Mark of Zorro, The (1920)

“This Zorro comes upon you like a graveyard ghost and like a ghost he disappears.”

Synopsis:
In colonial California, a masked avenger (Douglas Fairbanks) — who in real life poses as a foppish milquetoast — battles for the rights of the oppressed while romancing a beautiful young noblewoman (Marguerite De La Motte).

Genres:

Review:
Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. is widely acknowledged as the godfather of cinematic action heroes, given his portrayal as “Zorro” the masked avenger (a fictional hero created by pulp writer Johnston McCulley). In this earliest of many screen adaptations, Fairbanks — much like Leslie Howard in The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934) — has great fun in dual roles, playing both a frustratingly effete nobleman and a swashbuckling defender of the downtrodden. He’s remarkably agile, and gets to perform some fine stunts (all his own, apparently), most notably in the climactic finale. The storyline is slight, but perfectly suited to the material, and possesses quite a bit of enjoyable humor; indeed, I was surprised to find that George Hamilton’s satirical turn in Zorro, the Gay Blade (1981) isn’t all that far removed from the sensibility of this earlier presentation, which has great fun treating evil colonial powers with appropriate disdain.

Note: Director Fred Niblo also helmed the silent adventure classics Blood and Sand (1922) and Ben-Hur (1925), both Peary-listed titles.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Douglas Fairbanks as Don Diego/Zorro
  • Fairbanks’ impressive athletic stunts
  • A surprisingly humorous screenplay

Must See?
Yes, for its historical relevance as the first of Fairbanks’ swashbuckling adventure films, and the movie that started a trend of cinematic caped heroes. Available for free viewing on www.archive.org (as a Public Domain title).

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One Response to “Mark of Zorro, The (1920)”

  1. First viewing. Not must-see.

    Since this film was the start of a trend in 1920, it’s understandable that audiences of its day may have found more delight in it. Personally I don’t see it. The storyline is not terribly interesting, it’s longer than it needs to be (by about 15 minutes) and there is almost no real development, so the film sort of plods along – until the attempt is made at a rousing finish (which does help but it’s a long time getting there).

    It’s hard enough getting film fanatics to pay real attention to silent films, so I can only recommend those that have more impact – and staying power. Like Niblo’s ‘Blood and Sand’, this just hasn’t held up well. (~though, of course, those with a particular fascination with silent films will want to give it a look.)

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