#190) The Mark of Zorro (1940)

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#190) The Mark of Zorro (1940)

OR “Where in the World is Swordsman Don Diego?”

Directed by Rouben Mamoulian

Written by John Taintor Foote. Story by Garret Fort and Bess Meredyth. Based on “The Curse of Capistrano” by Johnston McCulley.

Class of 2009

No trailer, but here’s a sample.

Thanks, Allison

The Plot: Don Diego Vega (Tyrone Power) is Zorro, a masked outlaw who robs from the rich and gives to the poor (like that other, less exciting folk hero). At night Zorro takes on Los Angeles’ corrupt alcade Luis Quintero (J. Edward Bromberg) and Captain Esteban Pasquale (Basil Rathbone). By day Diego plays up his foppishness to divert suspicion, and still finds time to woo Luis’ niece Lolita (Linda Darnell). Action! Romance! Z carvings!

Why It Matters: The NFR praises director Rouben Mamoulian as well as the “thrilling duel between Rathbone and Power”.

But Does It Really?: Eh, I guess. I wasn’t able to get too excited about this one. We’ve got other swashbuckling epics on this list. Hell, we’ve got another Zorro film on this list. I give this “Mark of Zorro” a slight pass for the popularity of Tyrone Power, and not much else. I kinda wish I had just watched the Antonio Banderas Zorro movie instead.

Everybody Gets One: Tyrone Power was unable to find success in Hollywood, despite the connection to (and same name as) his father, legendary silent film star Tyrone Power. The younger Power eventually found success on the Broadway stage, which finally caught the attention of Hollywood. After years of playing swashbuckling types, Power returned to the stage to hone his craft (one of the few movie stars of the time to do so). His last film features one of his best performances, and is a film I’m surprised isn’t on this list yet: 1957’s “Witness for the Prosecution”.

Wow, That’s Dated: Today on “Whitewashed Casting”, the native Californians/Mexicans of “Zorro” are played by people who are Irish/English mix (Tyrone Power) English (Basil Rathbone, Montagu Love), Danish-American (Gale Sondergaard), Romanian (J. Edward Bromberg), German (Janet Beecher) Greek (George Regas), and even Texan (Linda Darnell). The highest billed actor who is playing the correct ethnicity is Mexican born Chris-Pin Martin (10thbilling).

Take a Shot: Diego says the title once, about 50 minutes in.

Seriously, Oscars?: “The Mark of Zorro” was one of 17 nominees in the Best Original Score category in 1940. Alfred Newman’s work lost to the score from another future NFR entry: “Pinocchio”.

Other notes

  • “The fine and fashionable art of killing.” Woof. Different times, indeed.
  • Basil Rathbone’s about as Mexican as Charlton Frickin’ Heston.
  • You’re not seeing things: Basil Rathbone and Eugene Pallette are playing essentially the same characters from “The Adventures of Robin Hood” two years earlier: Rathbone as Sir Guy of Gisbourne (complete with swordfight) and Pallette as Friar Tuck.
  • Gale Sondergaard has two claims to fame: She was the first Best Supporting Actress winner in 1936 for “Anthony Adverse”, and she passed on playing the Wicked Witch of the West in “The Wizard of Oz”. She made the NFR list eventually, but in a film nowhere near as iconic.
  • So crime and corruption has always been a problem in L.A.
  • Hey, Lolita is 17! Knock it off, Zorro! In fact, just steer clear of anyone named Lolita.
  • I am so bored with this film. Screw this; I’m switching over to “The Mask of Zorro”…
  • That opening sequence has more Mexicans than all of “Mark of Zorro” combined.
  • You can’t convince me that Anthony Hopkins did his own stunts.
  • Speaking of, there’s an obvious attempt to make the casting more culturally appropriate, and yet a Welsh man as Don Diego? Was Edward James Olmos not available? Or marketable?
  • And his daughter is Welsh too? Catherine Zeta-Jones, who doesn’t have an ounce of Mexican blood in her, plays Don Diego’s daughter Elena. No one in the states knew who she was back then, and the last name Zeta is just vague enough you can get away with this if no one’s paying attention.
  • God this is taking forever. How much longer until the next action sequence?
  • I guess I remember “Mask of Zorro” being better than it actually is. Antonio Banderas is everything you could ask for in a Zorro, and that’s the most sexual tension in a swordfight that a PG-13 can handle, but man is this thing bloated. Lemme check back with “Mark of Zorro”…
  • Well, the Power/Rathbone swordfight is fun, but don’t think I didn’t notice the under-cranking going on to speed it up a little.
  • “Mark of Zorro” isn’t that spectacular either, but at least it’s short. Will we ever have a good “Zorro” movie? You’re my last hope, 1920 version I will have to watch eventually.

Legacy

  • Tyrone Power would spend most of the ‘40s playing Zorro-esque action heroes, including a 1941 follow-up with Linda Darnell, “Blood and Sand”.
  • Jury’s still out on whether or not this version (or the 1920 version) is the “Mark of Zorro” that Bruce Wayne watches the night his parents are murdered. Either way, he took notes.
  • Many films of Zorro over the years, but the only direct remake of this film is the 1974 version with Frank Langella. At least in this one the main bad guy is Ricardo Montalban.
  • I’ll always enjoy the ‘90s version “The Poke of Zorro” best. With James Earl Jones as the voice of the Magic Taco.
  • It’s not directly connected to this film, but here’s the “Zorro” TV theme anyway.

3 thoughts on “#190) The Mark of Zorro (1940)”

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