THE SWASHBUCKLER has always been a favourite film type in our household. ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, CAPTAIN BLOOD, THE MARK OF ZORRO, THE SEAHAWK, DONDI; these are all titles that evoke that certain feeling of high adventure and excitement in all who merely hear these titles.
THE famous novel THE THREE MUSKETEERS by Alexander Dumas has been adapted countless number of times to the screen with many a well known actor portraying the characters of D'Artanian, Porthos, Arthos and Arimas (also Moe Larry & Curly). Fewer numbers of versions of Monsieur Dumas' sequel have been committed to the celluloid.
EDWARD SMALL Pictures' THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK (Edward Small Pictures/United Artists, 1939) remains to this day a prime example of a film that seems to garner little praise for its epic telling of the treachery that follows a Royal Twin Birth.
ENLISTED as the guys with the neat blades were: Porthos (Alan Hale,Sr.-that's the Skipper's Father, from GILLIGAN'S ISLAND), Athos (Bert Roach), Aramis (Miles Mander.) and lastly the dashing D'Artanian (Warren William, distinguished Thespian of stage & screen and Road Show "Barrymore"). The beautiful Joan Bennett portrayed the Princess Maria Theresa, the Spanish Royal Betrothed to the treacherous King Louis XIV.
AND PORTRAYING both Louis XIV, as well as the 'unknown' twin, Phillip of Gascovy was that most capable and likable of a screen persona in dashing, handsome and talented Louis Hayward. Mr., Hayward, who seems to be somewhat forgotten today, really electrifies the story with his presence. His ability to give two distinct personalities to the two "Twins" to such a degree that one will find himself doubting that it is indeed one actor's portrayal. (Honest Schultz, it is!)
STANDOUT VILLAIN of the show would have to be Joseph Shilkraut as Royal Minister Foquet, the conniving weasel who taught the young King to be a cruel, selfish & truly evil Despotic Ruler. The Viennese born Mr. Shilkraut had been in pivotal roles, dating back to the Silents. It was he who so energized the portrayal of Judas Iscariat in director Cecil B. DeMille's KING OF KINGS (DeMille Films Company/Pathe Exchange, 1927).
OTHERS prominent in the outstanding cast were: Albert Dekker (as King Louis XIII), Walter Kingsford (Colbert, the Good Minister), Doris Kenyon (Queen Anne), William Royale, Boyd Irwin, Lane Chandler, Howard Brooks, Reginald Barlow, William Standing, Dorothy Vaughn, Sheila Darcy, Harry Woods and the St. Brendan's Choir.
ALSO of note in the cast were Peter Cushing, playing his first role in film as the Second Officer;and, portraying the role of the famous & infamous Cardinal Richelieu was Nigel De Brulier (The Wizard SHAZAM in THE ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN MARVEL (Republic Pictures, 1941)!
UP UNTIL now, we've talked about the people who appear before the camera lens and referred not to the guy who put it all together. Director, James Whale had brought a wealth of experience to the director's chair The resume of Mr. Whale's had such notable and stylish films as FRANKENSTEIN (1931), THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933), BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (his masterpiece, 1935), Edna Ferber's SHOWBOAT (1936), GREEN HELL (1940) and DONDI (1958). (Just kiddin' 'bout that last one, folks!)
THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK has so much to recommend it and very little to detract from its total effect on the screen. Well, in the interest of impartiality and absolute fairness, we have one complaint. The rear screen projection shots seem to be often out of proper scale to the subjects in front. This seems to be particularly evident in one of the scenes showing the "King" riding in the Coach with angry burgers in the "background" jeering, sneering and shouting down his 'Royal Highness'.
OTHERWISE the scripting & dialog, the acting, directing, the all important costumes (Because it's a 'Costume Drama', Schultz!), the countryside and the Villages & Palace sets are magnificent. In fact, it appears to us that the film may well have been done at various Studios 'Medieval' Sets. (20th Century-Fox's, RKO's, etc.). The shot of the crowd outside the Palace when King Louis XIII presented the newborn heir appears to have been taken from stock footage used in the Silent Screen's THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (Universal, 1923); which of course, starred Lon Chaney.
SO, in closing, let's tell you that both Schultz and Me give it Four Stars (at least).
NOTE: This is our first review in sometime that has no footnotes!