Mark of Zorro, The (1940)

The Mark of Zorro (1940), directed by Rouben Mamoulian.

At last: we have an action/adventure costume mythology filmed in southern California where the story is actually set. How local audiences must have appreciated seeing the quiet dusty streets of tiny Los Angeles village.

This is an adequate adventure story, somewhat sluggish until the final scenes, where we have a spectacular duel and a large melee of peasants and caballeros vs soldiers. Tyrone Power is also adequate, Linda Darnell lovely as his good-hearted, virginal love interest, and Basil Rathbone deliciously villainous.

If you combine Robin Hood with the Scarlet Pimpernel you get Zorro. The Pimpernel first appeared in 1903, Zorro in 1919, and Robin Hood goes back centuries.

The Pimpernel invention was to disguise the action hero as a harmless foppish nobleman by day. Here Don Diego instantly assumes a "light in his boots" persona that the ladies find endearing and the men exasperating. His nemesis glowers across the dinner table, stabbing at a piece of fruit.

Note how much this film owes to The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938). They import Rathbone and Eugene Pallette as practically the same characters, the latter even keeping his Friar Tuck robes.

Rathbone was considered one of the best fencers in Hollywood and he said that Tyrone Power was better with a sword than Errol Flynn.

Alfred Newman score, Arthur C. Miller photography.

Available on Blu-ray from Kino. Richard Schickel provides his usual low-energy commentary. Apart from some background on the people involved, this one is a mostly useless summary of the obvious.

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