“THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK” (1977) Review

“THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK” (1977) Review

I have seen my share of movie and television productions that are based on novels and plays by Alexandre Dumas père and his son Alexandre Dumas fils And for some reason, I never get tired of watching them – over and over again. And one of them is the 1977 television movie, “THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK”.

Directed by Mike Newell and adapted by William Bast, “THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK” is loosely based on Alexandre Dumas père‘s 1847-50 novel, “The Vicomte of Bragelonne: Ten Years Later”. The novel was the third and last of the author’s “The d’Artagnan Romances” literary trilogy, following “The Three Musketeers” and “Twenty Years After”. The movie begins with Philippe Bourbon being snatched by a group of mysterious men from his small French estate and imprisoned at the Bastille. It turns out that the men behind this kidnapping is King Louis XIV’s finance minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert and the head of the Musketeers, D’Artagnan.

Aware that Philippe is the twin brother of the king (and the rightful monarch of France), the pair plan to conduct a bloodless coup to eventually switch Philippe with the corrupt and malicious Louis. However, their plans are stymied when the Chevalier Duval, an aide of the also corrupt Superintendent of Finances Nicolas Fouquet, stumbles across Philippe. Fouquet, via instructions from Louis, orders Duval to take Philippe from the Bastille and install him in another prison on the coast. Fortunately for Colbert and D’Artagnan, they learn of Philippe’s fate from Louis’ reluctant and disenchanted mistress Louise de La Vallière and plot to rescue the royal twin and continue with their plot to replace him with Louis.

When I saw “THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK” for the first time, I thought it was perfect. Flawless. And it became one of my favorite Alexandre Dumas adaptations and television movies for years. After my recent viewing of the television movie, I now realize that it is not perfect. I feel that screenwriter William Bast had changed one aspect of Dumas’ novel, “The Vicomte of Bragelonne: Ten Years Later”, that had an impact on the 1977 movie’s narrative. The novel had portrayed Louis as the older twin and rightful king of France. For some reason, Bast had made Philippe the oldest twin. Why? I have no idea. To justify Philippe’s theft of the French throne? Unfortunately, this narrative change left me wondering why Philippe, as the “older twin” was not allowed to be his father’s heir and later, successor. In one scene, Colbert explained that former French minister and lover of the twins’ mother Queen Anne, Cardinal Mazarin, had Philippe taken away following the latter’s birth, in order to manipulate then King Louis XIII. This explanation struck me as lame and confusing. And Bast should have never changed this aspect of Dumas’ plot.

Many moviegoers have become increasingly critical of any production that have not closely adhere to its literary source over the years. I have no idea how many of them felt about this 1977 television movie. But I have a pretty good idea how I feel about it. Although I found the major change mentioned in the above paragraph troubling, I had no problems with many of other Bast’s changes. I have read Dumas’ novel. It was interesting . . . to say the least. I have no problems reading or watching a story with a downbeat ending if it suits the narrative or if I am in the mood to embrace it. I have never been in the mood to embrace Dumas’ 1847-50 novel. Which would probably explain why I enjoyed the changes in this adaptation a lot. But wait . . . extreme changes had been made in other adaptations of “The Vicomte de Bragelonne”. What was it about this particular adaptation that I enjoyed? I found it better written than the other adaptations.

For me, “THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK” was a tight and well-written story that did not drag or rush the movie’s narrative. Which is more than I can say for Dumas’ story. Most Dumas’ adaptations tend to be part-dramas/part-swashbucklers. “THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK” – at least this version – seemed to be eighty-five percent drama and fifteen percent action. In fact, the only real action sequence in this production turned out to be D’Artagnan’s rescue of Philippe from the coastal prison. And if I must be honest, I thought Mike Newell’s direction, Freddie Young’s cinematography and Bill Blunden’s editing made that sequence a tense, yet exciting affair.

However, the meat of “THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK” centered around its dramatic scenes. Thanks to Newell’s direction, Bast’s screenplay and a talented cast, the television movie featured some very memorable scenes. Among my favorites are Philippe’s discovery that he is the King of France’s twin brother, Louis’ malicious reaction to his failure to impress Louise de La Vallière, a tense conversation between Philippe and Queen Marie-Therese, and the last verbal duel between Colbert and Fouquet. If I had to select my absolute favorite scene, it had to be the one that featured Louis’ “Sun King” ballet, Louise’s failure to be impressed and Louis’ malicious act of using the Queen as a scapegoat for his embarrassment.

