Man in the Iron Mask 20 Years Later

DATELINE:  Re-assessment


Twenty years ago (was it really 1998?), we saw the TV movie version of The Man in the Iron Mask—and pronounced it the film in which a generation of venerated actors knelt down before the new god of acting. So we were reminded today by a little magpie.

It now seems a good time to re-assess the movie, now in HD and streaming.

Yes, the passing of the torch literally happened at the end of the film when the Three Musketeers (Jeremy Irons, Gerard Depardieu, and John Malkovitch) dropped to their knees before Leonardo di Caprio as if to pay homage to the new acting marvel. Yes, literally, not figuratively.

The young star was stunning, both in his performances in the dual roles of the man in the mask and his egregious brother.

And, on top of that, he was beautiful beyond words.

Over the years, he has morphed into a character actor and downplayed his looks. If you are not beautiful at 24, you never will be.

As for the film, as period pieces go, the production was quite impressive, with only one matte shot that seemed fake. The most shocking shot was Depardieu naked.

It was a rousing tale of the aging Musketeers, and their swan song too. Each of the principal actors (Gabriel Byrne was D’Artagnan) shone in his place—but all had to play second fiddle to the twice the  Di Caprio that you might expect as both the good boy and bad one.

The film’s actresses fared less well and were less known, as even the minor male stars turned out to be Peter Skarsgaard as Malkovich’s son (looking surprisingly alike) and in a throwaway role, Hugh Laurie, almost comical.

Twenty years did not dampen the film’s high-quality appeal.

Unusual Suspects After Two Decades



The Usual Suspects, Guilty as Charged!

The mind plays tricks on us after twenty years. For example, we thought director Bryan Singer did Apt Pupil a few years before The Usual Suspects. In fact, his Stephen King adapted story came immediately after his seminal testimonial to Hollywood crime thrillers.

The Usual Suspects holds up nearly two decades after its appearance, and like so many superior movies, looks positively fresh and new. Forgotten by many for its intricate and convoluted plot, flashbacks, and narrative, its derivation owed the world of movies for its existence.

The title came from Casablanca, and dozens of film echoes of great noir movies come to mind and dance in and out like bad cameos. It takes the Joe Mankiewicz flashback technique and revives it to the utter consternation of direct narrative. Mr. Mankiewicz would have loved it.

From the opening lineup where the five principal characters read one line in styles that parallel acting school tryouts, you have the best character actors of the 1990s in pure unleashed mode.

Benicio Del Toro is doing his best Brando imitation, and Stephen Baldwin is doing his best Alec Baldwin imitation.

Kevin Spacey is the apparent brains of the outfit, or at least its Homer giving us the rosy-fingered dawn of criminal baptism.

If we were to suspect anything all these years later, it is the criminals have one thing in common: their cloaked and dagger gay liaisons to each other. Of course, that is a minority viewpoint.

The film won a bunch of Oscars and other awards, putting Kevin Spacey on the map of stars, though it is the essence of repertoire acting groups, like the old Warner Brothers epics of the 1940s. Not a role is minor, not a performance is a throwaway.

WARNING: Film aficionados may start hooting at a moment’s notice.