Before the 1920 silent classic "The Mark of Zorro," Douglas Fairbanks had made a series of comedy-dramas like "Flirting With Fate" and "A Modern Musketeer" where he could show off his athletic abilities as a cheerful All-American hero. But in "The Mark of Zorro" he tried his hand at swashbuckling for the first time and quickly became the premier action hero of his day in films such as "The Three Musketeers," "Robin Hood" and "The Thief of Bagdad." The character of Zorro had only appeared the year before in "All-Story Weekly" with Johnston McCulley's five-part serial "The Curse of Capistrano." Fairbanks adapted the story himself for the screen (under the name Elton Thomas), telling the story of the foppish Don Diego Vega and his dashing masked alter-ego, Senor Zorro. The story is set in the California of the 1820's, where Don Diego has no success in courting the beautiful Lolita (Marguerite de la Motte), who only has eyes for that vigorous Zorro fellow. When Lolita and her family are imprisoned by the corrupt Governor Alvarado (George Periolat) and his evil henchman, Captain Ramon (Robert McKim), Zorro rallies the caballeros to join him in saving the day, the girl and the rest of California in the bargain. This is one of the finest adventure films of the silent era, with plenty of "swording" for those of us who like such things. Zorro owes something to the Scarlet Pimpernel in creating the superhero stereotype of the ineffectual secret identity who turns into a crusader for justice such as Clark Kent/Superman, Bruce Wayne/Batman, Peter Parker/Spider-Man, etc. If you are a fan of either the silent era or swashbuckling, then sooner or later you have to ride the path of justice with Fairbank's Zorro.
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With recent superhero blockbusters like X-Men, Spider-Man, Superman Returns and Batman Begins it's nice to go back to perhaps the first superhero film, the film that brought us the blockbusters we have today.
Based on a book, The Curse of Capistrano, by Johnston McCulley this showed Zorro's origin (well, almost). We get from it that Don Diego Vega is interested in making shapes with handkerchiefs, and that Zorro protects natives and priests and uses a Z. When money is put on Zorro's head he must protect himself, the good people of California and win the love of Lolita Pulido.
This was Douglas Fairbank's first swashbuckling adventure that lead to many including The Three Musketeers, Robin Hood, The Thief of Bagdad and The Black Pirate and also led to a sequel, Don Q Son of Zorro. Although many might prefer the versions with Tyrone Power in 1940 and Frank Langella in 1974, they should just think about the 1920 version. Without the Curse of Capistrano or The Mark of Zorro with Douglas Fairbanks, we wouldn't have the Zorro we have today or the superheroes we have today. So when you watch X-Men or Spider-Man, just think that it all started with Zorro back in the late 1910s, early 1920s.
Full of swashbuckling action, this may not have the new special effects, but the stunts are good enough to make a special effects filmmaker think twice about using it. Robert McKim is perfect as the evil Captain Ramon, George Periolat plays the scheming Governor Alvarado and Marguerite De La Motte plays Lolita Pulido. Another star is Noah Beery, who plays the athletic and dangerous Sergeant Pedro Gonzales, who joins forces with Zorro at the end.
I won't give too much away about the plot, but it seems everything went right. Don't be expecting many special features as in 1920 there were no DVDs or VHS and neither were there Behind the Scenes. My version has no special features, but I think the film itself just about makes up for that. Full of action, with loads of swashbuckling action, romance and even a bit of shadow-making, this is the film you must see!
That is why I gave it five stars!
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There are many Zorro movies out there and each brings with it a unique character. This version has all the energy and routines of Douglas Fairbanks. In this version Zorro disguises himself with a fake mustache along with the standard mask. He is to wed the daughter (Marguerite De La Motte) of a nobleman (Charles Hill Mailes) that was stripped of his wealth by the governor (George Periolat.)
"Oppression- by its very nature-creates the power that crushes it. A champion arises-a champion of the oppressed- whether it be a Cromwell or someone unrecorded, he will be there. He is born."