Tuesday, 13 December 2005
The character of Zorro was created over 85 years ago by pulp magazine editor Johnston McDulley, and he’s since gone through several different incarnations and franchises with any number of actors — including this fall’s The Legend of Zorro, a swashbuckling sequel starring Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Through it all, though, he’s remained a consistently philanthropic swashbuckler, bringing justice and equality to the peasant folk with a slashing rapier matched only by his dashing good looks. The first big budget studio talkie to feature the character, 1940’s The Mark of Zorro stars screen catnip Tyrone Power in the title role and, as presented here on a dual-sided disc that offers a colorized presentation alongside the original black & white version, stands as a nice piece of old Hollywood adventure entertainment.
Utilizing the same sort of nobleman-by-day/avenger-by-night mythology that Batman fans will find familiar, Power is a wealthy 19th century land owner, Don Diego de Vega, whose father is the mayor of Los Angeles. When the sinister Captain Pasquale (Basil Rathbone) and a new corrupt band of minions, or “alcalde,” remove his father from governance, however, and start to rob the citizenry at every turn, Don Diego dons a mask, defies their unjust laws and begins to avenge the innocent. His weapon of choice, of course, is his trusty blade, and soon his trademark “Z” leaves an impression at every turn, including on Pasquale’s sweet, unknowing niece, Lolita (Linda Darnell).
Director Rouben Mamoulian delivers the action at a slightly under-framed pace, the better to speed up the movie’s swordplay and horse stunts, and if the plot’s exposition is somewhat clumsily handled by today’s standards (including lots of explanatory posters addressed to citizenry) and the characterizations a bit quaint, you still get a good sense of the movie’s qualitative standing in its own era, and are able to surrender accordingly. The Mark of Zorro also takes on an interesting subtext given Power’s off-screen bisexuality, divulged long after the fact. It’s an interesting mix of leonine grace and empathy, his Zorro, and, let’s put it this way, there’s more than enough nuance upon which to author a paper.
In addition to the aforementioned dual 1.33:1 full screen presentations (one on one side of the disc, one on the other), there is also an audio commentary track — accessible on both versions of the movie — from film critic Richard Schickel. While there is some amount of obvious plot explication, Schickel also has plenty of interesting things to say about Mamoulian’s varied career, and what he describes as the “musical movements” of the filmmaker’s action direction. As far as the colorization, purists will dither regardless, but other than occasional lightness in flesh tones, it’s rather nice. There are some slight blotches and distortion in both video transfers, however, though they come and go, and aren’t too frequent. In addition, there is also the A&E Biography special on Power, a fascinating and wonderful inclusion for those who haven’t heard of the actor. Finally, there’s a set of six black & white reprinted promotional postcards featuring shots from the movie’s set. B (Movie) B (Disc)