Cast & Crew
In the early 1800s, when Diego Vega, one of the best swordsmen in all of Spain, is unexpectedly summoned home to California by his father, Don Alejandro, he returns to find that his father has been deposed as alcalde and the peasants crushed beneath the yoke of tyranny under Don Luis Quintero and his soldiers, who are led by the sword brandishing Captain Esteban Pasquale. With the odds against an uprising because of the sheer number of soldiers under Pasquale's command, Diego becomes the scourge of the oppressors by acting as the masked bandit Zorro by night while impersonating a foppish dilettante by day. As Zorro, he falls in love with Quintero's beautiful niece Lolita, while as Don Diego, he flirts with Quintero's conceited wife Inez, thus earning the ire of Pasquale, her other suitor. When Zorro orders that Quintero return to Spain and appoint Don Alejandro as his successor, Pasquale cleverly proposes an alliance between the Vega and Quintero families through a marriage between Diego and Lolita. At first repulsed, Lolita embraces Diego after she discovers that he is the dashing Zorro. However, Diego's masquerade is exposed when his accomplice, Fray Felipe, is arrested by Pasquale and Diego challanges the smug captain to a duel. When Diego kills his opponent, he attracts the suspicion of Quintero, who arrests him and sentences him to death. As Fray Felipe and Diego await the firing squad, Diego outwits the guard, breaks out of jail and leads the peasants and caballeros in a rebellion against the soldiers. With Quintero and his men defeated, Don Alejandro takes over as alcalde, and peace is restored to the village of Los Angeles.
J. Edward Bromberg
Pedro De Cordoba
Jean Del Val
W. D. Flick
John Taintor Foote
Joseph C. Wright
Darryl F. Zanuck
The Mark of Zorro (1940)
The narrative doesn't hew as faithfully to McCulley's initial Zorro pulp tale, The Curse of Capistrano, as does the 1920 Fairbanks silent, but the core remains intact. The story opens in the early 19th century at Madrid's military academy, where Don Diego de Vega (Power) is determinedly excelling at his training. Reluctantly heeding a summons home to California by his father (Montagu Love), a nobleman who serves as mayor of Los Angeles, Don Diego is appalled by the community conditions he finds upon his arrival. His father has been supplanted as alcalde by Don Luis Quintero (J. Edward Bromberg), a fatuous oaf who has ratcheted up the taxation of the local peasantry beyond their ability to pay. The dunning of the locals is callously carried out by Pasquale (Basil Rathbone), Quintero's unctuously sinister captain of the guard. The elder Vega, as do the other caballeros of the region, despises the present regime but has been rendered powerless to act. Don Diego's first response is to affect the public pose of a pampered, indolent fop, which draws the contempt of those that have known him best, but causes Quintero and his lackeys to erroneously regard him as harmless.
Over the ensuing weeks, Quintero's soldiers find themselves routinely routed on their rounds by a masked swordsman in black, who returns the peons' money and daringly demands that the alcalde step down or face his wrath. Among those intrigued by this immediate folk hero is Quintero's beautiful niece (Linda Darnell), who is as compelled by this mysterious and charming "fox" as she is dismayed by her uncle's entreaties to enter a political marriage with the shallow Don Diego.
Surprisingly, a great deal of the thrust of The Mark of Zorro is spent on the hero's dilemma of being his own romantic rival, with comparatively little screen time devoted to out-and-out action. Rouben Mamoulian, the stylish maverick whose relatively spare but impressive directing resume includes Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931), Becky Sharp (1935), Golden Boy (1939), and Silk Stockings (1957), took a minimalist approach to depicting his protagonist's derring-do.
In his retrospective Rouben Mamoulian (Thames & Hudson), Tom Milne revisited the sequence where Zorro effortlessly invades the alcalde's mansion to intimidate Quintero, and just as cleanly escapes. "The first thing one notices about this sequence is how little [Zorro] actually does, his menace being suggested by a sword-point, his actions by sudden camera movements in the semi-obscurity of the garden," he wrote. "The second thing is that, although the whole sequence gives the impression of being one continuous movement, it is in fact - even the final flight over the wall-composed of a series of brief shots. Here Mamoulian is able to make full and free use of his technique of cutting on movement without interrupting the flow of action".
Rathbone performs to excellent effect in one of the premiere efforts in his extensive portfolio of screen villainy. As he did in so many set pieces from acknowledged swashbuckling classics, Rathbone displayed his gifts with the sword in the exceptional showdown choreographed by fencing master Fred Cavens. Power wouldn't and couldn't bring the sheer physicality to the hero that Fairbanks did, and in point of fact was doubled in the long shots by Cavens' son Albert. Still, he did cut a handsome figure in face and form as the defiant daredevil, and he took obvious relish in playing Don Diego's fey posture to the hilt.
The entire ensemble turned in uniformly fine work, with a scene-stealing performance by Gale Sondergaard as Quintero's grasping, ambitious wife. Eugene Pallette, like Rathbone and Love an alumnus of The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), once again donned a friar's robe as a brave padre who agrees to filter Zorro's plunder back to the poor. Complemented by Alfred Newman's rousing, Oscar-nominated score, The Mark of Zorro sealed Power's status as an adventure star, and raised the bar for the many subsequent incarnations of its masked hero.