As I had earlier stated, the dramatic scenes in “THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK” would have never been fully satisfying to me without its top notch cast. Yes, there were solid performances from the likes of Denis Lawson, Hugh Fraser and Brenda Bruce. But I found myself impressed by other members of the cast. They include Vivien Merchant, who did an excellent job in conveying Queen Marie-Therese’s mixed emotions toward her emotionally abusive spouse – whether it was desire, resentment or a combination of both. Ian Holm was excellent as Minister Fouchet’s aide, the Chevalier Duval, who seemed to be brimming with cunning intelligence and stealth. I would never associate Louis Jordan portraying a swashbuckling figure. But I must admit that he made an excellent man-of-action in his portrayal of the experienced, competent and quick-thinking D’Artagnan.

Jenny Agutter gave a sublime and passionate performance as Louise de La Vallière, Louis’ reluctant mistress who ended up falling in love with the latter’s twin. Ralph Richardson’s portrayal of France’s finance minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert struck me as one of the more entertaining performances in the production. I found Richardson’s Colbert cunning, intelligent, patient and more importantly – at least to me – witty. I have seen Patrick McGoohan in several heroic and villainous roles. But I must admit that his Nicolas Fouquet struck me as one of the most subtlety portrayed villains I have ever seen on screen. McGoohan’s Fouquet could put Sheev Palpatine from the STAR WARS saga when it comes to subtle villainy. And I like subtle villains. I find them more dangerous.

If I had to give an award for the best performance in “THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK”, I would give it to its leading man, Richard Chamberlain. Mind you, Chamberlain had to portray two characters – the decent, yet slightly hot-headed Philippe Bourbon; and the vain and egotistic King Louis XIV. Mind you, I thought Chamberlain did an excellent job of conveying Philippe’s sense of confusion, anger and passion. But the actor’s portrayal of Louis literally knocked my socks off. Chamberlain’s performance was not over-the-top. He did a subtle job of conveying Louis’ villainy. And yet, he managed to inject a great deal of – how can I put it – a joie de vivre quality in his performance that I found truly entertaining. There was no doubt that Chamberlain’s Louis was a villain. But his Louis proved to be one of the most entertaining villains I have seen on screen.

I realize that I have yet to discuss the television movie’s production values. We are talking about the 1970s. Although I can recall a good number of television miniseries with first-rate production values, I cannot say the same about several period television productions from both sides of the Atlantic. And “THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK” is a television movie with a 100 minutes running time. However, I thought its production values were first-rate. Despite being a made-for-TV movie, “THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK” was shot on several locations in both France and Great Britain. Thankfully, Freddie Young’s photography did an excellent job in enhancing those locations. John Stoll took advantage of those locations and skillfully re-created France and Louis XIV’s court of the late 1660s or early 1670s. I am not an expert of 17th century fashion – in France or anywhere else. I have no idea whether Olga Lehmann’s costume designs or Betty Glasow’s hairstyle are historically accurate. But I cannot deny that I found the hairstyles satisfying and Lehman’s costumes beautiful, as shown below:

In the end, I am happy to state that “THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK” remains one of my all time favorite adaptations of an Alexandre Dumas père novel. Despite my quibble of one of William Bast’s changes in Dumas’ story, I feel more than satisfied with his other changes and thought he had presented a first-rate story. And my satisfaction also extends to Mike Newell’s top-notch direction and the excellent performances from a cast led by the always superb Richard Chamberlain.

“THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO” (1975) Review

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“THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO” (1975) Review

There have been numerous adaptations of Alexandre Dumas père’s 1844 novel, “The Count of Monte Cristo”. I have seen at least three adaptations – two theatrical releases and a television movie. I had just recently viewed the latter, which aired on British television back in 1975, on DVD. 

“THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO” begins in 1815 with the return of merchant sailor Edmond Dantès to his home port of Marseilles in order to marry his Catalan fiancée, Mercédès Herrera. Before dying during this last voyager, Edmond’s captain Leclère charges Dantès to deliver a letter from Elba to an unknown man in Paris. On the eve of Dantès’ wedding to Mercédès, Dantès’ colleague Danglars, who is jealous of Edmond’s promotion to captain, advises Edmond’s friend Fernand Mondego to send an anonymous note accusing Dantès of being a supporter of the recently exiled Napoleon Bonaparte. Fernand is open to the suggestion due to his own jealousy of Edmond’s engagement to Mercédès, whom he also loves. Edmond is arrested and interrogated by the local chief deputy prosecutor Gérard de Villefort. De Villefort is willing to release Edmond when he realizes that the latter is innocent of being a Bonapartist. But when he discovers that Edmond was charged in delivering a letter to his own father, another Bonapartist, de Villefort has Edmond sent to the Château d’If prison without a trial.

During his fourteen year imprisonment, Edmond meets a fellow prisoner named Abbé Faria, who gives the former a former education. When Faria finds himself on the verge of death, he informs Edmond about a treasure located on the Italian island of Monte Cristo. When Faria dies, Edmond takes his place in the burial sack and makes his escape from the Château d’If. After acquiring the Monte Cristo treasure, Edmond sets about seeking revenge against the three men responsible for his imprisonment.

Many literary and movie fans have complimented this adaptation as being “faithful” to Dumas’ tale in compare to many others. I am a little more familiar with the 1845 novel than I was several years ago, when I had reviewed both the 1934 and 2002 adaptations. Which means I am quite aware that this adaptation is no more faithful than the others. But this did not bother me . . . somewhat. I have one or two issues that I will discuss a bit later. But overall, I found this adaptation, which was produced by a British television production company called ITC Entertainment, both satisfying and entertaining. I realize that my last description of the movie seems slightly tepid. Trust me, I do not regard this adaptation as tepid. It truly is quite good. I thought director David Greene and screenwriter Sidney Carroll provided television audiences with a lively and intelligent adaptation of Dumas’ tale.

Both Greene and Carroll did an excellent job of maintaining a steady pace for the film’s narrative. Starting with Edmond’s return to Marseilles before Napoleon’s Hundred Days return to power, to his fourteen year incarceration inside the Château d’If, and his discovery of the Monte Cristo treasure; I can honestly say that this television movie did not rush through the narrative. Well, most of it. This steady pacing seemed especially apparent in Dantes’ elaborate plots to exact revenge against Mondego, Danglars and de Villefort. However . . . there were aspects of Dumas’ narrative that could have stretched out a bit and I will focus on that later. Greene and Carroll also did a solid job in conveying how those fourteen years in prison, along with his desire for revenge had an impact upon his personality. This topic was not explored as much as I wish it had been, but it was featured in the film’s plot.

I do have a few complaints. Like the 1934 movie, this television movie featured the character of Haydée, the daughter of a pasha who had been betrayed and murdered by Ferdinand Mondego and one of Edmond’s major allies. In the novel, Haydée became Edmond’s lover by the story’s end. In this television movie, she is basically an ally who was limited to two scenes. I suspect that the character’s North African background made the producers unwilling to to be faithful to Dumas’ novel and give Isabelle De Valvert, who had portrayed Haydée, more screen time, aside from two scenes. Pity. Speaking of Edmond’s love life, I noticed that once he became the Count of Monte Cristo, Richard Chamberlain and Kate Nelligan, who portrayed Mercédès Mondego, barely shared any screen time together. In fact, it seemed as if Edmond barely thought about Mercédès. So when the film ended with him rushing toward Mercédès to declare his never ending love for her, it seemed so false . . . and rushed. I do not recall seeing any build up to this scene.

One must remember that “THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO” is not only a drama, but also a swashbuckler. And that means action sequences. There were not that many in the movie, but there were a few memorable moments. The final action sequence featured a duel between Edmond and his former friend, Mondego. It never happened in the novel, but I found it interesting to watch a duel between two former onscreen swashbucklers – Richard Chamberlain and Tony Curtis. It was . . . decent. But if I must be honest, I was more impressed by the duel between Carlo Puri and Alessio Orano, who portrayed Andrea Benedetto (a person set up by Edmond to be a part of de Villefort’s past) and Alessio Orano, who portrayed a former cowardly neighbor of Edmond named Caderousse. Neither duel was particularly long, but I found the Benedetto-Caderousse duel to be more physical and exciting.

