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Around 1820 the son of a California nobleman comes home from Spain to find his native land under a villainous dictatorship. On the one hand he plays the useless fop, while on the other he is the masked avenger Zorro. Written by
Ed Stephan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
In addition to Don Diego Vega, Tyrone Power spent much of the 'forties playing Spanish characters in the films "Blood and Sand" and "Captain from Castile," and an Italian in "Prince of Foxes," but he was of Irish, and not Latin, descent. See more »
When Diego dines with the Quinteros, Inez asks him to show them "the new dance steps." He and Lolita then dance together, but somehow the sheltered young Lolita knows the dance perfectly. This doesn't make sense if it contains "new dance steps" that even society-mad Inez doesn't know. See more »
To think that the boy that I helped to raise, the boy that I taught to hold a firm wrist behind a true point, has turned into a puppy! Bah!
Don Diego Vega:
Well,! Tsk, tsk, tsk! How vexatious!
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There is a curious parallel between Tyrone Power's life and career, and that of WB swashbuckler, Errol Flynn. Both of Irish descent, the two actors exploded into superstar status in their twenties, due to a single starring role in films made within a year of each other (for Flynn, barely 26, it was in 1935's CAPTAIN BLOOD; Power's breakthrough, at 22, came in 1936's LLOYDS OF LONDON). Both actors were extraordinarily handsome, were great practical jokers both on and off-screen, fought continuously with their respective studios for better roles, married three times (Flynn fathered three daughters and a son; Power, two daughters and a son), lived wildly adventurous lives, becoming infamous for their sexual indiscretions, and would die, less than a year apart, within two years of making their only film together (1957's THE SUN ALSO RISES). However, while Flynn had a reputation as a charismatic hell raiser which would make him as many enemies as friends during his tempestuous life, Tyrone Power was, by all accounts, even more charming and likable in person than he was on screen, and was universally loved, even by his ex-wives.
Both stars were considered premier swashbucklers of their time, and 1940's THE MARK OF ZORRO introduced Power to the genre dominated by Flynn. Just as Flynn's greatest triumph was a remake of an earlier Douglas Fairbanks classic (1922's ROBIN HOOD), Power's best-loved swashbuckler had first been a Fairbanks favorite, as well (1920's THE MARK OF ZORRO). As Don Diego de Vega, a cadet at 'the Academy' in Madrid who puts his gift with the sword to good use in an oppressed California, when recalled home by his father, he quickly adopts an effeminate persona (a la THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL), to mask his true ability and plans. While the charade infuriates his father ("My son has become a PUPPY!" he laments, at a time when the word 'homosexual' was not used), the guise helps the younger Vega worm his way into the confidence of the corrupt yet cowardly current Alcalde (the venerable J. Edward Bromberg) and his socially-conscious wife (Gale Sondergaard). Less 'taken in' is the true villain of the film, military commander Captain Esteban Pasquale (superbly portrayed by frequent Flynn nemesis Basil Rathbone), who sneers at the Alcalde's plan to marry Vega off to his niece, Lolita (the ravishing Linda Darnell), to quell local unrest; when Vega claims tardiness for the engagement dinner because of his bath water becoming 'tepid', Pasquale comments, "Just as I fear poor Lolita's future married life shall be."
The on-screen chemistry between Power and Darnell is terrific (a key scene, with Vega/Zorro disguised as a priest, as Lolita confesses her secret desires, would be 'spiced up' and recreated in the Banderas/Zeta-Jones 1998 update, THE MASK OF ZORRO). As the only other person who knows Zorro's real identity, Fray Felipe (Eugene Pallette, playing a role very similar to his 'Friar Tuck' in Flynn's ROBIN HOOD) has some of the film's wittiest dialog, and gets to show his swordsmanship in a brief duel with Pasquale ("You should have been a soldier", the captain comments, after disarming him).
If the film has a fault, it is that the Power/Rathbone climactic duel occurs too early. Staged by Errol Flynn's fencing master, Fred Cavens, the action is spectacular, confined to a single room, yet with Pasquale's death, the film loses it's most potent villain, and the final large-scale fight between the Alcalde's forces and the peons and gentry lacks the focus of the climax of THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD.
Directed with tongue-in-cheek by veteran film maker Rouben Mamoulian, and with an Oscar-nominated score by Fox's musical mainstay, Alfred Newman, THE MARK OF ZORRO was a major studio hit (plans for a sequel were begun, but dropped when it was discovered that Fox only had the rights to the title, THE MARK OF ZORRO; the name 'Zorro' belonged to another studio, ending any possibility of a follow-up).
Tyrone Power had joined Errol Flynn as the reigning 'kings' of swashbucklers, a title both would find amusing, if limiting, but which would be how both actors are best remembered, today!
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