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USA 1939
Directed by
James Whale
110 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2 stars

Man In The Iron Mask, The (1939)

James Whale’s adaptation of the Alexandre Dumas historical adventure yarn is for most of its running time unfortunately reminiscent of the type of costume romance that was parodied in Singin’ In The Rain - over-dressed characters uttering over-written prose in over-decorated stage-like settings.

Set in 17th century France, the film tells the story of twin sons born to King Louis XIII (Albert Dekker). The first born, Louis, who grows up to succeed his father, is a decadent sadist with sociopathic tendencies, the second born, Philippe, who was given into the care of the King's favorite musketeer, D'Artagnan (Warren William),  is a healthy charmer. Needless to say the film is given over to their pre-destined battle for the throne of France

Although there is some bad back projection, the handling of scenes involving the twin brothers, both played by Louis Hayward, seems for the time at least quite good even if they are largely limited to standing face to face (with an uncredited Peter Cushing doubling for Hayward in the over the shoulder shots). Hayward, mainly by altering his speech patterns, does a decent job of differentiating the two character-wise.

The main problem with the film is not the technical limitations but that Whale’s direction is so routine as to invite parody, giving us stereotypical characters, ponderous courtly tableaux and gauzy close-ups of Joan Bennett as the heroine princess.  So clear is the choice between Louis and Philippe one can’t help but wonder why the good guys didn’t knock off the former from the get-go and save Philippe from a lot of trouble and us from having to wait 110 minutes for the inevitable.

In the only role of note, Joseph Schildkraut provides some pantomimic fun as Louis’s simperingly wicked adviser, Fouquet, but on the other hand Marian Martin is beyond awful as the courtesan, Madame la Valliere. Of course, the Three Musketeers laugh heartily, down jugs of ale and skewer Louis’s made-to-order flunkies before giving their lives to France.

Such were the conventions of the time but even so this is one strictly for hard-core nostalgia buffs.




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