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Reviews of silent film releases on home video.
Copyright © 1999-2017 by Carl Bennett
and the Silent Era Company.
All Rights Reserved.

The
Iron Mask

(1929)

 

When Douglas Fairbanks released his final silent film, The Iron Mask (1929), he chose to nod acknowledgement toward the recently-established trend to sound films with a spoken prologue and a mid-story exposition bridge, appearing as D’Artagnan.

This sequel to Fairbanks’ The Three Musketeers (1921) is based on the musketeer novels by Alexander Dumas, and features the often-filmed story of twin heirs to the throne of France separated at birth by the evil Cardinal Richelieu (Nigel de Brulier) and raised separately. Richelieu manages the also separate the four musketeers, and makes D’Artagnan bodyguard to the young prince of France. When the twins are grown, De Rochefort (Ulrich Haupt) plots to substitute the boy raised as the prince for his twin who grew up embittered and mean, and thus control the royal throne. The musketeers (now grown old) learn the truth of their birth and help defeat the plans of the now dead Richelieu and the conniving De Rochefort and restore the throne of France to its intended heir.

For years the synchronized sound elements (Vitaphone discs) were thought to be lost. When the film was rereleased under the auspices of the Fairbanks estate by Odyssey Pictures Corporation in 1952, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. dubbed his father’s introductory speech and narrated the film, which has been stripped of its original intertitle cards. New music was composed for this film by Allan Gray and the narration was written by Richard Llewellyn.

Recently, copies of the original Vitaphone soundtrack discs were recovered, and they have been resynched to preservation prints of the film. In 1999, Photoplay Productions premiered their composite restoration of the film, which had utilized a print held by the Museum of Modern Art, the Vitaphone discs (for Fairbanks’ prologue and midfilm narration), and featured a new music score written by Carl Davis. — Carl Bennett

Kino on Video
2002 DVD edition

The Iron Mask (1929), black & white, 103 minutes, not rated.

Kino International, K248 DVD, UPC 7-38329-02482-6.
One single-sided, dual-layered, Region 0 DVD disc, full-frame 4:3 NTSC format, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 12 chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, $29.95.
Release date: 18 June 2002.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 8 / audio: 9 / additional content: 6 / overall: 8.

Fortunately the Vitaphone sound discs for the original part-talkie version of The Iron Mask were recently recovered and utilized for a new 1999 edition of The Iron Mask produced by Patrick Stanbury and Kevin Brownlow of Photoplay Productions.

The 35mm print utilized for the video transfer is generally of higher than very-good quality but isn’t quite of consistently excellent quality. Image details are a little soft and the overall greyscale range is slightly contrasty. The print is very lightly speckled, but the transfer is generally free of other flaws. The transfer is also a little on the dark side, which helps to hold the print’s highlight details.

Carl Davis has written another excellent music score, performed by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra in digital stereo, which accompanies the film well in its — in turns — romantic, comedic, swashbuckling and menacing moments.

Disc supplements include outtake footage, a stills and artwork gallery, brief essays, and exerpts from the 1952 version of the film.

Overall, this is the best edition of the film, print or home video, we have seen and we highly recommend this Kino DVD edition of the film.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
Delta Entertainment
2005 DVD edition

Douglas Fairbanks: The Great Swashbuckler (1976), black & white and color, 90 minutes, not rated,
with The Iron Mask (1929), black & white, ? minutes, not rated.

Delta Entertainment, unknown catalog number, unknown UPC number.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one dual-sided, single-layered DVD disc, Region 0, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital? 2.0 stereo? sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, $6.99.
Release date: 29 November 2005.
Country of origin: USA
This double-sided disc features the two Fairbanks features on one side, and the documentary on the flip. The film is accompanied by a prerecorded score of classical recordings.

The disc also contains a slight supplemental section.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
St. Clair Vision
2006 DVD edition

Classic Tales of Adventure (1921-1955), black & white, 880 minutes total, not rated,
including The Iron Mask (1929), black & white, 100 minutes, not rated.

