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Blu-Ray Review: Coen Media’s Douglas Fairbanks Double Feature 

Three Musketeers

The original Action Super Star Douglas Fairbanks stars in The Three Musketeers and its sequel The Iron Mask.  Coen Media’s Blu-Ray shines with beautiful restorations on both films

The Film(s)  

As soon as one says “silent film” there are clichés that can weigh down a film to the point where a viewer can feel like it’s “homework”.  No matter what you say or do no one can get around the fact that they have a preconceived notion of what a “silent film” is or should be.  There’s something quite beautiful about Douglas Fairbanks’s one-two punch (though almost a decade in between them) of The Three Musketeers and The Iron Mask.  The two films are as bawdy silly fun as any adaptation of the Alexander Dumas source material.  

In fact, one can see the direct through line from Fairbanks (Sr.) to Errol Flynn to Jackie Chan.  Generational action superstars are as much about their stunt work as they are about the charisma and charm, they display on screen.  Fairbanks is a full-on superstar literally leaping and flying across the screen – rapier in hand – as D’Artagnan the young upstart wannabe in The Three Musketeers.  There’s a confidence in Fairbanks’s body language that far exceeds anyone on screen next to him.  Even the great Nigel De Brulier as Cardinal Richelieu with all of his mustache-twirling physicality can’t seem to steal a scene from Fairbanks.  

Running at a hefty 127 minutes the film never feels bloated with the film constantly moving to the next action scene or plot twist.  The adaptation, much like other adaptations of Dumas’ work, is heavy on action, comedy, and romance and with just enough palace intrigue to ensure the plot ties everything together.  The Three Musketeers delivers on the rockling good-time swashbuckling adventure that hadn’t been perfected.  One could argue that this was the prototype for adventure films to come like Captain Blood to Raiders of the Lost Ark to The Raid.

Which makes The Iron Mask one of the first prototypes for the event sequel.  Using Dumas’ sequel novel as a jumping-off point like many adaptations of The Man in the Iron Mask it uses the plot of twins being born and separated for its own means.  For a film that runs less than 100 minutes (with credits), the film is heavier on plot than its original and is far worse off for it.  The setup and getting the twins separated and setting the table is such a herculean task I felt bored by everything that was happening on screen. 

Though once D’Artagnan and the Musketeers are on their final mission the film soars in a way that the best sequels do.  Unlike many film series, this one plays for keeps with deaths coming fast and furious.  All of it leads to one of the drop-dead perfect endings in a silent film or otherwise.  Yes, as good as City of Light’s perfect ending.  

Even if one isn’t a fan of silent film – The Three Musketeers and The Iron Mask are a double feature of irresistibly fun cinema.  

The Transfer

From Cohen Media Group regarding the Restoration of both films:

For the restoration of THE THREE MUSKETEERS, a full frame 35MM fine grain positive was scanned at 4K at an historically appropriate 21 frames per second. Following this, more than 150 hours of digital clean-up was completed at 2K. THE IRON MASK was restored by Cohen Film Collection in association with Photoplay Productions and was based on the 1999 photochemical restoration initiated by Kevin Brownlow and Patrick Stanbury in association with the Museum of Modern Art and The Douris Corporation, using Douglas Fairbanks’ personal nitrate print. Digital restoration of these elements was carried out in 2017 on behalf of Cohen Film Collection at Roundabout Entertainment.

The results of this massive work are two films that look as beautiful as the day they were released over 100 years ago.  There are a few minor defects but considering what was before them one can only imagine the before and after (one wishes they had a demonstration on the disc).  The black and white photography on both is as luminous as it is sharp.  Of course, opticals are always a slight issue because the defects inherent within the optical processes cannot be helped. That being said the image is as clean and beautiful as one would hope for.  Bravo to Cohen Media Group for their tiring efforts along with Photoplay Productions, MOMA, and The Douris Corporation for doing this invaluable work to ensure the lifespan of these two important works.  

The Extras

No Extras are included on this Disc.  

The Final Thought 

The Three Musketeers and The Iron Mask are an action fan’s cat nip.  Highest recommendations! 

Coen Media’s Blu-Ray Douglas Fairbanks Double Feature is out now

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