US Release Date: 11-27-1920
Directed by: Fred Niblo
- Douglas Fairbanks, as
- Don Diego Vega/Senor Zorro
- Marguerite De La Motte, as
- Lolita Pulido
- Robert McKim, as
- Captain Juan Ramon
- Noah Beery, as
- Sergeant Pedro Gonzales
- Charles Hill Mailes, as
- Don Carlos Pulido
- Claire McDowell, as
- Dona Catalina Pulido
- George Periolat as
- Governor Alvarado
Douglas Fairbanks and Robert McKim in The Mark of Zorro.
The Mark of Zorro made Douglas Fairbanks a superstar. He was the first action hero and though he was already middle-aged the man was amazingly fit and agile as this movie proves. The character of Zorro is really the first cinematic superhero. Young boys all around the world donned homemade capes and masks in imitation of their daring hero. It is easy to see how he influenced later superheroes like Batman and Superman and though many later remakes have been hugely successful, most notably Tyrone Powers' version, this original silent movie remains definitive.
Don Diego Vega, rich Spanish nobleman, with an effete demeanor and a fondness for silk handkerchief tricks is really the dashing and mysterious Zorro, a brave figure riding the 1820's southern California countryside helping the poor against the 'Sentinels of Oppression'. He leaves his trademark, a sword slash in the shape of the letter Z, in the flesh of his victims.
He meets and falls in love with the daughter of a once prominent family. Lolita, as she is named, has eyes only for the swarthy Zorro, never suspecting that they are one and the same person. When the dastardly Captain Ramon abducts the lovely senorita, Zorro must ride to the rescue, eventually overthrowing the corrupt Governor Alvarado and convincing Sergeant Gonzales and his men to join his side. The movie culminates with the revelation of Zorro's true identity, then the final kiss and fade to black.
This movie has much in common with silent comedies, it is fast paced and filled with eye-popping physical stunts. Zorro swings from balconies, jumps from rooftop to rooftop, through open windows, even leaping over a donkey in one scene. And then, of course, are the sword fights. They are realistic and well choreographed.
It is a shame that silent movies seem to have been forgotten by all but a handful of today's movie-going public. As this movie so deftly demonstrates, they are highly entertaining and completely charming in their exuberant innocence.
Fairbanks as Zorro.
I prefer Tyrone Power's Zorro, but the 1940 version owes much to this one. Many scenes and ideas are copied. Fairbanks smiles his way through the film. It is his charm that makes the character, but it also dissolves any tension. When being pursued by an angry group of soldiers he stops to eat?
Patrick is right about the influence this had on future super heroes. Zorro has a secret entrance to an underground lair like Batman. A girl is in love with his masked persona, but is annoyed by his unmasked one, just like Lois Lane.
The version I saw was not in great shape, and a bit hard to watch, but it still entertained. My favorite line is when Lolita's parents tell Don Diego that Ramon tried to rape her, and all he responds is a bored, "So many unpleasant things happen. It is most fatiguing."
The real highlight is the end when Fairbanks jumps and runs all over the place. Douglas Fairbanks did all of his own stunts as was the tradition then. Shortly after making this film he became friends with Yakima Canutt, a rodeo champion and bit actor in westerns. They worked out together at Fairbanks' gym. Fairbanks went on to use some of Canutt's moves in other movies, while Canutt went on to become the first notable Hollywood stuntman.
Douglas Fairbanks swashes a buckle as Zorro in The Mark of Zorro.
Zorro really was an early prototype for today's superheroes. There are other early heroes like Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes and Robin Hood, but Zorro had the costume, the mask, the secret lair and the secret identity that we associate so much with superheroes. The makers of Batman especially owe him a debt.
One interesting angle about Zorro is that it is the masked adventurer that is his secret identity and not the effete persona of Don Diego Vega. His true personality is that of the charming rogue and he's acting when he's not wearing the mask. Where Peter Parker and Clark Kent sometimes wish they could feel the love for who they are when they're not in costume, Zorro is only his true self when he's wearing the black cape.
This is a fast paced comic adventure tale. I'm not the fan of silent movies that my brothers are. I tend to like them short and funny. And while this movie is over an hour, it feels shorter as it moves along at a nice pace. Nothing is taken too seriously and Zorro is someone you can root for the whole way.
Fairbanks is great in the role. He jumps and leaps his way across the screen like a whirling dervish, rarely sitting still while he's wearing the mask. His antics are even more impressive when you learn that he was in his late 30s and a heavy smoker when he made this film.
A simple tale, The Mark of Zorro is fun and fast paced. It's easy to see why it was such a hit over 90 years ago and why it still holds up pretty damn well today.
Photos © Copyright United Artists (1920)