The following is the first of my two entries in the Swashathon!, hosted by the blog Movies Silently from Nov. 7-9, 2015. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ tributes to great cinematic swordfighting adventures!
Where would you fall on the Zorro-Meter?
Me? I’m afraid I’d veer far too close to Don Diego Vega. He’s The Mark of Zorro‘s near-narcoleptic milquetoast whose idea of great social skills is cheap magic tricks with his handkerchief, and who nearly faints at the mere thought of bloodshed.
That, of course, is why Don Diego is the perfect alter ego for the mighty Zorro (Douglas Fairbanks). As Donny, Zorro can blithely meander through oppressed 1800’s California, soaking up the villainous governor’s plans and thwarting him at every turn.
The most laborious part of this otherwise rousing swashbuckler is its first 15 minutes. Via both some very editorial intertitles and some naked exposition from the local characters, we find out all about Zorro’s exploits and how he champions the oppressed. In this lengthy prologue, the only actual evidence we see of Zorro’s prowess is a prominent Z that has been carved into a local nasty who beat and maimed an innocent man for no good reason.
But once Zorro arrives on the scene, Fairbanks wins us over. He jumps, swoops, sword-pokes, and generally has fun at his oppressors’ expense, all the while letting considerable air out of their stuffed shirts.
Then comes the romantic subplot. A once-prominent family, the Pulidos, has had their fortunes stripped away by the governor. Don Diego’s father, not knowing of his son’s heroic alter ego, suggests that maybe the little wimp oughta get married already. The Pulidos are thrilled to offer the hand of their willing daughter Lolita (a very winning Marguerite De La Motte) — until they all meet Don Diego and discover that his forte is hanky tricks, not swordplay.
And as it happens, one of the governor’s henchmen has designs on Lolita. Let’s hope Zorro gets to her in the nick of time, eh?
This movie is very much of its time, and that’s meant as a compliment. Maiden or not, Lolita is no shrinking violet (she’s not willing to settle for Don Diego, fortune be damned). And Zorro is as chivalrous as heroes come, settling for a couple of passionate kisses from Lolita before riding off to do his duty. Nowadays, this kind of stuff would be presented quite ironically, with huge quotation marks. But when it’s presented straightforwardly, it still has the ability to leave you pop-eyed with delight.
Fairbanks’ considerable charm and physical ability are no small asset to the movie, particularly in its very rousing and satisfying climax. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you give yourself over to the pleasures of The Mark of Zorro.
POSTSCRIPT. This movie has what I now consider my favorite silent-movie intertitle of all time. Zorro begins his wooing of Lolita by telling her that she is like a beautiful rose that he can only hope to grasp. Then he follows up with this gem:
(If you’ve enjoyed reading this, please click here to read my second Swashathon! entry devoted to Daffy Duck in The Scarlet Pumpernickel.)