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Remind Me

The Man in the Iron Mask (1939)

The last of the D'Artagnan-Three Musketeers books by Alexandre Dumas, serialized between 1847 and 1850 but set in the late 1600s during the reign of Louis XIV, formed the basis of The Man in the Iron Mask (1939), a much-filmed tale of a despotic king, his wronged identical twin brother, and the four heroes who contrive to rescue the imprisoned twin and place him on the throne. First filmed in Germany in 1923, it got its initial Hollywood treatment in 1929 under the direction of Allan Dwan with Douglas Fairbanks as D'Artagnan. It was adapted to the screen many times after this 1939 version: France in 1962 (with Jean Marais) and Russia in 1993, a TV version directed by Mike Newell with Richard Chamberlain and an all-star British cast in 1977, as The Fifth Musketeer (1979) with another international name cast, and the most recent remake (1998) with Leonardo DiCaprio as king and twin and Gabriel Byrne, John Malkovich, Gerard Depardieu and Jeremy Irons as D'Artagnan and his three legendary compatriots late in their lives.

This version was directed by James Whale, one of the most distinctively stylish directors of the 1930s, known primarily for his horrors films Frankenstein (1931), The Old Dark House (1932), The Invisible Man (1933), and Bride of Frankenstein (1935), which are among the best of their genre. By the time he made The Man in the Iron Mask, he was nearing the end of his brief career. Sadly, he made only three more pictures after this, the last of which, Hello Out There (1949), was never released. Although not considered one of Whale's best films, The Man in the Iron Mask nevertheless has exciting moments, evocative period detail, and a fine cast (including Joan Bennett, Warren William and Joseph Schildkraut) supporting impressive work by Louis Hayward in the dual roles of Louis XIV and his brother Philippe.

The South African-born Hayward never rose to top leading man ranks, but he worked steadily into the 1970s, mostly on television in later years. The one-time husband of actress-director Ida Lupino (from 1938 to 1945), he was the first actor to portray Simon Templar, aka The Saint, on screen and turned up in the role of D'Artagnan in an odd twist on the same Dumas story, Lady in the Iron Mask (1952).

Speaking of odd twists, that 1952 release featured Alan Hale, Jr. in the role of Musketeer Porthos, the role played by his father in the 1939 version of The Man in the Iron Mask. Hale Jr., best known as the Skipper on Gilligan's Island, also played Porthos the same year in At Sword's Point (1952) and yet again in The Fifth Musketeer.

Miles Mander, who plays Musketeer Aramis, played Cardinal Richelieu in a slapstick version of The Three Musketeers (1939). Fencing master Fred Cavens appears in a small uncredited role as Francois. Cavens was the fencing choreographer-instructor and/or stunt coordinator on a number of the great swashbucklers of the period, including Captain Blood (1935), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), and the Musketeers story At Sword's Point. He also appeared in Fairbanks' silent version of this story, The Iron Mask. The cast also features, in a small role, Dwight Frye, who played the memorably demented Renfield in Dracula (1931) and appeared in several of Whale's 1930s horror movies.

Lud Gluskin and Lucien Moraweck were Oscar®-nominated for their original score for this film. The cinematography was by Robert Planck, who later received an Academy Award nomination for his work on The Three Musketeers (1948). Parts of the picture were shot at the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden.

Director: James Whale
Producer: Edward Small
Screenplay: George Bruce, based on the novel Vingt ans apres by Alexandre Dumas, pere
Cinematography: Robert H. Planck
Editing: Grant Whytock
Art Direction: John DuCasse Schulze
Original Music: Lucien Moraweck
Cast: Louis Hayward (Louis XIV/Philippe), Joan Bennett (Princess Maria Theresa), Warren William (D'Artagnan), Bert Roach (Athos), Alan Hale (Porthos), Miles Mander (Aramis).

by Rob Nixon