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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1921)

Critical consensus has it that Douglas Fairbanks’ swashbucklers ascend to THIEF OF BAGDAD/’24 and fall thereafter. If anything, the reverse is closer to the mark with his final silent, THE IRON MASK/’29 (lovingly restored on a KINO DVD), joyously capping his derrings-do. That buoyant, funny & ultimately moving silent, the last of its kind, is a sequel to this 1921 smash. If you see both, you’ll notice that while Doug, and his filmmaking skills, kept getting better (even his acting improved, a little bit), the increasing sophistication & decadence of the Roaring ‘Twenties undoubtedly made Doug look increasing out of touch. The arrival of the Talkies only quickened his inevitable fade. MUSKETEERS was the second of Doug’s period pics (after the wildly successful ZORRO/’20) and most of the leading actors came back eight years later for THE IRON MASK, but with helmer Alan Dwan replacing this film’s Fred Niblo. (Niblo was just the sort of honest journeyman director Doug (and his wife Mary Pickford) preferred; Dwan was even better.) This one tells the thrice told tale of "the Queen’s Jewels," made in a rather clunky 1921 style. But once you adjust to Niblo’s stolid, symmetrical compositions and the sadly weathered condition of existing prints, it’s bound to win you over.

DOUBLE-BILL: Follow this up with, naturally, the wonderful sequel mentioned above, THE IRON MASK/’29. But beware Public Domain editions that run as short as 72 minutes. The full cut (available on KINO) runs 103 min. and comes with the original symphonic score on synchronized VitaPhone Sound Discs (Doug even gives a couple of stiff, short speeches) & a modern orchestral score from Carl Davis on a separate track.

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