Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Mark of Zorro (1940)

Here's a movie that still makes its mark after 71 years.

The Mark of Zorro is great fun with a strong cast and exceptional score by Alfred Newman (The King and I, The Song of Bernadette).

Don Diego Vega (Tyrone Power) is in Spain, being schooled in the fine arts of horsemanship and fencing, when he gets the call to return home to California.

He doesn't take the news well. Vega expects his life of rousing adventure will soon turn to stupefying boredom.

But his folks haven't told him of some stunning developments back in Los Angeles. His father, Don Alejandro Vega (Montague Love) is out as governor.

The corrupt Don Luis Quintero (J.Edward Bromberg) and his nasty henchman, Capt. Esteban Pasquale (Basil Rathbone), now rule the roost. Their subjects are afraid, not to mention broke because of all the taxes they're forced to pay.

The senior Vega won't lead a rebellion because he fears the effort will be crushed. A 30-year government veteran, he also believes in obeying the law. His son quickly decides he'll challenge the oppressive government.

Drawing on what he learned back in Spain, Don Diego will ride by night as Zorro (Spanish for fox). A mask will conceal his identity. He'll dress in black as he strikes back at Don Luis Quintero.

To throw off his opponents, and even his own family, Don Diego adopts a peace, not war, attitude who gets queasy at the thought of holding a sword. "Sword play is such a violent business," he says. His supposed beliefs disgust his father, and Fray Felipe (Eugene Pallette) and earn the contempt of Pasquale. The governor's right hand man is well skilled with his sword.

Power is a treat to watch as Vega/Zorro. There's good reason why he was a huge matinee idol. He's a good looking young buck (in his mid 20s when this film was made) who can act.

His romancing of the governor's teenaged niece, Lolita Quintero (Linda Darnell) includes a great scene in a chapel. She's praying. Zorro, dressed as a padre, is trying to elude the governor's men. Thinking he's a man of the cloth, she wants advice about finding love. Zorro tries to conceal his identity while trying to sneak peeks at the lovely young lady. Great stuff.

Save some popcorn for the final showdown between Pasquale and Zorro. Their duel is thrilling to watch. Rathbone more than fills the bill as the chief villain. Relish how good he is at being bad.

Director Rouben Mamoulian shows off his chops in the film's opening scene with a field of swordsman practising their craft in a field.

Pallette, a veteran actor with 251 titles to his credit over his career, is a hoot as a priest more than eager to take up arms against Quintero. He repeatedly asks for God's forgiveness as he whacks soldiers on the head during the film's final fight scene.

Alfred Newman, who won nine Oscars for his musical work, provides the rousing score.

This is entertainment, folks. Well recommended.

RATING: 8/10

FUN FACTS: Rouben Mamoulian was fired from helming what would become one of Hollywood's most acclaimed film noirs, Laura.

Linda Darnell appeared as Henry Fonda's love interest in My Darling Clementine.

Both films are reviewed on this site.

This fact isn't so fun. Tyrone Power died of a heart attack in 1958. He was just 44. Darnell died in a house fire in 1965. She was 41.

Gale Sondergaard, who appears as Quintero's wife, Inez, appeared in an episode of Get Smart in 1970.

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