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The Mark Of Zorro

The Mark of Zorro tells the story of Don Diego Vega, the outwardly foppish son of a wealthy ranchero Don Alejandro in the old Spanish California of the early 19th century. Seeing the mistreatment of the peons by rich landowners and the oppressive colonial government, Don Diego, who is not as effete as he pretends, has taken the identity of the masked Robin Hood-like rogue Señor Zorro ("Mr. Fox"), champion of the people, who appears out of nowhere to protect them from the corrupt administration of Governor Alvarado, his henchman the villainous Captain Juan Ramon and the brutish Sergeant Pedro Gonzales (Noah Beery, Wallace Beery's older half-brother). With his sword flashing and an athletic sense of humor, Zorro scars the faces of evildoers with his mark, "Z".

The Mark of Zorro

Fairbanks biographer Jeffrey Vance, assessing the film's legacy in 2008, writes: "The Mark of Zorro is a landmark, not only in the career of Douglas Fairbanks, but also in the development of the action-adventure film. With this, his thirtieth motion picture, Fairbanks was transitioning from comedies to the costume films for which he is best remembered. Instead of reflecting the times, The Mark of Zorro offers an infusion of the romantic past with a contemporary flair ... Beyond reenergizing his career and redefining a genre, Fairbanks's The Mark of Zorro helped popularize one of the enduring creations of twentieth-century American fiction, a character who was the prototype for comic book heroes such as Batman."[3]

The swordfight between Tyrone Power and Basil Rathbone is remarkable to watch. I assume it's been sped up because it moves insanely fast and they appear to be really going for it. (There's also a crazy stunt involving a horse that literally made my jaw drop.)

Considering it was filmed in 1940, this black and white movie (also available in a colorized version) still offers a fun watch for contemporary audiences. Based on the 1920 silent movie of the same name, The Mark of Zorro went on to spawn other adventures and a television series, as well as leaving its mark on the masked-man superhero genre.

This DVD edition features an excellent full-frame, natural-speed video transfer from a high-quality 35mm safety fine-grain master print, with most print flaws like dust, speckling and timing marks digitally removed. Some digital image stabilization appears to also have been done, as there is little in the way of frame jitters to be seen, but are moments when the source print wins the struggle with some momentary picture destabilization appearing early in the film. Also, a digital video glitch appears in the lower left corner of the picture at 0:05:55.

This DVD edition from the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra features a new full-frame, natural-speed video transfer from a high-quality 35mm safety fine-grain master print, supplied by Film Preservation Associates, that features a broad range of greytones and excellent image detail, and which looks great on high-definition systems with resolution upscaling. Defined image details exist in both the highlights and deepest shadows, which is a quality criteria for both source materials and the video transfer. The print is light-to-moderately speckled (especially in the first reel), with a few seconds of dark discoloration later in the film, print flaws, some dust throughout and, at times, a jittery image within the frame all indicates that digital image stabilization and clean-up has not been performed. Timing marks in the source print have also been consciously allowed to remain in the transfer.

Apparently, Niblo did not only want his film to entertain people, but also to encourage them to grow aware of what the notion of oppression stands for, and about how oppressors can be effectively opposed. This, of course, allows us to refer to the mark of Zorro as being revolutionary to an extent.

  • Apologetic Attacker: Fray Felipe apologizes as he knocks out the alcalde's soldiers with a club during the climactic melee.Felipe: (WHACK!) God forgive me. (WHACK!) God forgive me.

  • Arch-Enemy: The supremely evil Captain Pasquale, who is the real threat.

  • Badass Preacher: Fray Felipe. He taught Zorro to use a sword. At one point, he tells the villains he plans to "ask God to reward them according to their merits."

  • Big Bad Duumvirate: The corrupt alcalde Luis Quintero is the nominal Big Bad who works in collusion with his Dragon-in-Chief Captain Estaban Pasquale to oppress the people of California.

  • The Blade Always Lands Pointy End In: After receiving his unexpected summons home from the military academy, Diego flings his sword up into the ceiling, where it sticks in a beam.

  • Blowing Smoke Rings: How Diego announces his presence in Quintero's office.

  • Call-Back: A clueless Inez asks when Diego will be joining her in Spain. Diego says no time soon, as he has to "marry, raise fat children, and watch my vineyards grow," the same thing he said in his first scene in Spain (see Tempting Fate below). Then he flings his sword into the ceiling, as he did in that first scene, and the film ends.

  • Chekhov's Skill: Don Diego demonstrates a talent for sleight-of-hand tricks as part of his Upper-Class Twit guise. When he and Fray Felipe are in jail he uses some sleight-of-hand to distract the guard so he can grab his gun and force him to unlock the cell.

  • Costume Evolution: Zorro's out notably evolves over the the course of the film from a simple black outfit with with a mask into his classic look.

  • Dancing Is Serious Business: The elaborate and energetic dance of Diego and Lolita brings the two lovebirds closer together.

