy but finds none, even though her husband still loves her despite her many crimes. Seeing this, she calms herself and walks with dignity to her execution. The Musketeers are ambushed by Richelieu's men, captured, and returned to the Royal Court for judgment.
As Richelieu is about to have them sentenced to death by the king, d'Artagnan produces the carte blanche. Richelieu is compelled to recommend to King Louis that he grant Aramis's wish to enter a monastery; Porthos, an introduction to a rich widow; Athos, the restoration of his title and lands; and d'Artagnan, a commission as a Musketeer and a mission to England, for "the English lead too dull a life." The four, dismissed by the King, stride from the throne room in triumph.Lana Turner as Milady, Countess de Winter
Gene Kelly as d'Artagnan
June Allyson as Constance Bonacieux
Van Heflin as Athos
Angela Lansbury as Queen Anne
Frank Morgan as King Louis XIII
Vincent Price as Richelieu. Not wanting to risk offending Roman Catholics, MGM ensured that the character was never referred to as a cardinal.
Keenan Wynn as Planchet
John Sutton as the Duke of Buckingham
Gig Young as Porthos
Robert Coote as Aramis
Reginald Owen as Treville
Sol Gorss as Jussac, an officer in Richelieu's Guards (uncredited)
Ian Keith as Rochefort, Richelieu's chief henchman. Keith reprised his role as Rochefort from the 1935 version.
Patricia Medina as Kitty, Lady de Winter's maid
Richard Stapley as Albert
Byron Foulger as Bonacieux (uncredited)
Gil Perkins as Felton (uncredited)
Dick Simons as Count de Wardes (uncredited)
Robert Warwick as d'Artagnan Sr. (uncredited)
Alberto Morin as Bazin (uncredited)
In mid-1947, it was announced Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was set to produce a film adaptation of The Three Musketeers. Initially, Louis Hayward showed interest in playing d'Artagnan in a film adaptation by Edward Small, but he withdrew when he found out The Three Musketeers was already being produced by MGM.
Despite rumors Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. was set to star, Gene Kelly was announced as the film's lead in June 1947, with production slated to begin in September. A week later, Keenan Wynn was confirmed to play a co-starring role. Shortly after, Van Heflin and William Powell were revealed to be in negotiations for the title roles. In October, Kelly broke his ankle, forcing him to give up the leading role in Easter Parade (1948), and delaying the start of filming. Though Kelly's ankle had mended sufficiently to begin shooting in January, 1948, his elaborate fencing scenes required more healing time, and were pushed back to the end of filming.
To appear as Lady de Winter, Lana Turner had to relinquish her role in an unfinished project called Bedeviled. In January 1948, news items reported Turner withdrew from The Three Musketeers. Initially, she had permission to withdraw from Louis B. Mayer, because she had been very busy shooting the films Green Dolphin Street (1947), Cass Timberlane (1947), and Homecoming (1948). However, she was later put on suspension and Alida Valli was considered as her replacement. Eventually, she agreed to make the film, and it sparked her first film in color.
Before June Allyson was cast in the remaining female lead, Deborah Kerr was offered the role in November 1947.
While the work was in the public domain in the US and Britain there was some doubt whether this was the case in some European countries, causing MGM much concern.
Footage from the film was used in the film Singin' in the Rain. It was used as part of the Lockwood/Lamont film The Royal Rascal.
The film was very successful, earning MGM's second highest gross of the 1940s, even though its large production budget minimised profits. According to MGM accounts it made $4,124,000 in the US and Canada and $4,288,000 elsewhere, recording a profit of $1,828,000. It was one of the most popular films of 1948.
The Three Musketeers was nominated for an Oscar for Best Cinematography (Color) for Robert Planck at the 21st Academy Awards. It lost to Joan of Arc.
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:2003: AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains:
The Three Musketeers – Nominated Heroes
The tight-knit fellowship of Athos, Porthos, and Aramis has become so well known that a trio who work smoothly in harmony towards some goal are often referred to as "the Three Musketeers."
In the Star Trek episode "The Naked Time," a substance that strips away inhibitions and reveals a person's innermost desires affects Lieutenant Sulu. It is shown that deep inside, he sees himself as a swashbuckler in the style of the Musketeers. After he is rendered unconscious on the bridge following his appearance there, sword in hand, Mister Spock acerbically orders two Security men to "Take d'Artagnan here to the Sickbay."