It's not altogether surprising that RKO's 1935 version of The Three Musketeers has all but fallen off the radar despite being the first English-language talkie adaptation. It's by no means bad but it's rarely much more than an adequate but unexciting retelling of the first half of Dumas' classic, with a few tweaks to appease the censors of the day to get rid of morally troublesome infidelity - here Constance is the innkeeper's ward rather than his wife and the Queen is not Buckingham's lover - and corrupt clergy - this time it's not Cardinal Richelieu pulling the strings but Ian Keith's de Rochefort. It doesn't help that the casting is for the most part slightly off, with Walter Abel never really seeming right as D'Artagnan and a badly miscast Paul Lukas never really convincing in the grim gusto stakes as Athos, though Moroni Olsen and Onslow Stevens fare better as Porthos and Aramis while the women - Heather Angel's Constance, Margot Grahame's Milady and Rosamond Pinchot's Queen Anne - do what's required without either disgracing or distinguishing themselves, with Grahame at least getting one big scene to play. The film's highlight comes early, with a dazzling display of massed synchronised swordsmanship presented with musical precision that's both impressive and spectacular, but little in the rest of the film seems to have been given quite the same level of care and attention. The film hits the plot points and get on with the business at hand professionally enough, but there's little panache on display aside from one nice behind the curtain moment in the finale.
There's talent behind the cameras - Son of Frankenstein director Rowland V. Lee (not at his best here), composer Max Steiner and legendary fencing master Fred Cavens - but it only shows itself in fits and bursts, with only Steiner really coming off particularly well. It's also one of the more incestuous versions of the tale: Nigel de Brulier reprised his role as De Richelieu from Fairbanks The Three Musketeers and The Iron Mask, Ian Keith would reprise his role as de Rochefort in the superior 1948 Gene Kelly version, Miles Mander would go from playing King Louis to playing Richelieu in the 1939 musical, Fred Cavens had been fencing master on The Iron Mask, while cinematographer J. Peverell Marley would do much better work on Fox's 1939 musical version of the tale and costume designer Walter Plunkett would dress the cast of the 1948 Gene Kelly version. Even director Rowland V. Lee had made a film about Cardinal Richelieu (with George Arliss in the lead) the same year on some of the same sets. You're probably better off watching any of those other versions, though for musketeer completists this certainly isn't as dull as its reputation even if it never catches fire.
Thanks to the BBC not having access to the negatives of the RKO titles they hold UK rights to, Odeon's UK PAL DVD is obviously a standards conversion from NTSC. As with most black and white conversions some of the worst sins that are so readily apparent on colour films are hidden, but there's still some minor blurring and halo-ing on long shots and writing, though medium shots and close-ups are fine. It's acceptable considering the rarity of the film (which hasn't turned up on UK TV in decades) and certainly better than a poor public domain release, but don't expect miracles - or any extras either for that matter.