Producer: Raymond Griffith, Darryl F. Zanuck
Director: Rouben Mamoulian
Screenplay: John Taintor Foote, Garrett Elsden Fort , based on the novel The Curse of Capistrano by Johnston McCulley
Art Direction: Richard Day, Joseph C. Wright
Cinematography: Arthur C. Miller
Editing: Robert Bischoff
Music: Alfred Newman
Cast: Tyrone Power (Zorro), Linda Darnell (Lolita Quintero), Basil Rathbone (Captain Estaban Pasquale), Gale Sondergaard (Inez Quintero), Eugene Pallette (Fray Felipe), J. Edward Bromberg (Don Luis Quintero), Montagu Love (Don Alejandro Vega), Janet Beecher (Senora Isabella Vega).
BW-94m. Closed captioning.
by Jay Steinberg
The Mark of Zorro (1940)
The Mark of Zorro on DVD
Diego manages to size up the situation upon meeting Quinetero, and instantly decides to adopt the role of a harmless, tiresome fop who finds the very idea of politics fatiguing. Secretly, Diego invents the dashing persona of the masked bandit Zorro, who begins to rob Quintero and his patrons of their wealth, returning the ill-gotten funds to the poor from whom it has been extracted, with the help of local clergyman Friaf Filipe (Eugene Pallette at his blustering best). But it is not enough to simply return the money to the poor: Zorro mounts a campaign of terror against Quintero designed to force his resignation and the reappointment of Don Alejandro as alcalde. The insistence that Alejandro be returned to power convinces Pasquale that Zorro is a tool of the former alcalde and his caballeros, and persuades Quintero that it would be politically expedient to marry off his daughter Lolita (Linda Darnell) to Don Diego, thereby joining his family with that of the man beloved by the citizens. But before the wedding can take place, Quintero learns the true identity of Zorro, and it's up to the wily Don Diego to escape his execution and lead the citizens in rebellion against their oppressor.
Directed by the under-appreciated Rouben Mamoulian, The Mark of Zorro is a fabulously exhilarating romp. The screenplay is based on the story The Curse of Capistrano by Johnston McCulley, but has obvious echoes of 1938's The Adventures of Robin Hood, with the hero robbing from the rich and giving to the poor (and in fact, Eugene Pallette's performance here is virtually a repeat of his turn as Friar Tuck in that film); it also hearkens back to 1934's The Scarlet Pimpernel, with the hero's reliance on a laughable, foppish alter-ego as a perfect cover for his heroic deeds. The Mark of Zorro seamlessly combines the elements of both films into a rousing adventure that feels thoroughly fresh.
Much of the credit for the film's success goes to Mamoulian's crisp direction, and the spirited performances of the entire cast: Although the film doesn't give Tyrone Power the opportunity to show the range he would later display in Nightmare Alley, he gives one of his most memorable performances here, clearly defining his character's two personas. He's particularly amusing as the "dandy" Don Diego, the twinkle in his eye giving a sort of wink to the audience who, for the film's first half, are the only ones in on his secret. As Zorro, Power is as dashing and athletic as he would ever be, culminating in an unforgettable sword fight with Rathbone.
As the unswervingly ruthless Pasquale, Rathbone effortlessly demonstrates why he would later chafe at being indelibly identified with the cerebral detective Sherlock Holmes. Another graduate of The Adventures of Robin Hood, Rathbone gives an even more impressive performance as the evil puppet-master who plays his sword the way other men "play with a monocle or a snuff-box." Linda Darnell provides a lovely presence as the heroine, and J. Edward Bromberg is marvelous as the greedy martinet; perfectly matched by Gale Sondergaard as his avaricious wife.
Fox's new Special Edition DVD is simply a repeat of their earlier Studio Classics edition, including the commentary by film critic Richard Schickel, and the A&E Biography Tyrone Power: The Last Idol. The only new addition is a colorized version of the film. The original black and white transfer, struck from restored film elements, still shows signs of general wear as well as some debris and some brief, thin vertical lines. On the whole the transfer is excellent, with deep blacks, sharp contrasted, and clearly defined shadings. However, the audio is showing general deterioration throughout. The colorized print is typical of what we've come to expect: the colors are alternately too rich and too dull, and never quite look natural. As always, it's best to stick to the original.
For more information about The Mark of Zorro, visit Fox Home Entertainment. To order The Mark of Zorro, go to TCM Shopping.
by Fred Hunter
The Mark of Zorro on DVD
My dear Esteban is forever thrusting at this or at that. He was a fencing Master in Madrid.- Don Luis B. Quintero
Why did you give it up?- Don Diego Vega
I had the misfortune to kill a man of influence.- Captain Esteban Pasquale
A lady was involved, I believe.- Don Luis B. Quintero
The gentleman's wife, no doubt?- Don Diego Vega
The working title of this film was The Californian. According to an item in Los Angeles Examiner, Douglas Fairbanks sold Fox his rights to the Johnston McCulley story, which was published in book form in 1924 as The Mark of Zorro. Materials contained in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department at the UCLA Theater Arts Library add that McCulley retained author's rights to the character of Zorro and wrote several other Zorro stories. As a result, Fox did not control the rights to the Zorro character, thus enabling Republic to make The Bold Caballero in 1936. The legal files also add that William A. Drake and Dorothy Hechtlinger worked on treatments for the film. Materials contained in the Twentieth Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collection at the UCLA Theater Arts Library note that Darryl Zanuck suggested that Richard Greene test for the role of Zorro. The film had its premiere in Cincinnati, the home town of star Tyrone Power. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Score. The 1981 Fox release Zorro, the Gay Blade, starring George Hamilton and directed by Peter Medak, was dedicated to director Rouben Mamoulian. For more information on other Zorro films, see entries above for The Bold Caballero and the 1920 The Mark of Zorro.