Monday, October 7, 2013

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE (revisited): Episode 58, "Duck in the Iron Mask"

What?  Must we refight THIS fight all over again?

For those who've forgotten, or who never knew: My very first, somewhat premature attempt at a DuckTales retrospective was my response to Greg Weagle's decidedly negative review of "Duck In the Iron Mask" in October 2009.  Since Greg is the only person of my acquaintance who wasn't entertained by this energetic and imaginative Dumas pastiche, I felt obligated to try to answer his objections point by point.  I did so here, here, and here.

So what else can I say regarding this episode?  My high opinion of it has certainly not changed, though I do admit that Greg ferreted out a few flaws that keep the ep from ranking with the very best of DT.  Even so, though "Mask" wouldn't make my current Top 5 list of best DT tales, it would still qualify for the Top 10.  At the risk of repeating some of the points that I made in my earlier comments, let me enumerate the reasons why.

(1)  You simply can't beat the premise.  Dewey decides to assert his individuality and tries to distinguish himself from his brothers by changing his appearance.  The disguise itself is a bit on the silly side for the purpose...

... but the wedge that it drives between the Nephews is no joke.  On the plane trip to Monte Dumas, note that Dewey sits a considerable distance away from his brothers.  The boys don't really "connect" again until the evil usurper Count Ray ("re" = Italian for king) has sent them to the "uninvited guest room," aka the functional equivalent of a juvenile prison for a ruler concerned for his "image."  There, Dewey ditches the dizzy duds, and the boys proceed to exploit their lookalike status in order to help Huey and Louie escape.  OK, one does have to buy the fact that the guard is too bleary-eyed, or stupid, or both to notice that the "three Nephews" he is viewing through the peephole are actually reflections of one blue-clad lad, but I, for one, have always found this trick to be most ingenious.

This is a rare instance of a case in which a Quack Pack episode is available for purposes of direct comparison to a DT ep... and, as you might expect, the flaws of the latter end up looking pretty small-time compared to the gaucheries of the former.  "Ducklaration of Independence" finds Dewey seeking privacy because his "loving" brothers won't leave him alone.  As was its normal wont, QP took the palsy-walsy stuff much too far and, in Greg's words, "[made] Huey and Louie look criminally clueless in order for them to act like a bunch of no good jackasses."

(2)  The tying-in of the "lookalike Nephews" subplot to the main plot, based on Voltaire's version of the "Man in the Iron Mask" legend -- in which the title character was the older, illegitimate brother of Louis XIV -- was a masterstroke.  Writer Don Glut (whose rather... um... variegated career in comics fandom, comics writing, and fringe "cult cinema" is, let it be noted, completely irrelevant in terms of assessing the quality of this episode) definitely did his homework in this regard.  Unfortunately, Glut hurt his own cause by portraying Count Ray as having a French accent, courtesy of Arte Johnson.  Scrooge's inability to immediately pick up on the difference in his "old friend" Count Roy's voice doesn't really ring true.  Glut at least tries to explain the difference in Roy and Ray's voices by creating the backstory of Ray being swept away in the river and growing up in France, but that revelation doesn't make Scrooge seem any less dense.  In retrospect, it would certainly have been better had Maurice LaMarche, who provided the Ronald Colman-inflected voice of Roy ("roi" = French for king -- see a pattern there??), simply modified that voice slightly to use as the voice of Ray. 

(3)  The "reveal" of the imprisoned "Duck in the Iron Mask" never fails to impress after all these years, even though the timing of Roy's breakthrough into Scrooge and Launchpad's cell seems contrived.  Fittingly, apart from a few brief scenes of LP trying to yank the "ghastly mask" off Roy's head by force, the script foregoes mining cheap humor out of the situation and treats Roy's plight with the seriousness it deserves.

(4)  We get an unexpected, yet welcome, glimpse into another facet of Scrooge's past, thanks to the flashback scene in Act One.  Judging by Scrooge's appearance during the fencing duel with Roy, I would have to assume that the characters' relationship developed relatively late in Scrooge's life.  Scrooge already looks fairly old in this scene, and Roy is pretty clearly much younger than him.  I wonder why Scrooge didn't think to convince Roy to invest in McDuck Industries back in that particular day, when, presumably, he already had quite a sizable fortune?

(5)  Monte Dumas is a setting that I can easily imagine turning up in one of Barks' stories, for fairly obvious reasons.  We don't get to see a lot of the tiny country, but what we do see is portrayed with great consistency as a quasi-medieval principality with little knowledge of the outside world, sort of a Duck-version of the Duchy of Grand Fenwick.  I'm sure that Barks could have made quite a bit of this idea in a Scrooge adventure.

So Montedumas (sic) is located in Egypt?  Who knew? 
(6)  It has never hurt a DT episode to have Pete involved, and Pete's costumed turn as the ticket-stuffing, tax-gouging Captain Pietro is a real hoot.  Alas, after Pete crashes into the table during the sword-fight scene, we never learn his ultimate fate.  If ever a villain truly deserved to take a turn wearing the notorious "iron pants"...
(7)  Far from being "protected" in this episode, HD&L are subjected to one of their more physically and mentally demanding tests of the series.  Dewey may be the one who comes up with the escape plans, but Huey and Louie more than match him by scrambling through a chimney, falling down a sloped roof, and shinnying down a rope to the street below.  OK, so it wasn't Kit Cloudkicker taking that "deep dive" from the Iron Vulture during "Plunder and Lightning," but could we please give the lads their due here?  They can only be held "responsible" for the perils that are put in front of them, and they deal with the ones in "Mask" magnificently.  My only real regret is that they aren't allowed to handle swords during the climactic duel.  Wielding a halberd with intent to entrap is impressive, but it just isn't on the same level.

(8)  In what, for him, is a rather low-key role, Launchpad comes up with some extremely funny and clever lines:
  • [Looking at Monte Dumas on the map] "I see what you mean, Mr. McD.  Or should I say, I can't see what you mean."
  • "Don't worry, Mr. McD.  If I miss [Monte Dumas], it won't be by much."
  • "I AM doin' somethin' -- I'm crashin'!"
  • "You can call us idiots or fools, but I draw the line at knaves!"
  • "Thanks for sheddin' some light on the subjects."
Plus, give him some extra credit for managing to hold his own against "the greatest swordsmen in the world" -- though the stumbling, gasping, and yelping manage to obscure the fact somewhat.

(9)  Glut didn't have to stick in the reference to "The Duck in the Iron Pants" at the end; the fact that he did so symbolizes both his love for the Duck characters and his desire to link his story, however tenuously, to past Duck history.

Would that all DuckTales episodes had been of the quality of "Duck in the Iron Mask."  I never tire of watching it.




No "DuckBlurbs" this time, because, well, I've been there and done that!  So...

Next: Episode 59, "The Status Seekers."


Pan Miluś said...

I wonder was the cute girl during the beaseball game was a character they wanted use few more times

Thanks for review. Made me watch this episode agian :)

Chris Barat said...


I don't know: the fact that they bothered to name the character (Becky Waddle) certainly SUGGESTS that they might have wanted to use her again, but they never did. Who knows why?

Of course, the nephews' libido would get an upgrade when they were turned into teens for QUACK PACK. Not that that move was wholly successful...