Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Iron Mask (Allan Dwan) ****

Director: Allan Dwan

Cast: Douglas Fairbanks, Leon Bary, Tiny Sandford, Gino Corrado, Nigel de Brulier, William Bakewell, Marguerite De La Motte, Ullrich Haupt

Background: Douglas Fairbanks wrote the screenplay and spent a great deal of money on this sequel (with mostly different co-stars) to 1921's The Three Musketeers, knowing that it would be his last silent film (though he did film two short recorded monologues). Director Allan Dwan had over 300 films on his resume including a 1922 version of Robin Hood starring Wallace Beery.

Story: D'Artagnan (Fairbanks) attempts to get revenge against Cardinal Richelieu (de Brulier) for the death of his love Constance (De La Motte), but is forced to separate from his Musketeer pals (Bary, Sandford, Corrado) and serve the King's son Louis XIV (Bakewell) to prepare him for the throne, not knowing that the boy has a twin brother that was hidden by Richelieu.

Thoughts: While doing this project, I've seen alot of movies that I didn't care for, many of them out of duty (Wings, The Jazz Singer). So it's a great pleasure to come across something that makes me realize why I started this project in the first place. The Iron Mask is a supremely entertaining film of the highest order, incredibly exciting and fun (while maintaining a dark undercurrent) from beginning to end. Fairbanks crafted a fanciful script that changes many elements of the original story, but is still suitably complex and intriguing. Fairbanks was 46 at this point, but had not lost his marquee appeal or his ability to do fantastic stunts. It's pure joy to watch him dance around the screen, hopping over walls and doing backflips. His status as a screen legend was well earned. Allan Dwan directs this film with a breezy pace, managing to achieve a nice balance of adventure and despair. There is great support from the entire cast, especially Nigel de Brulier as the evil Cardinal Richelieu. The film concludes with one of the most memorable endings in film history, as Fairbanks wraps the story up in a way that makes it an incredibly moving goodbye to the era of silent cinema. Amazing.

Postscript: A re-issue of the film was done in the 50s for a TV release, with the intertitles removed and narration added by Douglas Fairbanks Jr. This is the same verstion available online in public domain, but I strongly recommend watching the original silent version that is available on DVD from Kino. Fairbanks retired from films in 1934, after a few unsuccessful attempts at talkies.

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