Louis Hayward in & Out of Iron Mask

DATELINE: Musketeers Save a King 

 Two Faces of Louis Hayward

Forget the big budget Leonardo di Caprio version of Dumas’ classic novel, The Man in the Iron Mask.  In the 1939 version, you are seeing something completely different and refreshing.

Louis Hayward stars in the double role as the evil, ruthless king—and the twin brother he does not know, but uses as a body double. Was Hayward ever so young and good-looking? Yes, and in a double-your-fun role.

He manages to create two quite different personalities to the twins: the friend and ward of D’Artagnan is quite adventurous and plays off Joan Bennett as young Marie, his betrothed.

How could such an entertaining period drama be made in 1939? We can mention the director: the great James Whale, ending the decade he started with Invisible Manand Frankenstein. He was on the downslide in reputation, but could still put together a brilliant bit of folderol.

The iron mask does not actually show up for over half the movie—and watching Hayward play off his “twin” in great special effects scenes is a delight. His queen-in-waiting is Joan Bennett, positively glowing as she bounces between the impostor and the wicked king.

The diabolical mask is saved for a short period for Philippe, the good twin, and awaits a cruel fate for the king. Whale takes this story off-kilter, but no matter. If it looks like a Western at the end, it may be the foible of the times. And was that really Peter Cushing in a first-time role? And we barely recognized Albert Dekker as the father in his few moments.

Warren William is dashing as the older D’Artagnan—and the quartet have one of those rides into the clouds, so popular in the 1930s.