Sunday, October 23, 2011

Vintage Movies: The Mark of Zorro

One cannot talk about vintage movies without mentioning the great swashbucklers! Actors like Errol Flynn, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, Tyrone Power, Basil Rathbone, and Olivia De Havilland shot to superstardom in melodramatic pictures sprinkled liberally with fancy dresses, swordplay, and witty banter.
Of all the old swashbucklers we've seen, the favourite in our home is an unassuming little picture from 1940: The Mark of Zorro with Tyrone Power, Linda Darnell, and Basil Rathbone. Tyrone Power plays Don Diego Vega, the son of the alcalde of California who is sent to Spain to complete his education. On his return, he finds California changed since he went away: the peasants seem afraid, the new alcalde is spoken of with fear and hatred, and his evil henchman Captain Esteban Pasquale (Basil Rathbone) is bent on squeezing every last penny out of the taxpayers.
Don Diego can see that something must be done. By night he is the bold and daring Zorro, terror of evildoers. By day he becomes the effete and foppish Don Diego, an inveterate flapper of lace-edged handkerchiefs and languid suitor of the alcalde's enchanting niece Lolita (Linda Darnell). Will he dislodge the evil alcalde from California, or does discovery, disgrace, and death await him?
This movie is wonderful; a movie to savour. It stays on a low simmer throughout with witty dialogue and thousands of hilarious little character moments. Although the plot is not complex, not a single opportunity is missed. Some of the funniest moments in the movie occur as Don Diego's parents, together with the local priest, bewail their son's shallowness:
Fray Felipe: 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!
There's so much to like about this movie. It is set in a world that is the right way up; in other words, a world where fathers, mothers, and the Church are loved and respected; where true nobility and leadership means protecting the poor, not preying on them; and where the heroic happy ending means putting the sword up, like Diego does, and saying--
Don Diego: We're going to follow the customs of California...we're going to marry and raise fat children and watch our vineyards grow.
There are some objectionable overtones to every book or movie, and The Mark of Zorro is no exception. However I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it for all audiences. Like many old-fashioned movies, everyone from little children after a simple good-versus-evil story to grown-ups who enjoy well-made classic cinema full of wit and excitement will enjoy The Mark of Zorro.
If you enjoy The Mark of Zorro, take time to sample the other great swashbucklers of cinema. Captain Blood is one of the very best, of course; but don't miss the Ronald Colman The Prisoner of Zenda, The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Sea-Hawk, or the hilarious Court Jester. Swashbucklers are now a lost art, but some recent attempts haven't been too bad: older viewers might like to try Cyrano de Bergerac or The Mask of Zorro.

1 comment:

Kara Dekker said...

It's one of my favourites, too. As well as most of the other swashbucklers you mention. :)



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