Tuesday, December 08, 2009


In 1638, Louis XIII is given an heir by Queen Anne, but moments after his birth the Queen delivers a twin boy. Since there can only be one future Louis XIV, the second boy's existence is kept secret and he is shipped off to Gascony to be raised by the King's loyal and largely retired Musketeers, led by D'Artagnan. The wicked Fouquet raises the heir to be a ruthless bastard, and years later, the Musketeers (including the grown-up twin, named Phillipe) are arrested as tax rebels, an incident which provides the movie's first rousing swashbuckling scene. At Louis' court, the King decides to use Phillipe as his double, not realizing that he is his brother. Phillipe makes nice with Maria Theresa of Spain, Louis' arranged fiancée, and they fall in love, which is nice for Louis who can remain with his mistress. Louis is less happy when Phillipe, as the King, runs into some desperately hungry peasants and promises to help them, and also orders the Musketeers freed. Louis wants to have Phillipe killed, but when the truth about their blood tie is revealed, he instead imprisons Phillipe in the Bastille in an iron mask, so his resemblance to the King will not be known. Will the Musketeers be able to save Phillipe before his beard grows so long that it will strangle him inside his mask?

I found this to be more fun than any "Three Musketeers" film I've seen yet. Directed by James Whale, this was done as an "independent," non-studio film, meaning the budget may have been a bit leaner than the norm for this kind of action film, and indeed the swashbuckling scenes are few and far between, with the political and romantic angles of the King's marriage taking up more screen time, but when they do get around to action, it's done very well. Loius Hayward does a nice job as the twins, giving his two roles two different personalities without going campily overboard. Joseph Schildkraut is appropriately slimy as Fouquet and Joan Bennett is fine as the confused love interest who is alternately repelled by Louis and attracted by Phillipe, not knowing about the ruse. Warren William makes a good aging D'Artagnan though the other Musketeers (including Alan Hale) don't wind up with much to do. Peter Cushing and Dwight Frye have small roles. Good fun, and I might even hunt down the DiCaprio remake. [TCM]

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