Mark of Zorro, The (1940)

“How could I refuse a man anything with a naked sword in his hand?”

Synopsis:
A 19th century Spanish don (Tyrone Power) is shocked to find that his father (Montagu Love) has been replaced as governor of Los Angeles by a corrupt alcalde (J. Edward Bromberg). Donning a mask, Power becomes “Zorro” the masked avenger, fighting the villainous Bromberg and his henchman (Basil Rathbone), and winning the heart of Bromberg’s beautiful niece (Linda Darnell).

Genres:

Review:
This remake of the 1920 silent-era film (starring Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.) brought the fictional masked vigilante Zorro to a new generation of movie-going viewers. 20th Century Fox matinee-idol Power is well-cast in the title role, bringing verve and elan to a character embodying a hybrid of Robin Hood and The Scarlet Pimpernel. The cinematography is appropriately atmospheric, and Rouben Mamoulian directs with a solid hand throughout; a particular highlight is Power’s thrilling duel with Rathbone. With that said, the humor, romance, and corruption-driven narrative aren’t all that memorable, and I suspect modern film fanatics won’t be quite as taken with this outing as 1940 audiences were. It’s primarily worth a look for its (and Power’s) historical popularity.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • The truly exciting swashbuckling scene between Power and Rathbone
  • Arthur C. Miller’s atmospheric cinematography

Must See?
No, though it’s recommended for one-time viewing given its historical relevance. Listed as a film with Historical Relevance and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book. Named to the National Film Registry in 2009 by the Library of Congress.

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One Response to “Mark of Zorro, The (1940)”

  1. A once-must, for its place in cinema history, and for Mamoulian’s direction.

    This isn’t even particularly my type of movie – yet I must say I’m won over by its style alone. In lesser hands, this could have been a lesser film; it could have fallen prey to much of the melodrama in the script. However, director Mamoulian set out to exploit the melodrama by also taking it very seriously, and by having his cast approach their roles with the utmost conviction. The amount of nuance he achieved along the way is impressive.

    Power seems to be having a terrific time with his ‘dual’ role. But a special treat is seeing Gale Sondergaard* (as Darnell’s mother) being so flighty – compared to her rather lethal appearance in ‘The Letter’ the same year. I get a real kick out of the scene between her and Power – in which he fools her into thinking he’s more than willing to carry on a clandestine affair with her (the very thought of which thrills her to no end).

    *Sondergaard was a blacklisting victim. ~which explains why there aren’t as many memorable performances in her filmography as there should be.

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