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The Mark of Zorro

The Mark of Zorro(1940)

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Rightfully considered one of the all-time great swashbucklers, The Mark of Zorro stars Tyrone Power in one of his best-loved roles. Power is Don Diego de Vega, whose military training in 1820s Madrid is interrupted when he is called back to Los Angeles, where he learns that his father Don Alejandro (Montagu Love) has been deposed as the "alcalde" (mayor) of Los Angeles and replaced by the greedy Don Luis Quintero (J. Edward Bromberg), who is the puppet of vicious Captain Esteban Pasquale (Basil Rathbone). Diego quickly learns that despite his father's antipathy toward the present regime which is bleeding both peons of their meager funds, Don Alejandro refuses to rise against Quintero, believing it is every citizen's duty to uphold the law of the land.

Diego manages to size up the situation upon meeting Quinetero, and instantly decides to adopt the role of a harmless, tiresome fop who finds the very idea of politics fatiguing. Secretly, Diego invents the dashing persona of the masked bandit Zorro, who begins to rob Quintero and his patrons of their wealth, returning the ill-gotten funds to the poor from whom it has been extracted, with the help of local clergyman Friaf Filipe (Eugene Pallette at his blustering best). But it is not enough to simply return the money to the poor: Zorro mounts a campaign of terror against Quintero designed to force his resignation and the reappointment of Don Alejandro as alcalde. The insistence that Alejandro be returned to power convinces Pasquale that Zorro is a tool of the former alcalde and his caballeros, and persuades Quintero that it would be politically expedient to marry off his daughter Lolita (Linda Darnell) to Don Diego, thereby joining his family with that of the man beloved by the citizens. But before the wedding can take place, Quintero learns the true identity of Zorro, and it's up to the wily Don Diego to escape his execution and lead the citizens in rebellion against their oppressor.

Directed by the under-appreciated Rouben Mamoulian, The Mark of Zorro is a fabulously exhilarating romp. The screenplay is based on the story The Curse of Capistrano by Johnston McCulley, but has obvious echoes of 1938's The Adventures of Robin Hood, with the hero robbing from the rich and giving to the poor (and in fact, Eugene Pallette's performance here is virtually a repeat of his turn as Friar Tuck in that film); it also hearkens back to 1934's The Scarlet Pimpernel, with the hero's reliance on a laughable, foppish alter-ego as a perfect cover for his heroic deeds. The Mark of Zorro seamlessly combines the elements of both films into a rousing adventure that feels thoroughly fresh.

Much of the credit for the film's success goes to Mamoulian's crisp direction, and the spirited performances of the entire cast: Although the film doesn't give Tyrone Power the opportunity to show the range he would later display in Nightmare Alley, he gives one of his most memorable performances here, clearly defining his character's two personas. He's particularly amusing as the "dandy" Don Diego, the twinkle in his eye giving a sort of wink to the audience who, for the film's first half, are the only ones in on his secret. As Zorro, Power is as dashing and athletic as he would ever be, culminating in an unforgettable sword fight with Rathbone.

As the unswervingly ruthless Pasquale, Rathbone effortlessly demonstrates why he would later chafe at being indelibly identified with the cerebral detective Sherlock Holmes. Another graduate of The Adventures of Robin Hood, Rathbone gives an even more impressive performance as the evil puppet-master who plays his sword the way other men "play with a monocle or a snuff-box." Linda Darnell provides a lovely presence as the heroine, and J. Edward Bromberg is marvelous as the greedy martinet; perfectly matched by Gale Sondergaard as his avaricious wife.

Fox's new Special Edition DVD is simply a repeat of their earlier Studio Classics edition, including the commentary by film critic Richard Schickel, and the A&E Biography Tyrone Power: The Last Idol. The only new addition is a colorized version of the film. The original black and white transfer, struck from restored film elements, still shows signs of general wear as well as some debris and some brief, thin vertical lines. On the whole the transfer is excellent, with deep blacks, sharp contrasted, and clearly defined shadings. However, the audio is showing general deterioration throughout. The colorized print is typical of what we've come to expect: the colors are alternately too rich and too dull, and never quite look natural. As always, it's best to stick to the original.

For more information about The Mark of Zorro, visit Fox Home Entertainment. To order The Mark of Zorro, go to TCM Shopping.

by Fred Hunter