The Mark Of Zorro – Rouben Mamoulian
Landing in San Pedro, Diego finds the servants sullen and unresponsive until he says that he is the son of the alcalde, whereupon they respond with a cringing alacrity. During.the reunion with his parents, Diego learns that his father has been deposed by a corrupt tyrant, Don Luis Quintero (J. Edward Bromberg), who has taken away the power of the old hidalgos and suppressed them with a military force headed by the sneering Captain Esteban Pasquale (Basil Rathbone). Together, they are bleeding the peasants with exorbitant taxes. Apprised of the situation, Diego instantly forms a plan. To his father’s amazed disgust, he languidly disclaims any interest in politics, as a wearisome subject. Like the Scarlet Pimpernel, Diego has decided to disguise his real actions by posing as an effeminate fop. The finest swordsman and horseman of Madrid secretly transforms himself into Zorro the fox, a masked Robin Hood who gallops about the countryside on his horse Tornado robbing the tax collectors and giving the money to Fray Felipe, the only person to whom he has confided, who returns it to the poor. Whenever he strikes a blow against tyranny, Zorro slashes a “Z” on the furniture, the walls, or the uniforms of Don Luis’ guardsmen, both as a calling card and as a warning.
When he calls upon Don Luis as himself, Diego is a frilly, scented popinjay who minces about with a lace handkerchief, a lorgnette, and a snuff box. He pretends to be terrified at the daring deeds of Zorro by declaring, “My blood chills at the very thought.” Thus he disarms any possible suspicion that he himself might be the masked marauder. Captain Pasquale, who is perpetually brandishing a sword and making passes in the air at imaginary opponents, feels nothing but scorn for this effete dandy. Don Luis’ wife, Inez (Gale Sondergaard), however, finds him fascinating, certainly more handsome, gallant, and sophisticated than her rotund husband. She flirts with Diego seductively, and he pretends to respond in kind.
The Mark of Zorro is superior to most swashbucklers in that it invokes a great deal of humor as Diego alternates between swishing and swashing. The audience relishes being in on a secret that everyone else fails to perceive. Tyrone Power proved himself a skilled hand at drawing-room comedy as well as being a dashing adventurer. Even the love scenes maintain a comic touch. When Don Luis’ beautiful and innocent niece Lolita (Linda Darnell) goes to the chapel and begs the Virgin Mary to “Send one to take me from this place. Let him be kind and handsome and brave,” Zorro appears disguised as a monk to hide from the soldiers. She finds him sympathetic, and he forgets all about escaping and tells her, in distinctly unclerical tones, that she is “more radiant, more lovely than a morning in June.” She tries to see who is hidden beneath the cowl, but he keeps retreating into the shadows. When she detects a rapier beneath his robe, she realizes that she has been conversing with Zorro, who makes a spectacular escape when the soldiers come for him.