  • Diagonal Cut: In the lead-up to the climactic sword fight between Diego and Pasquale, Pasquale attempts to unnerve intimidate Diego by cutting the top off one of the candles on Quintero's desk. Diego takes a swing at the other candle, and apparently misses it completely, but Pasquale's mockery is cut short when Diego lifts the top half of the candle up, demonstrating that he cut it in half so cleanly that the cut was not visible and the candle's flame was undisturbed.

  • Dragon-in-Chief: Luis Quintero may be the Big Bad in name, but it's Captain Estaban Pasquale who's the real danger. Solidified in their first scene together, where the captain dangerously teases his "boss" with the point of his sword.Quintero: I don't like such jests. Your eye might fail you.Pasquale: It's possible.

  • Dramatic Drop: The bartender does this when Diego says "I'm the son of the alcalde." Diego hasn't yet found out that there's a new alcalde.

  • Face Framed in Shadow: The first time we see Diego in his Zorro outfit, when he's creeping into Quintero's office, all we see of his face are his eyes. The rest is shadow.

  • High-Class Glass: In his idiot fop persona, Diego busts out an even more annoying one of these, a High Class Glass on a rod that he uses to inspect Lolita.

  • I Have No Son!: Don Alejandro is increasingly disappointed with Diego's foppish behavior, but it all comes to a head when he announces his plans to marry Quintero's niece Lolita. At one point Alejandro warns Diego, "If you marry Lolita you leave this house forever!"

  • Irony: The film is produced by 20th Century Fox studios.

  • I Shall Taunt You: Diego gets in a doozy during his fight with Pasquale after Pasquale cuts him in the arm with his blade:"I needed that scratch to awaken me!"

  • Just Like Robin Hood: It wouldn't be Zorro without that aspect now, would it?Fray Felipe: Are you trying to make me the receiver of stolen goods? Diego: No, Padre, the dispenser. This gold was wrung from the peons. It's up to us to restore it to them.

  • Master Swordsman: Diego and Pasquale in one hell of a duel, possibly one of the best in movie history as it paired off two actual master swordsmen in Tyrone Power and Basil Rathbone.

  • Mating Dance: Diego's dance with Lolita is as close to sex as movies in 1940 could get.

  • Meet the New Boss: Discussed Trope. When Diego reveals his identity as Zorro to Fray Felipe, he explains why he chose not to simply kill Quintero, saying that he would be replaced by another alcalde, as bad or even worse than Quintero. Instead, his goal is to scare Quintero into naming Don Alejandro as his successor.

  • Not-So-Harmless Villain: After spending the entire movie as the resident Butt-Monkey, getting bossed and bullied around by Zorro and his own Dragon, Captain Pasquale, Luis Quintero shows his true colors in the wake of the captain's demise, managing to piece together Zorro's true identity and arranging for Diego to be arrested and executed. It takes an angry mob of peasants and nobles alike to break Diego out and defeat Quintero for good.

  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Diego does this to trick the bad guys into thinking he isn't a threat.

  • Obsessive-Compulsive Barkeeping: Naturally, when Diego gets off the boat in California and stops in a cantina, the bartender is cleaning glasses.

  • One Dialogue, Two Conversations: When Don Diego returns to Los Angeles, he innocently says "I'm the son of the alcalde." This causes everyone to treat him with fear, because Don Alejandro had been ousted by Don Luis without his knowledge. Strangely, Diego questions this reaction, but doesn't figure out that there's a new alcalde until reaching his residence and meeting him.

  • The Reveal Prompts Romance: Lolita is not too impressed with Diego when they first meet and horrified at the idea of being sold off into marriage to him. Later, when he reveals to her that he is Zorro, she is much more receptive to his marriage proposal.

  • Secret Identity: Before Batman, Zorro was doing this, convincing the bad guys that he was a spineless weakling while fighting against them under his secret identity.

  • Secret-Keeper: Fray Felipe becomes this when Diego reveals his actions as Zorro, entrusting Felipe with the gold he wrung from Quintero and his soldiers, so he can return it to the peasants.

  • Swashbuckler: One of the most famous examples from this period, and definitely the most famous example that didn't have Errol Flynn in the movie.

  • Sword Fight: The climax is an epic duel-to-the-death between Zorro and Pasquale.

  • Tempting Fate: When he gets the letter from his father, Diego describes California as a land of "everlasting boredom...where a man can only marry, raise fat children, and watch his vineyards grow."

  • Title Drop: Diego pretends to be horrified when he sees "the mark of Zorro!" on Quintero's wall.

  • To Be Lawful or Good: Despite his hatred for Quintero and his bleeding the people dry, Alejandro refuses to lead a rebellion because "the law is the law". Hearing his father's reasoning prompts Diego to assume a masked identity.

  • "Wanted!" Poster: Quintero puts one up offering 5000 pesos for Zorro.

  • Zorro Mark: You can't make a Zorro movie without one. Zorro leaves his in Quintero's office, after forcing Quintero at sword-point to promise to go back to Spain. He leaves another on a bulletin board after he rips off a Zorro "Wanted!" Poster.


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