Thursday, July 04, 2013

The Iron Mask (1929)

Rautanaamio / La maschera di ferro. US © 1929 The Elton Corporation. D: Allan Dwan. 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. SC: Elton Thomas, Lotta Woods. DP: Henry Sharp. AD: William Cameron Menzies. C: 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). P: Douglas Fairbanks per The Elton Corporation. Premiere: 9 marzo 1929. 35 mm. 2639 m. 104' a 22 f/s. B&w. Da: Photoplay Productions. Restored by Photoplay Productions © 1999 Douris Corporation. Cinema Jolly (Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna), 4 July 2013

Introduce Kevin Brownlow
Musiche composte e dirette da Carl Davis, con sincronizzazione dal vivo a cura di Patrick Stanbury (Photoplay Productions)

Kevin Brownlow: "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

"Un pour tous, tous pour un".

Alexandre Dumas's novels The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers were the first books I read as a child, the names of the musketeers belonged to the first words I learned to write, and I still have a special affection for these stories.

I had never seen this masterpiece of the adventure genre before, and I was very grateful for this superb presentation of the Photoplay version. The Douglas Fairbanks-Allan Dwan The Iron Mask is now my candidate for the best-ever The Three Musketeers film adaptation. In his inspired introduction Kevin Brownlow stated that "Douglas Fairbanks was born to play D'Artagnan".

There is a special gravity in this Fairbanks-Dwan collaboration. Their other movies were adventure comedies. The Iron Mask is an adventure tragedy, where all the familiar characters die: - Constance - Milady - Richelieu - Porthos - Aramis - Athos - D'Artagnan (the four of them "for the glory of France"). Yet there is a stunning concluding word as the final intertitle. Instead of The End it says: The Beginning!

The biggest tragedy takes place already in the middle. Cardinal Richelieu spares the musketeers from the firing squad. "I will not spare the thing you value the most - friendship. You four must separate to your own provinces". Except D'Artagnan, who becomes the commander of the King's Guard.

The Iron Mask is about loss, grief, and responsibility. We see the playful mood in scenes of derring-do, and in the "Ho-La!" montage where D'Artagnan remembers the adventures of the musketeers, including the one where they got a beating from the women of a tavern. The Iron Mask is the most mature of the Fairbanks-Dwan adventures.

The cinematography by Henry Sharp is handsome, often dark. The mise-en-scène is brilliant, for instance in the spiral staircase battle in the River Castle. The most memorable image is the four-split scene where the Musketeers must part and go their separate ways. Visual motifs are effectively used: the metal saucer with the inscribed message from the iron-masked king, and the broken coin, whose two parts are carried by the King and D'Artagnan, respectively. The scene where Porthos detonates the powder cellar is effective, and Dwan made a similar scene a few years later in While Paris Sleeps with Victor McLaglen.

The sound prologues in the beginning and in the "twenty years after" part after the intermission are shot in tableau style with Douglas Fairbanks reciting his statement in a terribly theatrical, ornamental, vibrating voice. They are in sharp contrast with his playful, graceful performance in the movie itself.

The Carl Davis score is magnificent, with impressive Baroque influences in the court sequences.

The Photoplay print is beautiful.

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