Movies

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• Swashbuckling isn't quite the art it used to be, but it's still good for a lively dose of ersatz romanticism in Richard Lester's production of THE THREE MUSKETEERS. Lester, who was responsible for the early Beatles movies, approaches his current project with the same spirit of amiable nonsense, giving full rein to the excesses of Dumas' novel and letting the chips fall where they may. Michael York stars as D'Artagnon, the apprentice musketeer whose enthusiasm' outweighs his dexterity. With an assist from the likes of Oliver Reed, Raquel Welch, Charlton Heston, Faye Dunaway and Richard Chamberlain, the movie packs quite a bit of color and excitement into its 105-minute running time. There are palace intrigues, duels to the death over trifling insults, infidelities, elaborate swordfights and more. The movie's single flaw seems to be an excess of pratfalls; the mock-heroic gestures and posturings of the various protagonists nearly always end in disaster. The film covers the first half of the novel, in which the musketeers come to the aid of the Queen, recovering a set of diamonds she gave her secret lover, England's Duke of Edinburgh, and foiling a palace plot to disgrace her. A sequel, THE FOUR MUSKETEERS, will send up the second half of the novel. Should be fun. Rated "PG."

• The secretive, unpleasant world of the professional wiretapper is ruthlessly dissected by Francis Ford Coppola in his latest film, THE CONVERSATION. Its antihero is Harry Caul, one of the best buggers in the country, a middle-aged neurotic whose professional expertise has been indirectly responsible for several murders. Gene Hackman effectively portrays Caul as a reclusive, suspicious, lonely man, given to fits of doubt and guilt about the morality of his work. After taping a conversation between a couple in a city park, he realizes that his eavesdropping might result in yet another murder. He attempts to take countermeasures in order to ease his conscience, but in so doing he finds that the techniques he has employed so effectively are now being used against him. Coppola directs the film with a fine sense of irony, using the taped conversation as an effective counterpoint to the later visual imagery, and displaying the soul of a man who, because of his professionâ€"spying on the private lives of othersâ€"cannot allow himself to have any meaningful private life of his own. The range of sophisticated gadgets and techniques available to professional wiretappers, as demonstrated in the movie, is awesome and frightening. Emotionally, the film is a real downerâ€"unavoidable, given its creepy subject matter. The ending is marred by intercuts between fantasy and reality, as Caul becomes more and more paranoid, trapped by a system he helped create. But for those interested in understanding the mind of the wiretapperâ€"and, by implication, the Watergate mentalityâ€"THE CONVERSATION will provide some answers. Rated "PG."

• LOVIN' MOLLY is a frustrating case of wasted potential, a promising love story that is finally unravelled by its own loose ends. Based on Larry McMurtry's novel LEAVING CHEYENNE, the movie ranges across forty years in the life of a Texas woman and the two men she loves. Anthony Perkins as the straight-laced farmer's son, Beau Bridges as his easygoing friend, and Blythe Danner as Molly, who loves them both, all deliver fine performances in the context of their roles. But the roles themselves are murky and ill-defined; often the principal characters seem oblivious to their most fundamental motivations. Such a situation is as destructive in a film as it is in real life; in LOVIN' MOLLY, the half-baked psychological delineation plays havoc with the already thin plotline. As the movie leapfrogs from 1925 to 1945 to 1964, huge chunks of the story take place offscreen. For instance, Blythe Danner has two sons, who grow up and die in World War II; they are never shown. Director Sidney Lumet moves the film along in fits and starts, throwing in a good episode here and there, then focusing on long stretches where nothing much happens. Many of the events in the film, such as the early love scenes and Molly's reactions to the birth of a calf, are played with a natural, true-to-life spontaneity; but the significance of such events is largely lost in the movie's aimless meandering. Rated "R."