#254) The Mark of Zorro (1920)
OR “19th Century Fox”
Directed by Fred Niblo
Written by Eugene Miller and Douglas Fairbanks. Based on the story “The Curse of Capistrano” by Johnston McCulley.
Class of 2015
The Plot: Don Diego Vega (Douglas Fairbanks) is Zorro, a masked swordsman who will defend anyone oppressed by the Alta California government. At night Zorro takes on corrupt Governor Alvarado (George Periolat) and Captain Juan Ramon (Robert McKim). By day Diego plays up his foppishness to divert suspicion and disappoint his father Don Alejandra Vega (Sidney De Gray), but still finds time to woo the young Lolita (Marguerite De La Motte). Action! Romance! Z carvings!
Why It Matters: The NFR contextualizes the film as the vehicle Douglas Fairbanks used to pivot from romantic comedies to his new more adventurous screen persona.
But Does It Really?: I’ll give it a pass for Fairbanks, but that’s it. Like the other NFR Zorro (not to mention the Antonio Banderas version), this Zorro is a bit bloated. Perhaps the Zorro stories work better in short spurts. No wonder the TV show was so popular.
Wow, That’s Dated: All together now: No one in this movie is actually Mexican.
- That…is a weird poster.
- For some reason I thought the legend of Zorro has been around for a long time. “The Curse of Capistrano” was first published in 1919. Zorro’s less than a century old!
- “Oppression – by its very nature – creates the power that crushes it.” Well that’s good stuff right there. That’s “Share If You Agree” worthy.
- Noah Beery (Wallace’s brother) plays Sergeant Gonzales. Noah’s son, Noah Jr., makes his film debut here as one of the child extras. Noah Jr. would go on to play Jim Rockford’s dad on “The Rockford Files”.
- That’s a fun reveal of Don Diego with the umbrella.
- Zorro has a gun!? That’s cheating! Zorro’s main thing is being a great swordsman. You can’t give him a gun! How does he do a “Z” with a gun?
- The opening swordfight is fun, but it helps that Gonzales follows the Movie Bad Guy Rule of letting the hero make the first move.
- You can definitely see the influence Zorro had on Batman. Zorro’s even got his own Batcave in this movie (Zorro-cave? Fox Hole, that’s it).
- To borrow from that other DC Universe character, I am calling Clark Kent BS on all this. How can anyone not know that it’s Don Diego under that mask? Especially you, Lolita.
- Father Felipe is played by an actor named Walt Whitman. Obviously, not that Walt Whitman, but here’s his photo again anyway. Call him “ZZ Top”, because that is a sharp dressed man.
- Compared to the 1940 version, this “Zorro” has a little bit more of an emphasis on Zorro as a symbol of hope for an oppressed people. The Tyrone Power version has a much more helpless public waiting for their savior. As a result, the 1920 version ages better.
- You have to wait about 90 minutes, but the climactic chase and fight showcase Fairbanks’ trademark stunts. It must have been thrilling to watch a guy only known for romantic comedies at the time kick some serious butt. This Zorro succeeds because of its James Bond “How’s he gonna get out of this one?” quality.
- This is the movie that brought Zorro to Mainstream America.
- Five years after this film’s success, Fairbanks took the book “Don Q.’s Love Story” and re-worked it as the Zorro sequel “Don Q, Son of Zorro”. Fairbanks plays both title characters!
- The original story was adapted for the sound era in future NFR entry “The Mark of Zorro” with Tyrone Power. It’s 15 minutes shorter but somehow slower.
- “Let’s go to the movies,” my parents said. “It’ll be a great bonding experience,” they said.
- And now I’ll just liberally steal from my other Zorro write-up:
- Many films of Zorro over the years, but the only other one based on the original story is the 1974 version with Frank Langella.
- I’ll always enjoy the ‘90s version “The Poke of Zorro” best. With Meryl Streep as the Stupid Nun.
- It’s not directly connected to this film, but here’s the “Zorro” TV theme anyway.