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.
DATELINE: Halos For All?
Stars Jonathan Frid & Joan Bennett
Perhaps it is more than amusing that the production company of Dan Stevens actually produced a documentary about Dan Stevens and his ground-breaking soap opera, the gothic Dark Shadows.
We expected that you’d have full participation of the original cast and crew—and the treat, or horror, is to see these young actors in their twilight years. Yet, it is fun too.
Many are gone of course: like Frid, Joan Bennett, and the marvelous Grayson Hall (barely mentioned).
Stevens himself was an ad-man who went to producing a golf show—and had a dream for a gothic serial. Never did he expect it to be a daytime hit for kids with sympathetic vampires, tormented governesses, and cross-time crossover storylines.
Who really made Dark Shadows a hit? Was it the producer with the classic hard edge or the gaunt actor who played the reluctant vampire? Well, you know who produced the show and produced the documentary. Frid did not join the cast until nearly a year had passed, but with him it zoomed to cult status.
There was recently a fiftieth anniversary shindig with survivors like David Selby, Lara Parker, John Karlen, Jerry Lacy, and so many other favorites. They all grew up as actors on that show as much as their audience grew up. The show had bad sets, primitive special effects, and sometimes awful plots badly acted. It was of no consequence to fans.
Frid and Stevens ultimately came to loggerheads, and Stevens was better able to move on to Winds of Warand other films. It is a trip down memory lane.
DATELINE: General Nuisance?
Grand Dame Eliz. Patterson!
A long-forgotten movie from 1945 with Charles Coburn is called Colonel Effingham’s Raid. It concerns a retired blowhard army officer who returns to his Georgia boyhood town to learn they are taking down the Confederate monument in the town square.
It seems ripped from today’s headlines, but was a pop novel by Berry Fleming, another forgotten literary dim bulb of ages ago. It is supposed to be whimsical by standards of a century ago. Appalling would be a better word.
The notion that people would fight to keep up a symbol of racism in the Old South is played as a comedy! Indeed, black kids sit around and listen to the old white mayor praise the slave-owning South. Effingham hires black servants and treats them like basic training punching bags. Yikes.
One progressive woman (Joan Bennett) blames the corrupt mayor and his home-grown political party for hiring his “poor white” relations in town patronage jobs.
Effingham is a colonel in the general sense of Trump military leaders. Pompous and patriotic in an old-fashioned way, he will lead a pre-World War II Georgia town to rise in revolt to protect the Confederacy. How quaint, but it made America great back then.
The film is notable for its costars Cora Witherspoon and Elizabeth Patterson, two old biddy character actresses, as grand dames of the South. It also features the fake news media, up to its tricks for Trumpite Effingham.
If you want to see what made America 75 years ago, this hoary movie may be a rattling of your teacups. Ef-ing-ham is a satire, unlike his real-life counterpart in the White House, but both are ridiculous for sure.