I have mixed views of the movie’s production values. On one hand, I found myself very impressed by Walter Patriarca’s production designs and Andrew Patriarca’s art direction. I thought both did an excellent job of utilizing the film’s Italian locations to re-create early 19th century France and Italy. I was also impressed by Aldo Tonti’s solid photography for the film. I found it clear and somewhat colorful. My feelings regarding the film’s costumes are not as positive. I noticed that there is no costume designer named for the film. Instead, Luciana Marinucci was hired as the costume/wardrobe “supervisor”. This makes me wonder if a good deal of the film’s costumes came from warehouses in Italy. A good deal of the fabrics used for movie’s costumes struck me as questionable. Cheap. And quite frankly, I found this somewhat disappointing for a first-rate movie like this. I also found the hairstyle worn by actress Taryn Power, as shown in the image below:

It bore no resemblance to the hairstyles worn by women during the early 1830s.

I certainly had no complaints about the film’s cast. All either gave solid or excellent performances. The movie boasted solid performances from the likes of Anthony Dawson, Angelo Infanti, Harold Bromley, George Willing, Alessio Orano, Taryn Power, Dominic Guard, Dominic Barto and Isabelle De Valvert. Although I have a high regard for Kate Nelligan as an actress, I must admit that I was not that overly impressed by her performance as Mercédès Mondego. I thought it was solid, but not particularly mind blowing. It seemed as if she really had not much material to work with, aside from those scenes that featured Edmond’s arrest and her final scene.

But thankfully, “THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO” does boast some excellent and memorable performances. One came from Carlo Puri, who gave a very charismatic performance as Andrea Benedetto, a former galleys convict used by Edmond in his scheme against Gérard de Villefort. Speaking of the latter, Louis Jordan was superb as the ambitious prosecutor who was responsible for Edmond’s incarceration in the first place. I was especially impressed by his performance in the scene that featured the revelation about the illegitimate son he had tried to kill years earlier. Another superb performance came from Donald Pleasence as Danglars. I thought he did an excellent job in transforming his character from a resentful and jealous seaman into the greedy banker. Trevor Howard earned a well deserved Emmy nomination for his portrayal of Edmond’s mentor, the imprisoned former soldier-turned-priest. I found his last scene especially poignant to watch. This was probably the first production in which I saw Tony Curtis portray a villain.   And I thought he gave an excellent performance as the broodingly jealous Ferdinand Mondego, who seemed to have no qualms about destroying others for the sake of his feelings and his ambitions. “THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO” proved to be Richard Chamberlain’s second (or third) production that was an adaptation of an Alexandre Dumas père novel. Like Howard, he had earned a well deserved Emmy nomination for his portrayal of the revenge driven Edmond Dantès. Chamberlain did a superb job in conveying the growing development of Edmond’s character from the clean-cut, yet ambitious young seaman, to the long-suffering prisoner wallowing in despair and finally, the cool and manipulative man, whose desire for vengeance had blinded him from the suffering of other innocents.

In the end, I have some problems with certain aspects of “THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO”, including the portrayal of some characters , a few changes in the narrative’s ending and some of the costumes. Despite them, I can honestly say that I enjoyed the television movie and thought it did a fine job adapting Alexandre Dumas père novel. And this is due to Sidney Carroll’s well-written screenplay, David Greene’s solid direction and an excellent cast led by the always superb Richard Chamberlain.

Favorite Television Productions Set in the 1600s

Below is a list of my favorite television productions (so far) that are set in the 1600s: 

FAVORITE TELEVISION PRODUCTIONS SET IN THE 1600s

1. “The Man in the Iron Mask” (1977) – Richard Chamberlain starred in this entertaining, yet loose television adaptation of Alexandre Dumas père’s 1847-1850 serialized novel, “The Vicomte of Bragelonne: Ten Years Later”. William Bast directed.

2. “The Musketeers” (2014-2016) – Adrian Hodges created this television series that was based upon the characters from Alexandre Dumas père’s 1844 novel, “The Three Musketeers”. The series starred Tom Burke, Santiago Cabrera, Howard Charles and Luke Pasqualino.

3. “Shōgun” (1980) – Richard Chamberlain starred in this award winning adaptation of James Clavell’s 1975 novel about an English sea captain stranded in early 17th century Japan. Co-starring Toshiro Mifune and Yoko Shimada, the miniseries was directed by Jerry London.

