Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Mark of Zorro (Fred Niblo, 1920)

A vehicle for Douglas Fairbanks to leap about and fight oppression and win the hand of the lovely Lolita Pulido (Marguerite de la Motte), who not surprisingly despises the pallid Don Diego and loves the intrepid Zorro. Fairbanks keeps his shirt on, very unusual for him, but even so he moves with considerable nimbleness. He leaps straight from the ground to the back of a galloping horse. The Bad Guy is tall Captain Juan Ramon (Robert McKim), something of a wannabe swashbuckler himself, but a bully and craven and a shameless kidnapper of reluctant maidens. Also bad is the judge who condemns the saintly Franciscan friar Fray Felipe (Walt Whitman—no, really, not the poet) to fifteen lashes. The colonial governor sent by oppressive Spain way off in Old Europe is Bad too; not only is he a tyrant but he appears to be habitually poorly groomed. The Old California sets and landscapes are nice, familiar from countless California western locations, but somehow quite refreshingly old--still older than the cowboy settings. The “natives” are actually real indigenous people, apparently, and they retain some dignity, not easy to do under oppression. For that matter, not easy under all the well-meaning Zorrovian interventions, either.

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