The Mark of Zorro (1920) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

The Mark of Zorro (1920)

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Danny LIKEEarly in The Mark of Zorro, we get a pretty hearty taste of who Zorro is. After fighting a duel in a seedy bar, Zorro ducks out of a nearby window to make his escape. A horde of troops give chase, failing to notice that Zorro simply popped back in through the window when they weren't looking. Zorro calmly picks back up his cape and hat, and hides behind the open door as the troops file back in dejectedly. Unable to resist, Zorro pokes the man he'd been dueling with in the butt as he enters. The man thinks it was the soldier behind him fiddling with his sword and promptly wallops him. Laughing, Zorro departs, leaving everyone frustrated and confused. So, almost unbelievably, that's Zorro. Not an angry vigilante, not someone seeking revenge, but a merry prankster, handy with the sword, fighting against some foolish brutes he's not terribly fond of.

And that's just one of the many charms found in The Mark of Zorro. Douglas Fairbanks stars in his career-definitive role, and while it's immediately and painfully clear that Fairbanks is about as hispanic as your average eskimo, he still manages to become such a force of joy on the screen that any need of accuracy is quickly forgotten.

The story is fairly boilerplate: Don Diego Vega is the son of a wealthy landowner in 1820's California. He is bored by his provincial life, but after a trip to Spain, he becomes invigorated: Vega will become a mewling weakling, staying below the radar while the mysterious Zorro will strike out anywhere injustice appears.

And that he does, with almost stunning regularity. Nary a mention of Zorro goes by without him popping in and having a good tumble. Fairbanks has a great time with the swashbuckler, performing some stunts that still look impressive today, tumbling from buildings and swinging from ropes. Even the manic and undercranked sword fighting looks great.

While, Zorro gets most of the movie, Don Vega himself makes a few appearances, too. He is paired with a woman besieged by the governor by his father, who notes of Vega, "He's not a man-- he's a fish!" Her name is Lolita (mind you, a few decades before that name had any other meaning), and she is simultaneously pursued by none other than Zorro himself. Unsurprisingly, Zorro completely charms her brains out, and she is torn between helping her family by marrying Don Vega or going where her true feelings lie with Zorro.

The joy behind The Mark of Zorro's feats are, admittedly, psychology free. He's Zorro because it's a game, another joke in his arsenal. Never does the movie suddenly up the ante or force Zorro to act serious-- there's not a moment where he's not made of impenetrable bravura or daring. His selflessness isn't created from a tragedy, but a sense of indignation and justice. Zorro here is simply a pure manifestation of good, a crackling bout of energy and goodwill wrapped into one brilliant performance by Douglas Fairbanks.

And there's something kind of great about that.

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The Mark of Zorro (1920)

This film is available on DVD and Netflix Instant.

Directed by Fred Niblo
Written by Johnston McCulley
Starring Douglas Fairbanks

Posted by Danny

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