4. “The Fortunes and Misfortunes of Moll Flanders” (1996) – Alex Kingston starred in this adaptation of Daniel Dafoe’s 1722 novel about the fortunes of an English criminal named Moll Flanders. Adapted by Andrew Davies, the miniseries was directed by David Attwood.

5. “By the Sword Divided” (1983-1985) – John Hawkesworth created this historical drama about he impact of the English Civil War on the fictional Lacey family during the mid-17th century. The series included Julian Glover and Rosalie Crutchley.

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6. “The First Churchills” (1969) – John Neville and Susan Hampshire stared in this acclaimed miniseries about the life of John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough and his wife, Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough. David Giles directed.

7. “Lorna Doone” (1990) – Polly Walker, Sean Bean and Clive Owen starred in this 1990 adaptation of R.D. Blackmore’s 1869 novel. Andrew Grieve directed.

8. “The Return of the Musketeers” (1989) – Richard Lester directed this adaptation of Alexandre Dumas pere‘s 1845 novel, “Twenty Years After”. Michael York, Oliver Reed and Kim Cattrall starred.

9. “Lorna Doone” (2000-01) – Amelia Warner, Richard Coyle and Aiden Gillen starred in this 2000-01 adaptation of R.D. Blackmore’s 1869 novel. Mike Barker directed.

10. “Jamestown” (2017-present) – Bill Gallagher created this television series about the creation of the Jamestown colony in the early 17th century. Naomi Battrick, Sophie Rundle and Niamh Walsh starred.

Top Ten Favorite Movies Set During the 1600s

Below is a list of my favorite movies set during the 1600s: 

 

TOP TEN FAVORITE MOVIES SET DURING THE 1600s

1. “The Four Musketeers: Milady’s Revenge” (1974) – Richard Lester directed this adaptation of the second half of Alexandre Dumas père‘s 1844 novel, “The Three Musketeers”. The movie starred Michael York, Oliver Reed, Raquel Welch and Faye Dunaway.

2. “The Man in the Iron Mask” (1977) – Richard Chamberlain portrayed duel roles in this loose adaptation of Alexandre Dumas père‘s 1847-50 novel, “The Vicomte of Bragelonne: Ten Years Later”. Directed by Mike Newell, the movie co-starred Jenny Agutter, Patrick McGoohan and Ralph Richardson.

3. “The Three Musketeers” (1973) – Richard Lester directed this adaptation of the first half of Alexandre Dumas père‘s 1844 novel, “The Three Musketeers”. The movie starred Michael York, Oliver Reed, Raquel Welch and Faye Dunaway.

4. “Adventures of Don Juan” (1948) – Errol Flynn starred in this swashbuckling movie as the infamous Spanish nobleman and fencing master for King Philip III and Queen Margaret of Spain’s court, who comes to the aid of the couple when another nobleman plots to steal the throne from them. Vincent Sherman directed.

5. “The New World” (2005) – Terrence Malick wrote and directed this cinematic look at the founding of the Jamestown, Virginia settlement. The movie starred Colin Farrell, Q’orianka Kilcher, Christopher Plummer and Christian Bale.

6. The Three Musketeers” (1948) – George Sidney directed this adaptation of Alexandre Dumas père‘s 1844 novel. The movie starred Gene Kelly, Van Heflin, Lana Turner and June Allyson.

7. “Girl with a Pearl Earring” (2005) – Colin Firth and Scarlett Johansson starred in this adaptation of Tracy Chevalier’s 1999 historical novel about a Dutch housemaid; her employer, painter Johannes Vermeer; and the creation of his famous 1665 painting. Peter Webber directed.

8. “The Wicked Lady” (1945) – Margaret Lockwood starred in this adaptation of Magdalen King-Hall’s 1945 novel, “Life And Death of the Wicked Lady Skelton”. Directed by Leslie Arliss, the movie co-starred James Mason and Patricia Roc.

9. “Forever Amber” (1947) – Otto Preminger directed this adaptation of Kathleen Winsor’s 1944 novel about the rise of a 17th century English orphan. Linda Darnell and Cornel Wilde starred.

10. “The Crucible” (1996) – Daniel Day-Lewis and Winona Ryder starred in this adaptation of Arthur Miller’s 1953 stage play about the Salem Witch Trials. The movie was directed by Nicholas Hytner.