1970's saw at least two film adaptations of The Man in the Iron Mask story by Alexandre Dumas. The first was the Richard Chamberlain starred version in the 1977 that we reviewed a short while ago and the second was The Fifth Musketeer in 1979. Both of them take only the basic idea from the original story and go on a completely different tangent from then on. However, although Chamberlain's version was originally "made for TV" only, it ends up being far superior - and even much more loyal to the original story - of these two adaptations.
The story of The Fifth Musketeer begins with a scene where the four musketeers are training the identical brother of the King of France in a secret location. They appear to be working together with Minister Colbert in this, but there seems to be no real aim for their actions at this point. However, they are soon attacked by the henchmen of Fouquet - Colbert's rival and the great manipulator of King Louis XIV - who successfully capture Philippe and the musketeers while Colbert flees the scene.
Where Colbert did not appear to have any plans regarding the king's twin, Fouquet has possibly the craziest plan ever devised: he's promised the king that he can find a double to die in his stead (in a staged assassination), so that Louis XIV can then show off his divine powers by "resurrecting" soon afterwards. The plan is thwarted only by pure luck as Philippe notices a burning match-cord under the bridge upon which he stands and jumps into the water just as the several big barrels of gunpowder explode (Fouquet really wanted to make sure that he died). Philippe proceeds to fall in love with Maria Theresa of Spain who is Louis XIV's intended. In order to get to be with the lady, he comes up with the familiar plan of supplanting his brother on the throne.
In order to make the plan more palatable to the audience and to the musketeers, it is found out that no one actually knows which of the brothers was born first, so Philippe could actually be the rightful king. Furthermore, we see Louis XIV and Fouquet commit some evil deeds, proving that the brother on the throne really needs to be replaced.
If the storyline sounds a bit mad, the other aspects in the adaptations are even more so: the costumes of the palace guards etc. are reminiscent of early 18th century style (remember that the story is set in around the mid-17th century), while the musketeers and several other characters wear pseudo-medieval garb. Acting is similarly all over the place and none of the central characters seem to know what and how they are supposed to react to each others' lines or surrounding events. Most of the time they resort to fake laughter. Pretty much the only bright spot is Ian McShane as Fouquet, but his role is too small for him to rescue the entire film. Apparently in order to distract the audience from the mess, all three youngish female characters get out of their clothes and roam around bare-breasted at least once in the course of the story.
Compared to the Dumas original, The Fifth Musketeer deviates from the original story even more than the 1977 version did. The musketeers are now all in the plan to supplant the king and have actually been raising the twin for what appears to be several years without telling him who he is. The king is shown as a truly despicable character capable of murder and he is even shown as unmarried, while in the original (and in real history) he had been married for a long time and had several dalliances with his lovers.
To sum up, this is an awful movie that is difficult to watch even for someone who is very determined to do so.