The Man in the Iron Mask
Directed by James Whale
Written by George Bruce based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas pére
First Viewing/Streaming on Amazon Instant Video
Philippe: There is one law in life, my brother, that not even a king can escape… the law of retribution!
As swashbuckling costume drama goes, this one is OK.
Louis XIII’s wife gives birth to identical twin sons (both played as adults by Louis Hayward). Seeking to avoid strife over the succession to the throne, the king and his courtiers decide to turn one of the boys, Philippe, over to musketeer D’Artagnan (Warren William) to be raised. All are sworn to secrecy. Unbeknownst to the monarch, evil Fouquet (Joseph Schildkraut) has overheard the plan. Philippe grows up to be a brave, loyal man but Louis XIV, who becomes monarch as a child, is idle, vain, and heartless.
Louis’s grasping ways have caused him to be widely hated among the population. When Spanish princess Maria Theresa (Joan Bennett) comes to France to marry him, she loathes him as well. Louis is so unpopular that he fears he will be assassinated if he emerges to light a candle at the cathedral on his father’s name day. Fortuitously, Philippe is arrested for some crime and when the uncanny resemblance is discovered, Louis sends him out to take the risk for him. But Philippe easily makes peace with the assassins and captivates Maria Theresa. When Louis finally learns that Philippe is his brother, he imprisons him in the Bastille locked in an iron mask. How can justice and true love triumph? You can be sure swordplay is involved. With Alan Hale as one of the musketeers.
I went in with some trepidation because I couldn’t stand Louis Hayward’s mugging in the only other movie I’d seen him in. However, he is quite OK here and especially suited to the nasty, foppish Louis. Joseph Schildkraut, as usual, makes a really excellent villain. It’s a drags a bit but there’s enough excitement to make it entertaining on balance.
Lud Guskin and Lucien Moraweck were nominated for the Best Original Score Oscar for this film.
Clip – scenes near end – Dwight Frye has a cameo as Fouquet’s valet at approx 3:45