The Man In The Iron Mask (1939)

JAMES WHALE

Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BBBB.  

USA, 1939.  Screenplay by , based on the novel by .  Cinematography by Robert H. Planck.  Produced by .  Music by .  Production Design by .  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by .  

Loose adaptation of the third volume of Three Musketeers stories by Alexandre Dumas, among which was this tale that toyed with the legend an unknown prisoner in the Bastille that many theorized was the hidden twin brother of Louis XIV.  Louis’ father was thrilled that his first-born heir was a son until a second, identical boy was born minutes later, his advisors convincing him to separate them to avoid a war of succession in the future.  Louis grows up in Paris to become a feckless and indulgent king who taxes the people to the point of near-revolution (but they’ll wait a few more years to really make that happen), while Philippe is raised by the quartet of All For One and One For All in the country until he is brought to the capital under arrest for rebellion.  At first the king is thrilled at this body double and uses him to pull of a few sneaky stunts, but when Philippe uses his masquerade to subvert his brother’s policies, he is placed in prison and an iron mask locked to his head until such time as his beard grows long enough to choke him to death.  One of the last features directed by James Whale before his early retirement from the Hollywood studio scene, this exciting and lavishly produced adventure has wonderful performances, gorgeous sets and a lot of marvelous fights before the climactic finale.  It doesn’t exactly have the sparkle of Errol Flynn’s best adventures, mainly because Louis Hayward does due diligence in the double lead role but is no Errol Flynn, but it’s a satisfying night at the movies for young and old.  Joan Bennett is lovely and effective as the Spanish princess who is brought to marry the king but thankfully ends up in the arms of his brother, while the denouement of Marion Martin‘s “fallen woman” is a shameless act of old movie morality that is almost hilarious in its efficiency.

Academy Award Nomination:  Best Original Score

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