Australian Radio Review: Man in the Iron Mask

Australia had its own golden age of radio as we’ve mentioned before. Some programs were re-recording of American programs such as Superman, the Shadow, Nightbeat, and Gunsmoke. However, they also turned out many original programs.

One of the big producers of Australian Old Time Radio Drama was George Edwards productions which turned out 268 seperate projects from the 1930s to the 1950s. The majority of these were 15 minute serials. Most of these are not in common circulation, at least among American Collectors.

One that is the 1948 serial, The Man in the Iron Mask. The 52 part 15 minute serial claims to be based on the story by Alexandre Dumas. However, those who are expecting swashbuckling action should be warned: there’s no Musketeers in this story and only one sword fight. The name of the King’s brother is different is the entire plot.

There really was a Man in the Iron Mask who was arrested in 1669 or 1670 and locked in an Iron Mask and held for 34 years. There are many theories as to who this was and the serial’s main claim to being based on Dumas is agreeing with him (and Voltaire) that it was the King’s brother. They also give Edmund the last name Marchioly, which was the name the real Man in the Iron Mask died under.

The story begin with an unnecessary two party framing story where a couple on their honeymoon stumble onto the story of the Man in the Iron Mask. Edmund in living on his (presumed) uncle’s estate. Trouble brews when he falls in love with a peasant girl named Marguerite. This raises a great  alarm for Uncle and for the wicked Cardinal Mazarin. Edmund getting married at all, and particularly getting married to a peasant girl, could threaten the whole French realm. So Mazarin conspires to have the girl imprisoned and then secretly gets the king to sign an order of execution. However, unbeknownst to him, a kindly jailer has pity on Marguerite and substitutes the body of a woman in another cell for hers.

However, Edmund knows nothing of this and is in mourning over her disappearance. His guardian believes a trip to Spain would be best for him. He hires a woman to tutor Edmund in Spanish. The woman had just been discharged from the Spanish Court for dishonesty and while serving at court, she’d seen a picture of the king of France. She takes leave and tells the king of the existence of the look-alike. The king, a foppish egotistical coward, summons Edmund and is horrified by the likeness because he’d been under the impression that no one looked like the King of France.

He calls Mazarin and asks for a full explanation and gets it: Louie XIII and Cardinal Mazarin had wanted to kill Edmund because of a prophecy that forebode ill but his mother had insisted he remain alive. Louie and the Cardinal then go to his mother with the problem, with the intent of killing Edmund. However, the mother prevails on them again to show some mercy. They agree to instead lock Edmund in an iron mask. Unbeknownst to the king, Mazarin order the mask to be made so heavy that it would suffocate Edmund within days. Edmund is locked within the mask where he once against meets up with Marguerite in prison.

Edmund is saved when Louie decides he’d like one last fling with the Cardinal’s niece before his state marriage to Maria Teresa of Spain. So, he unlocks Edmond from the mask and promises to exile him to an island in exchange for impersonating the King during his trip to the country.  Edmond goes along in exchange for freeing Marguerite and the king’s promise. What follows is a series of love triangles, betrayals, reversals, and intrigue.

The story was a disappointment if you’re expecting a typical Dumas story with swashbuckling adventure. It tended towards a soap opera style story line and towards the end one character died off, but continued to haunt the story in a somewhat cheesy way. However, what made the serial work was that the characters and his use of cliffhangers. What feels sympathy with Edmund, Marguerite, and Maria Teresa of Spain (the despised bride-to-be of Louie XIV who falls in love with Edmund believing him to be her intended) as they are thrown into one difficult situation after another.

The story’s ending is historically impossible, which is a let down given the pains that Edwards Production took to fill in other details accurately including getting the names of the King’s counselor correct. Still, I found it a fascinating and addictive, albeit flawed story.

Note: Parts 7, 8, and 50 of the story are missing from publicly available sets of the story.  Parts 7 and 8 were the biggest loss as you miss a couple key moments, but the recaps made it so that by the end of Part 9 you knew what was going. I was able  to get Part 50 on the Digital Deli’s FTP site. It’s helpful but by no means required to understand the series. If you’ve listened to 47 of the previous 49 parts, you kind of know where the story’s going.

Rating: 3.00  out of 5.00

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