Iron Mask [1929]

While all Hollywood was gearing up for sound, Douglas Fairbanks lavished money and attention on this ambitious period adventure, a jaunty, jubilant sequel to his early swashbuckler The Three Musketeers. The Iron Mask is set 20 years later, and Fairbanks (by now 43 years old) reprises his role as D'Artagnan as the older and more mature personal protector of young Louis XIV. When he tips a plot by the powerful cardinals to replace the heir to the throne with his twin brother, D'Artagnan reunites his aging compatriots of old for one last hurrah. Energetically directed by Allan Dwan, who guided Fairbanks through his biggest hit, Robin Hood, and handsomely designed by William Cameron Menzies (The Thief of Bagdad), this action-packed film moves through plot twists and conspiratorial machinations with quicksilver speed (it begins and ends with breathless chase scenes), but it also carries a dimension of melancholy: the musketeers are aging and the era of chivalry fading. The touching denouement, a scene both ebullient and affecting, becomes Fairbanks's farewell to the silent screen. In a way the film is a farewell to the grace and energy of the silent cinema that almost disappeared in the early sound years. Fairbanks only appeared in five talkies before retiring in 1935. Kino's edition features the 1952 reissue with narration by son Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and an orchestral score by Allan Gray. --Sean Axmaker

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