The Iron Mask (Allan Dwan / U.S., 1929):

The pointed blade and the brioche roll, the last hurrah of the first action hero. "Out of the shadows of the past, as from a faded tapestry of time's procession slow and vast..." Olivier's portal from medieval tableau into storybook movement (Henry V) begins here, Douglas Fairbanks as D'Artagnan reveals a light baritone in the talkie prologue before hurtling into silent action with fellow Dumas knights, sabers aloft. The Musketeers are rambunctious and stout fellows, half mounted guard and half slapstick troupe—they effortlessly cross swords with foes until a mob of angry maids chase them into the river. Royal twins are the court's secret intrigue, Richelieu (Nigel De Brulier) swiftly engineers the cover-up: "One heir means peace to France. Two may mean revolution." De Rochefort (Ullrich Haupt) goes rogue and kidnaps Louis XIV (William Bakewell), Constance (Marguerite De La Motte) and Milady (Dorothy Revier) have a hair-pulling scuffle, the estranged heroes' reunion takes place during the storming of the castle. Allan Dwan keeps them all in balance, fights on horseback and on staircases gracefully keyed to the star's blithe tumbling and closet melancholia. Sporting graying whiskers and concealing a mortal wound, Fairbanks is the very embodiment of the perishability of genre, of swashbuckling high spirits cloaking a valedictory to a stage of cinema. Ford's 3 Bad Men informs the Musketeers' sacrifices (while warding off adversaries in the catacombs, Tiny Sandford's Porthos cracks open a powder keg and hurls in a torch), Bozarge recalls their celestial reward in Three Comrades. "Come on! There is greater adventure beyond." Fairbanks in The Private Life of Don Juan continues the meditation on celebrity. With Belle Bennett, Gino Corrado, and Leon Barry. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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