Take 3: The Man in the Iron Mask (1939) Review

For the 2021 Swashbucklathon, I decided to review a movie that one of my readers recommended to me. It just so happens that one of my recent reccomendations, given to me by Patricia from Caftan Woman, was the 1939 version of The Man in the Iron Mask! Years ago, I had seen the 1998 adaptation of this specific title. However, I only have vague recollections of it, so I can’t give an honest opinion on that film. The aforementioned recommendation came after I had reviewed the 1948 version of The Three Musketeers. If you had read this article, you would know how much I enjoyed that film. But how does The Man in the Iron Mask compare to The Three Musketeers? Keep reading to find out!

The Man in the Iron Mask (1939) poster created by United Artists and Edward Small Productions.

Things I liked about the film:

The acting: I am not familiar with Louis Hayward as an actor. Despite this, I really enjoyed his dual performance as both King Louis XIV and Philippe of Gascony! Whenever Louis Hayward portrayed King Louis, he had a crazed look in his eyes, especially when King Louis was near something or someone he wanted. This can be seen when he meets Princess Maria Theresa for the first time. King Louis displayed a short temper as well. Meanwhile, Philippe had a gentler persona. He even got along with the people around him. When Philippe was apologizing to Maria about his inability to see her earlier in the day, the way he talked to her, as well as his body language, showed how he truly cared about her. Toward the beginning of the film, Philippe is sharing a meal with the Musketeers. He had a jovial disposition during this part of the scene, appearing to be enjoying the company. The Man in the Iron Mask is the first film of Joan Bennett’s I am reviewing. While I don’t have any other performance of Joan’s to compare to her portrayal of Princess Maria Theresa, I did like her performance in the 1939 film! What made it memorable was how well-rounded it was. Whenever Maria interacted with King Louis, she was headstrong, not afraid to stand up to him. But when she is with Philippe, she has a pleasant, more kind-hearted personality. Even though the Musketeers were on screen for a limited amount of time, I enjoyed seeing their camaraderie amongst them! It helps that the actors portraying the Musketeers had good on-screen chemistry!

The costume design: Back in April, I reviewed the 1948 adaptation of The Three Musketeers. A strength that movie and The Man in the Iron Mask share is the costume design! Exquisite is the word I would use to describe the costumes shown. One beautiful example is a coat Fouquet wore to a wedding. The black coat was adorned with black sparkly cuffs and edges. It was also covered with gold embroidery. Maria had an impressive wardrobe! One of my favorite outfits is a silk gown she wore when Philippe apologized to her. The gown itself complimented Joan’s dark hair. What adds to the look are the sparkling accessories! Diamond star hairpins could be found in Joan’s hair and a jeweled necklace was around her neck. A little bit of sparkle definitely helped elevate this outfit!

The set design: Another area of this film where the word, exquisite, could apply is the set design! In King Louis’ palace, the walls were covered with detailed wallpaper. Intricate wood carvings covered the chair in his office, showing off the affluence in his life. Carvings could also be seen in other palace spaces, such as over a fireplace in a sitting room. Fine details came in all shapes and sizes, as well as in various materials. In Maria’s room, two angel shaped lamps were located above a desk. These lamps looked like they were made of metal. The little things within these sets showcased the elegance this cinematic world had to offer!

The 2021 Swashbucklathon banner created by Paul from Silver Screen Classics.

What I didn’t like about the film:

Unclear details: There were a few details within the overall story that weren’t made clear. At the beginning of the movie, the Musketeers were named enemies of the King. They were also taken in as prisoners. But I didn’t hear why they were declared enemies. In fact, I don’t remember this reason ever being spoken. Had details like this been clarified, certain parts of the story would be less confusing.

A limited amount of action scenes: After watching the 1948 adaptation of The Three Musketeers, I expected to see exceptional fight choreography in the 1939 film. While I did get to see some interesting fight sequences, there was less action in The Man in the Iron Mask than in The Three Musketeers. Looking back on the movie, I can think of only a handful of action scenes in this particular story. What this film emphasized was drama and romance. While having drama and romance can work in a film, this direction in The Man in the Iron Mask was much different than I had anticipated.

A somewhat misleading title: As I said in the introduction, I have seen the 1998 adaptation of The Man in the Iron Mask. From what I remember, the audience knew early on there was a literal man in an iron mask. Even though this titular character was in the 1939 film, the mask itself didn’t come in until an hour into the movie. I understand that moment needed build-up. However, I think that part of the story should have taken place much sooner.

Princess tiara image created by Freepik at freepik.com. <a href=’https://www.freepik.com/free-vector/ornamental-princess-crowns_1109199.htm’>Designed by Freepik</a>. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/gold”>Gold vector created by Freepik</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

My overall impression:

So far, the best film I’ve seen this year is the 1948 adaptation of The Three Musketeers. There was so much within that film I liked. When watching The Man in the Iron Mask, I wondered if this movie could compare to the 1948 film. While there were things about the project I did enjoy, I still like The Three Musketeers more. The 1939 picture was a likeable one. However, some flaws ended up holding this film back. One of them was how action was used sparingly. Other flaws, such as a somewhat misleading title and some unclear details, brought its score down. But I would recommend this film, especially if you’re looking for a title for Clean Movie Month. The Man in the Iron Mask makes me want to revisit the 1998 version in the future. For now, I need to focus on publishing my next blog follower dedication review!

Overall score: 7.4-7.5 out of 10

Have you seen any versions of The Man in the Iron Mask? If so, which one is your favorite? Please tell me in the comment section!

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen

One thought on “Take 3: The Man in the Iron Mask (1939) Review

  1. Pingback: Day Three: The 2021 Swashbucklathon Wraps Up – Silver Screen Classics

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