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.

 

Man in the Iron Mask 20 Years Later

DATELINE:  Re-assessment

leon

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.