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Don Cesar de Vega, son of Zorro, is in Spain for his education. By way of education, he duels with Don Sebastian of the Queen's Guard (soon to be his rival for the hand of lovely Dolores de Muro), makes love, and befriends the visiting Archduke of Austria. But a quarrel ending in violence gives Don Sebastian the chance to dispose of his rival...by framing him for murder! Feigning suicide, Cesar escapes. Being a chip off the old block, a whip-wielding outlaw (this being his weapon rather than the sword) sets out to clear the name of Vega... Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
Film sequels were a novelty in 1925, when DON Q, SON OF ZORRO marked a big profit for United Artists. Then and now, it is considered to be a better film than the original, THE MARK OF ZORRO (1920), which made star and producer Douglas Fairbanks the personification of the Swashbuckler five years earlier.
Since his screen debut in 1915, Fairbanks had always been cast in contemporary comedies as a fun-loving, never-say-die, go-getter who gets the girl and catches the bad guys all the while exhibiting his athletic prowess and bravado. He was a major film actor, but his popularity was beginning to wane due to the monotony of his roles and vehicles.
The formation of United Artists Corporation in 1919 gave founders Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin and D.W. Griffith control over their own projects. Fairbanks chose this opportunity to risk reinventing his image by starring in this film adaptation of The Curse of Capistrano. The serialized novel written by Johnston McCulley had been published that year in a popular pulp magazine. It introduced the character of Zorro to the world. The magic of the movie assured Zorro's place among fictional super-heroes. The character lived on in several more film versions as well as books, comics, cartoons, Halloween costumes, toys, and in the popular 1950's television series starring Guy Williams.
In THE MARK OF ZORRO, set in early 19th century California, Fairbanks came up with an ingenious concept showcasing his likable contemporary stock character into an action/adventure period costume picture. He plays Don Diego Vega, the milksop son of an affluent rancher who, like the Scarlet Pimpernel, dons a disguise to defend the impoverished townsfolk from the tyrants in power. His alter ego Zorro's, (Spanish for fox) trademarks are the black cape and cowl mask he wears and the master swordsmanship he displays. He is known to brand his victims with a "Z" made with three fast strokes of his blade. At the end of the film, after Zorro's greatest triumph, his identity is revealed. He throws his sword into the air. It lodges into a high spot on the wall, as Zorro shouts, "Till I need you again!" Though it was probably not Fairbanks' intention at the time, this line was a prime set-up for a sequel if there ever was one.
After the tremendous financial and critical success of ZORRO, Fairbanks continued to give the public what it wanted the charismatic Fairbanks persona in lavish period epics. THE THREE MUSKETEERS, ROBIN HOOD and THE THIEF OF BAGDAD were all released in the years between the two Zorro epics.
As one can easily discern by the title of this follow-up, Doug is back as Diego's son - namely Don Cesar, aka "Don Q." The screenplay is based on the novel "Don Q's Love Story" by Hesketh Prichard and Kate Prichard which had no relationship to Zorro at all. But by making Don Q the offspring of the famous hero, it cashed in on the audience's familiarity with the original and made it possible for Doug to play a dual role as both father and son.
In the family tradition, Don Cesar is sent to Spain to continue his education and learn the traditions of his ancestors. His high-spirited ways and showmanship with a bullwhip make him a favorite of the Queen's cousin, Archduke Paul of Austria (Warner Oland). Cesar also makes an enemy of surly Don Sebastian (Donald Crisp), a member of the Queen's guard, and both men fall for the beautiful Dolores de Muro (Mary Astor). After Cesar is framed for murder, he fakes suicide and goes underground until he can prove the guilt of the real killer. Meanwhile, in California, Don Diego receives word of his son's predicament. He retrieves his sword from where it had stuck thirty years before, digs out his mask and cape and travels to Spain to help rescue his son. Father and son take on 15 soldiers in a sword fight during the film's exuberant finale.
Audiences and critics alike loved DON Q even more than the original. Film-making technique and technology had improved rapidly since 1920. The sequel had a stronger plot, higher production values and better pacing. What's more, Fairbanks has fine-tuned his swashbuckler persona to perfection. He was never was he more cocksure, flamboyant and amusing than he appears here. Though already 41 years old, he easily got away with playing a much younger character in no small part due to his physical fitness. He is shown to great advantage, engaging in sword-play, jumping on a horse or his specialty in this film - cracking a whip. Well known for performing his own stunts, Doug reportedly spent six weeks learning fancy whipmanship. He uses it to light a cigarette, extinguish a candle, slice paper, lasso a bull and swing onto a balcony. He also shows himself to be a dandy on the dance floor in a parody of a Valentino tango.
Donald Crisp, best known for his chilling performance as Lillian Gish's cruel father in BROKEN BLOSSOMS, does double duty in DON Q as both co-star and director. He plays Fairbanks' dastardly nemesis Don Sebastian while directing one of his best films. Crisp directed more than 70 films, including the Buster Keaton classic,THE NAVIGATOR. He got his start in the movies in 1908 with the Biograph Company and appeared on screen for the last time 55 years later as Grandpa Spencer in the 1963 film SPENCER'S MOUNTAIN that starred Henry Fonda. Crisp died in 1974.
The New York Times thought so highly of DON Q, SON OF ZORRO, that they named it one the 10 best films of 1925.
While enjoyable on TV or home video, the movie is twice the fun when watched with live accompaniment and an audience as I was fortunate to experience at Cinevent 2006.
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