The Mark of Zorro (USA, 1940)

tumblr_m05uq0ddTm1qaun7do1_500 Directed by: Rouben Mamoulian. I came across this one serendipitously, and a scan over the cover at the names Basil Rathbone and Zorro told me everything I needed to get excited. I was hoping for a good old 1940’s classic Hollywood, black and white swashbuckling adventure film with thin mustachios and ruffled collars on shirts, and I wasn’t disappointed on any of those points. What I hadn’t counted on was just how damn entertaining and actually really funny this film turned out to be. This Tyrone Power fellow is really fantastic with his cat-like eyes and sly grin. I could watch him do that proto-Bruce Wayne dumb rich kid routine all day. The entertainment value of this thing was immeasurably bolstered, though, by the comedic histrionics of J. Edward Bromberg (a first for me), and the scene stealing high jinks of Eugene Pallette (whose familiarity is driving me nuts as I search in vain through his filmography). And just like that other great Sherlock, Peter Cushing, Basil Rathbone does an excellent and believable turn as a dastardly villain, those thin, almost skeletal facial qualities and soft yet stern speaking voice contributing to his sublimely sinister countenance. Rathbone’s underlying intelligence is what makes him such a formidable foe, especially against the youngster Tyrone Power, who really has to push hard to compete with that commanding screen presence. If I had any complaints, it’s that the film so quickly does away with my man Basil, having him succumb to a wound (after an absolutely incredible sword fight between Rathbone and Power, not stand-ins, in one of the best action sequences I’ve ever seen in film, period), which fairly suddenly deflates the really interesting conflict in the film. The personal brewing animosity between these two men isn’t really built upon, but instead it’s left as a side note to the larger thread about populist politics and unjust feudalism. After the amazing sword fight noted above, the climax comes as Zorro (out of his Zorro costume) leads the 99% in a hand-to-hand, rifle-to-pitchfork revolt against the army of the corrupt Don of the town and, after gaining power basically bloodlessly, exile him and restore order. This is a genuinely interesting movie, and even the romantic subplot with Linda Darnell is a welcome addition to all of the stuff going on in this film. This is truly a well made film overall and an absolutely delightful example of the old studio Hollywood system.

One response to “The Mark of Zorro (USA, 1940)

  1. Pingback: List of Judgements, Anno Domini 2013 | Offhand Reviews·

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