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>
When Esteban falls down, he knocks a picture off the wall, which then disappears and is not seen on the floor. In the next shot, the picture is seen on the floor in front of Esteban, when Diego throws his swords down on top of it See more »
Captain Esteban Pasquale:
Conditions have changed since you left, Don Diego. Your father resigned. Age, you know! Since then, the peons have become um... more industrious. As to the caballeros. they're encouraged to think of their own affairs. WE take care of the government!
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Opening credits prologue: MADRID - when the Spanish Empire encompassed the globe, and young blades were taught the fine and fashionable art of killing ... See more »
According to comic book mythology, this 1940 version of the Mark of Zorro was the movie Bruce Wayne went to see the night his parents were killed, and which inspired him to create his Batman alter ego. Although such timeless tales as Robin Hood and the Three Musketeers have been revived more often, Zorro will always have a special affinity with the comic book superhero, being the original wimp-by-day and masked-crusader-by-night.
In the late 30s and early 40s there was a massive resurgence in the swashbuckling adventure genre, borne almost entirely upon the shoulders of Errol Flynn at Warner Brothers and Tyrone Power at Fox. It was a type of picture that had been out of fashion since Douglas Fairbanks Sr. hung up his sword in 1929, and Tyrone Power was here stepping into a role that Fairbanks had made famous two decades earlier. While most of the swashbucklers (especially the Errol Flynn ones) were becoming increasingly grand and ostentatious, the Mark of Zorro is a relatively modest affair. There are no vast sets or pyrotechnics, no big crowds of extras (at least not until the very end) and not even that much action. Instead there are several mean standoffs in which the protagonists spar verbally or just stare each other down. The obligatory sword duel does not take place in a grand hall or upon the decks of a galleon as it would in the typical swashbuckler, but in a cramped office. True, this fight is not exactly breathtaking, but it has a level of intensity not seen in those other pictures, as the duellists constantly find themselves trapped against a wall. This tension is heightened because the musical score is silent during this sequence (Darryl F. Zanuck was one of the few producers of this era bold enough to use absence of music), so all we hear is the clanging of steel on steel.
Director Rouben Mamoulian was something of show-off, and his excessive style spoiled a fair few of his pictures. Luckily, by this point he was learning some serious technique and reining things in a bit. What's more, a picture like Mark of Zorro actually benefits from what is left of Mamoulian's flamboyance. The stylised sense of rhythm, the expressive shot compositions and the hammy theatrical acting performances that Mamoulian seems to have loved give the picture the feel of a fable, which is just what these adventures were – something Douglas Fairbanks knew full well. When we see peons wakened from their sleep, a dozen sombreros nodding as one just before Zorro makes his first spectacular entrance, it looks like a piece of ballet. Magical moments like that are rarely seen in the swashbucklers of the period, but again this harks back to Doug Fairbanks, who more danced than acted his way through each role.
And now we come to the actors. It's a shame to say it, but Tyrone Power and Linda Darnell seem a somewhat cynical pairing. They are quite literally two of the most beautiful people in Hollywood, yet as performers neither rose above mediocrity. Yet around these two disappointingly wooden leads stand a fine crop of excellent supporting players. We have hissable villain Basil Rathbone, sly seductress Gale Sondergaard and podgy padre Eugene Palette, to name but three. They seem to enjoy getting stuck into their clichéd roles (not to mention the scenery), and we accept their lack of realism because we enjoy watching them do it.
Great as this edition of Zorro is, it has one important difference to the Douglas Fairbanks movie from 1920, and to the aforementioned Batman story. I'm reminded here of David Carradine's speech towards the end of Kill Bill vol. 2 about the two different kinds of superhero. In the Fairbanks version, it's implied that the fussy fop Diego is the real man, and Zorro is an act he has to adopt to commit acts of bravery. The Fairbanks Zorro is the Bruce Wayne/Batman or Peter Parker/Spiderman kind of superhero – a weak and inept person who has to put on a costume to become a hero. But with Tyrone Power in 1940, we see the character's back-story. The real Diego is already a dashing hero. The foppish weakling is an act which he events, and by becoming Zorro he is just becoming his real self, albeit in disguise. This makes a hero of the Superman/Clark Kent variety – a genuine hero who adopts an unassuming disguise. Which of the two types is more inspiring and sympathetic to the audience? I would disagree with "Bill", and say the former.
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