The Iron Mask

Allan Dwan

T. it.: La maschera di ferro. Sog.: da I tre moschettieri, vent’anni dopo e L’uomo dalla maschera di ferro di Alexandre Dumas padre, e dalle memorie di D’Artagnan, Richelieu, e Rochefort. Scen.: Elton Thomas, Lotta Woods. F.: Henry Sharp. Scgf.: William Cameron Menzies. Int.: Douglas Fairbanks (D’Artagnan), Marguerite de la Motte (Constance), Belle Bennett (Regina Madre), Dorothy Revier (Milady de Winter), Rolfe Sedan (Luigi XIII), William Bakewell (Luigi XIV e il suo gemello), Gordon Thorpe (il giovane principe e il suo gemello), Nigel De Brulier (Cardinale Richelieu), Leon Bary (Athos), Stanley J. Sandford (Porthos), Gino Corrado (Aramis). Prod.: Douglas Fairbanks per The Elton Corporation. Pri. pro.: 9 marzo 1929. 35mm. L.: 2639 m. D.: 104′ a 22 f/s. Bn.

T. it.: Italian title. T. int.: International title. T. alt.: Alternative title. Sog.: Story. Scen.: Screenplay. F.: Cinematography. M.: Editing. Scgf.: Set Design. Mus.: Music. Int.: Cast. Prod.: Production Company. L.: Length. D.: Running Time. f/s: Frames per second. Bn.: Black e White. Col.: Color. Da: Print source

Film Notes

This was Fairbanks’s last silent film, and he put his heart and soul as well as a great deal of his money into it. His Three Musketeers of 1921 had been banned from France because the French had made their own version, and they considered Doug’s to have historical flaws. So he determined to make this one  irresistible  to the French. He hired the illustrator of Dumas Maurice Leloir who wrote a charming memoir called Five Months with Douglas Fairbanks. He was consulted on every detail of production and even gave deportment classes. Laurence Irving, grandson of Sir Henry Irving, the great English actor, also began his film career on The Iron Mask and went on to design the next Fairbanks film, The Taming of The Shrew. He was fortunate on both these films to work alongside William Cameron Menzies, who had conjured up the Arabian Nights world of The Thief of Bagdad. Having known Doug since they both worked for D.W. Griffith in the teens, Allan Dwan became a close friend and directed him in several of his finest pictures, A Modern Musketeer, Robin Hood and this one. “The theatre was too small for Doug”, said Dwan. “He was active liked movement and space so he enjoyed every minute of film-making”. Everyone agrees that Fairbanks was born to play D’Artagnan in Modern Musketeer (1917), which he wrote and directed, Dwan had Doug’s mother reading The Three Musketeers during her pregnancy. Fairbanks was a tremendous romantic. He wanted to make films that continued the sense of adventure that he felt had gone from much of the world. He fell in love with the film medium because it enabled him to tell his story in mime, by suggestion, action and movement. When David Gill and I were making the Hollywood series in the late 70s, we interviewed Dwan. He said that when he filmed the talking prologue, Fairbanks had been shaken to hear that first recording of his voice. It had the high pitch that every actor of the time feared. Dwan told him not to worry and brought in a voice double. But then we spoke to the man who had recorded it, Ed Bernds. Absolutely not Fairbanks did it himself. And the voice is recognisable  from  his  talkies. Well,  they say if you listen to two witnesses to a car crash, you wonder about history. We also tracked Laurence Irving to his home in Kent, and he told us how Doug had done the incredible leap to the convent window without a double and without safety precautions beyond the laurel hedge Irving had positioned beneath the tree. He also told us a story which became the finale to the entire series. Fairbanks was about to film the talking prologues and he took Irving to the newly-built sound stage. “The studio had been hung with heavy blankets, and the most menacing thing was the microphone on a long arm. Douglas paused, looked into this darkness and then he turned to me and said ‘Laurence, the romance of motion pictures ends here’ “. We know that it didn’t. But Fairbanks had no enthusiasm for talkies and this beautiful film is his farewell to the art he loved so much.


Kevin Brownlow

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