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Kino on Video presents

The Iron Mask (1929)

"Two cannot sit on the same throne. One heir means peace to France. Two may mean revolution."- Cardinal Richelieu (Nigel de Brulier)

Stars: Douglas Fairbanks, Marguerite De La Motte, Ullrich Haupt, William Bakewell, Nigel de Brulier
Other Stars: Belle Bennett, Dorothy Revier, Rolfe Sedan, Leon Bary, Tiny Sandford, Gino Corrado
Director: Allan Dwan

Manufacturer: Cine Magnetics
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence)
Run Time: 01h:43m:58s
Release Date: 2002-06-18
Genre: adventure

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B+A-A B


DVD Review

By 1929, the writing was on the wall for the silent film. Talkies were proving to not be just a novelty. At the same time, swashbuckling star Douglas Fairbanks, at age 45, was in the twilight of his career as an acrobatic star of costume dramas. Rather than go quietly, however, he went out with a bang, with his sequel to the 1921 The Three Musketeers, based on Alexandre Dumas' Vicomte de Bragelonne, the second half of which is better known as The Man in the Iron Mask.

Constance (Marguerite De La Motte), sweetheart of musketeer D'Artagnan (Fairbanks), is summoned to the royal chateau where the queen (Belle Bennett) is about to give birth to a long-awaited heir. However, when twin sons are born, the scheming power-behind-the-throne Cardinal Richelieu (Nigel de Brulier) decides that this state of affairs cannot go on. He has Constance shut up in a convent and the second son spirited off to Spain to be raised anonymously. However, de Rochefort (Ullrich Haupt) gets wind of the scheme and makes off with the boy with an eye to creating his own puppet king that he can eventually substitute for the real thing. Only the musketeers, D'Artagnan, Athos (Leon Bary), Porthos (Tiny Sandford) and Aramis (Gino Corrado), can save the day. One of the brothers will end up doomed to have his face hidden behind an iron mask for all time, but which one?

Just as the Dumas novel was a sequel to a hit, so is The Iron Mask a clear sequel to its 1921 predecessor. De La Motte, de Brulier and Leon Bary all return with Fairbanks to reprise their roles from the original film. Where the earlier picture was stunt-oriented, however, the sequel is more directed toward straight action amidst the political intrigue. Part of this is no doubt due to the fact Fairbanks was nearly ten years older, but there's still plenty of rousing adventure and swordplay. Fairbanks does manage to get in a couple trademark stunts (without use of a double, thank you very much), including leaping up a tree and across a courtyard to a barred window....and then falling several stories to the waiting Musketeers below.

Fairbanks turns in a fine and energetic performance, and de la Motte is quite likable as Constance. De Brulier, with his gaunt hawkish face, makes for the perfect Richelieu, feigning religious devotion while simultaneously creating Machiavellian plots. The musketeers are generally entertaining as well. The one off note is William Bakewell as the evil twin; he grossly overplays it, even for the silent screen, creating almost a reptilian appearance to the character. It does provide an obvious contrast with the good twin, though, for the halfwitted children in the audience.

The story isn't exactly faithful to Dumas, with gross simplifications to the story and the loss of many of the cherished character bits. However, director Allan Dwan keeps the complex politics moving along at a good clip, and the omissions help to make the picture flow as a rambunctious entertainment. Humor is well used, particularly in the early sequences featuring D'Artagnan and Constance, trying desperately to find a place where they can snatch a farewell kiss without a crowd of observers.

While this may be the final adventure of the three musketeers, it certainly must also rank with one of the finest. As the last of the Fairbanks costume dramas, fittingly it is the last of them to reach DVD, and the wait was well worth it.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The untinted black & white full-frame picture looks great. Restored by the Museum of Modern Art in tandem with Kevin Brownlow's Photoplay Productions, it looks practically new, beyond some mild flicker in a few scenes. Black levels are quite deep, and there is plenty of detail and texture visible. Plenty of shades of grey are present most of the time, although there are a few occasions where there is mild overlighting and blooming, but this may well be on the original negative, so we can't quite fault that.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: The Iron Mask, as was common with films in 1929, was issued in both silent and optical sound versions. No prints of the optical sound version are known to survive. However, the silent version featured two segments with spoken dialogue on Vitaphone discs, and these discs are still extant at the Library of Congress. They're used here to give Fairbanks back his voice for the speeches he gives to the audience, breaking the fourth wall, in the prologue and halfway through the film. The balance of the picture features a new orchestral score by Carl Davis. The sound on the score is absolutely first-rate, with great sound and frequency response, as well as a good deal of very low musical bass. The two Vitaphone segments, as is to be expected, are a little thin and noisy (especially in comparison to the Davis score), but they've been cleaned up and are plainly audible. There's nothing at all to complain about here, other than Davis' tendency to overuse the Siegrieds Tod theme from Wagner's Ring cycle a bit too much.

Audio Transfer Grade:

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Production Notes
Packaging: Alpha
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:13m:26s

Extra Extras:
  1. Outtake footage
  2. Excerpt from 1952 sound re-release
  3. Artwork and photo gallery
Extras Review: Some intriguing extras are assembled for this edition. Best of them are three segments of incredibly rare outtakes. When one considers how many films proper from this period are lost, the idea that substantial outtakes would survive is frankly astonishing. They show Fairbanks crafting three action sequences, with different ideas for stunts, variant camera angles and additional business not seen in the final film at all. Conveniently, Kino also provides for comparison the final version of these three scenes. Very thoughtful.

In 1952, the picture was rereleased with the intertitles removed and with narration by Douglas Fairbanks Jr (Fairbanks Sr had died in 1939). For comparison's sake, the first five minutes of the film are presented in the narrated version. Considering this feature hardly needs intertitles at all, the narration seems like clear overkill, but it's interesting to see the different approach. The last nine minutes of the narrative also play under an animated gallery of stills and concept art for the film. There's a ton of interesting material here as well. Finally, the text of the 1999 program for the theatrical release of the restoration is included in onscreen text. This features reminiscences by Fairbanks Jr, director Allan Dwan and Davis as well as production information. In all, a very good package.

Extras Grade: B

Final Comments

Fairbanks' classic swashbuckling swan song is meticulously restored to its original silent condition, and looks and sounds fabulous, with a terrific score to boot. Add on some intriguing extras and Kino has a winner here.

Mark Zimmer 2002-06-10