The Mark of Zorro (1940) – By Duane L. Martin

 

Diego (Tyrone Power) is a Spanish soldier from California who’s been living and training in Madrid. As a swordsman and a horseman his skills are unmatched. He’s grown tired of being challenged to a friendly duel by everyone with a sword who crosses his path, yet his life in California was incredibly boring. Unfortunately, he received a letter from his father, the mayor of the area around Los Angeles, calling him home. The problem is that once he gets there, it’s not like the home he left. His father was forced out of power by Don Luis Qintero (J. Edward Bromberg) and his right hand man, Captain Esteban Pasquale (Basil Rathbone), a man who is nearly as skilled with a sword as Diego is.

When Diego gets home and finds out what’s been going on and how much the people have been suffering, he pretends to be a harmless dandy in public, while privately he dons the mask of Zorro and avenges the people, stealing money from the mayor and his men to give back to the people, while at the same time trying to convince Don Luis to resign his position and reappoint Don Alejandro Vega as the mayor. Unfortunately, he’s merely Captain Pasquale’s puppet, and Pasquale has other plans for him. He also wants Diego to marry Qintero’s niece Lolita (Linda Darnell) in an effort to stave off any rebellion from Don Vega and his caballeros, which is something that Diego is more than happy to go along with. Will Zorro be able to save the people from the corrupt mayor and the evil captain? Will Diego get to marry the beautiful Lolita. You’ll have to watch the movie to find out.

In a way, this film is almost like another version of Robin Hood. The stories are similar in some ways, minus the Merry Men, and they’re similar in the general feel of the film as well. Whereas Robin Hood uses a bow however, Zorro uses a sword with equal skill. Tyrone Power really impressed me with his fencing skills in this film, and pairing him with the man who was well known to be the best swordsman in Hollywood, Basil Rathbone, created the perfect set up for a brilliant fight scene that absolutely did not disappoint. The final conflict between the two is fast and furious. So fast in fact, that you’ll scarcely be able to believe what you’re seeing. That’s how skilled and precise these two men are.

Basil Rathbone was brilliant in his role, as he is in every role he ever played, and Tyrone Power did a great job of playing both Zorro and the dandy fop that no one suspected was really the masked bandit. There was also an appearance by Eugene Pallette as Friar Felipe, which was a nice surprise for me, because he’s appeared in some of my favorite films, including My Man Godfrey and Robin Hood.

While the film was well done, it did have a few things that didn’t make much sense. For example, the accents ranged from Spanish to American to English, and everything in between. There wasn’t any effort to give the accents any consistency. Basil Rathbone sounded distinctly English, while Tyrone Power sounded like an American. Eugene Pallette sounded like he always does, which is to say his voice sounded like five miles of gravel road. He’s just got one of those distinctive deep and gravelly voices that’s instantly recognizable.

The story is ok. A bit melodramatic, but that’s to be expected. There were aspects of it that didn’t play well, like some of the scenes with Lolita, because not only did she seem older than her supposed seventeen years, but she also seemed far too naive. Her uncle came off as little more than a corrupt coward, and his wife wanted nothing more than to score with Diego herself so she could run off to Madrid with him and escape her dreary life there in California. Of the three, she put in the best performance, though the best performance in the film goes to Basil Rathbone, as it nearly always does.

For special features, this new release from Kino Lorber includes audio commentary with film historian and critic Richard Schickel, a documentary called Tyrone Power: The Last Idol, and a collection of film trailers. What it doesn’t include yet again is subtitles, which they really need to start adding to these releases.

It’s a classic film with a great looking restoration, a wonderful cast and some incredible sword fighting action. What’s not to love? The Mask of Zorro is an enjoyable and entertaining film that you’ll definitely want to add to your classic movie collection.

If you’d like to find out more about this release, you can check out its page on the Kino Lorber website here: https://www.kinolorber.com/film/themarkofzorro1940