The jaunty swashbuckler lives on in this sharply restored Douglas Fairbanks epic, a lavish version of The Three Musketeers made at the tail end of the silent era. In fact, it’s the great star’s last silent film and his last appearance in a swashbuckler, two facts that only heighten the film’s reputation as perhaps the finest achievement of the genre. (That it was filmed in Monterey and Point Lobos is yet another plus for Bay Area audiences.) Fairbanks plays his favorite literary hero, Dumas’s gallant D’Artagnan, still busy leaping off balconies and fighting ruffians with the aide of his sword-wielding brethren, the Musketeers. He even has time for a love interest in the distracting form of the seamstress Constance, but soon friendship and romance are put to the test by the machinations of the black-hearted Cardinal Richelieu and the formidably slimy Count De Rochefort, both of whom are scheming to topple the throne of France. Along the way there’s enough displays of chivalry, derring-do, swordplay and impressive pre-special effects stuntwork to make contemporary Hollywood actioneers seem like utter dullards, with everything topped by a spectacular, surprisingly bittersweet climax. The Iron Mask was directed with verve by the action specialist Allan Dwan, who helmed more than 140 films and whose later output included such cult works as Slightly Scarlet (1956) and Silver Lode (1954). —SFIFF
Born in Toronto (Canada) in 1885, Allan Dwan trained as an engineer before becoming interested in the budding film industry and joining the Essanay studios as a script writer in 1909. He quickly and easily moved into film making and proved to be a true innovator, particularly in the technical field. He directed such stars as Mary Pickford and Gloria Swanson and became the preferred director of Douglas Fairbanks, with whom he made 11 movies, including the famous Robin Hood (1922).
He continued his prolific career in the talkies, although too often confined to making B movies. During his 50 year career, he made more than 400 movies, the latest being in 1961 at the age of 76. He died in Los Angeles in 1981 at the age of 96. —Octuor de France