St. Clair Vision, PDS87269-3VD, UPC 7-77966-87269-8.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, three single-sided, dual-layered DVD discs, Region 0, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound (processed from mono sources), English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 8 chapter stops, three-disc DVD keepcase, $9.98.
Release date: 2 May 2006.
Country of origin: Canada

Ratings (1-10): video: 5 / audio: 5 / additional content: 5 / overall: 5.

This edition has been mastered from a very-good 16mm reduction print, but the older analog video transfer appears to be subpar, with occasional video glitches, dark streaking to the right of type in intertitles, and signs of image strobing in fast lateral action.

The film is accompanied by a collection of preexisting monaural orchestral recordings from a variety of sources, which begs the question why St. Clair Vision thinks that 5.1 surround sound is justified, other than to dupe an unknowing consumer into thinking they are getting a disc of value.

With better editions to be had, why would you consider this one?

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
Reel Enterprises
2006 DVD edition

The Iron Mask (1929), black & white, 87 minutes, not rated.

Reel Enterprises, unknown catalog number, unknown UPC number.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, single-layered? DVD disc, Region 0, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono? sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles?, chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, $9.95.
Release date: 13 November 2006.
Country of origin: USA
This budget-edition disc may be mastered from 16mm reduction print materials.

Word has it that a logomark appears in the bottom right-hand corner of the picture throughout, and that it is accompanying by a repeating prerecorded soundtrack. Best to avoid altogether.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
Navarre Corporation
2002 DVD edition

Triple Feature Drama Classics, Volume 2 (1926-1934), black & white and color toned black & white, 253 minutes total, not rated,
including The Iron Mask (1929), black & white, 72 minutes, not rated.

Navarre Corporation, 1624, UPC 7-41027-16249-3.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, dual-layered DVD disc, Region 1, 3 Mbps average video bit rate, 192 kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 9 chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, $9.98.
Release date: 12 March 2002.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 5 / audio: 5 / additional content: 6 / overall: 6.

The video transfer for this Navarre edition is of the 1952 rerelease version and features a generously cropped presentation of a very-good 16mm reduction print that generally maintains a good range of greytones but occasionally is contrasty. Some shots are overexposed.

The sound rerelease reproduced the original film (which looks as though it were taken at approximately 18-20 frames per second) at the sound speed of 24 frames per second so that action is generally too fast, though not terribly so. Some footage frames in the sound rerelease were double printed to extend the length of the original shots. Many overlapping dissolves were created where originally there were straight cuts between shots. At least one shot was reproduced forward then reversed to lengthen the shot and another tracks in and out (by way of an optical printer) on an original shot of the iron-masked king. A videotape glitch rolls through the picture at 56:13.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
Synergy Entertainment
2007 DVD edition

The Iron Mask (1929), black & white, ? minutes, not rated.

Synergy Entertainment, unknown catalog number, unknown UPC number.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, single-layered? DVD disc, Region 0, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono? sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles?, chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, $9.99.
Release date: 4 June 2007.
Country of origin: USA
Wanna bet this budget disc is the same as the Reel Enterprises edition noted above, repackaged to rip-off consumers and retailers? It is likely mastered from 16mm reduction print materials.

Seek and destroy.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
coverDigiview Productions
200? DVD edition

The Iron Mask (1929), black & white, ? minutes, not rated.

Digiview Productions, unknown catalog number, unknown UPC number.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, single-layered DVD disc, Region 0, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops, slimline DVD keepcase, unknown suggested retail price.
Release date: 2004 or 2005?
Country of origin: USA
We have not seen this ultra-cheap edition, manufactured in China and marketed in the USA, but suspect that it has been mastered from a 16mm reduction print.

Which version is presented here — original silent or sound rerelease — is also unknown.

Other silent era DOUGLAS FAIRBANKS films available on home video.

Other silent film music scores by CARL DAVIS available on home video.

Douglas Fairbanks filmography in The Progressive Silent Film List
 
 
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