The Film (4/5)
Master swordsman Don Diego (Tyrone Power) returns home to California to discover that his father has stepped down in power and there’s a new Governor. Governor Quintero (J. Edward Bromberg) is taxing the towns people to near death, and he is aided by the sinister Captain Pasquale (Basil Rathbone) who will do anything to get his share of the money. Tired of the corruption of the town, Diego takes the law in his hands and becomes Zorro. While branding his trail with a Z, Captain Pasquale plots to stop Zorro before Quintero cracks under the pressure.
THE MARK OF ZORRO is a 1940 sound remake of the 1920 Douglas Fairbanks silent classic. I haven’t seen the original for comparison, but I can say that this sound version can stand by itself. Based on Johnston McCulley’s 1919 serialized story, “Curse of Capistrano”, MARK OF ZORRO is a really good swashbuckling adventure with plenty of mystery and suspense. Instead of wall to wall action, this movie handles the dread of vengeance from Zorro. Plenty of time is spent with Zorro creeping in the shadows and cutting down candles. The only real issue is the sudden appearance of Zorro. It almost comes off from left field. I’m glad we didn’t get a full origin story with everything spelled out, but maybe just some more shots of Diego getting the costume together.
Rouben Mamoulian directed MARK OF ZORRO and the added layer of style isn’t surprising in the least. Mamoulian directed still one of the greatest 1930’s horror films, DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1931). So I can see why the movie has some wonderful set pieces in the dark with Zorro creeping around. The rest of the production fluctuates between great production values to some low level TV or Film Serial at points. This becomes clear in the opening twenty minutes where everything is flat and shot in wide shot. But once Zorro enters the movie switches to style with dynamic camerawork.
The actual action scenes are all well done. What’s surprising is the lack of action for most of the movie. The movie is clever build up and may shock first time viewers. The sword fights are all well staged, with the biggest set piece being a duel between Power and Rathbone that gets really intense and brutal.
Tyrone Power (WINTESS FOR THE PROSECUTION) is a dashing young hero with power eyes. Basil Rathbone (SON OF FRANKENSTEIN, CAPTAIN BLOOD) could play this type of role in his sleep, but near the end he really gets a chance to shine. Linda Darnell (MY DARLING CLEMENTINE) is perfectly fine as the love interest, but she is terribly under written. J. Edward Bromberg (SON OF DRACULA) is the more interesting of the two villains. He is a constant worm that tries to run from Zorro, but Bromberg makes him oddly sad and yet sinister in the role. Popular character actor Eugene Pallette (MY MAN GODFERY, ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD) is always good to have in a movie, and his constant complaining actually gave the movie some decent comic relief.
Kino has done another excellent job with MARK OF ZORRO. The English DTS-HD Master Audio track is clear with no noticeable errors such as cracks or pops. The soundtrack sounds wonderful on my TV speakers and the stronger highlight of the track is the sound effects. Every sword swipe or cut is crisp and smooth.
Picture Quality is great as well. The 1080p HD transfer really showcases the sparkling soft focus photography. As for the rest of the picture, the movie isn’t perfect but most of the film is packed with detail. Faded paint on walls, or pits of dirt kicking up in the wind as horse run by all look great.
The main extra is an audio Commentary by film historian & critic Richard Schickel. The commentary is informative, lively and worth a listen. Next up is a 45-minute documentary on Tyrone Power called, Tyrone Power: The Lost Idol. It was a Biography episode produced by A&E and it’s packed with film clips and interviews. The Picture quality is pretty good and it’s a fine starter for people new to Tyrone Power movies. Rounding out the disc is a trailer gallery with a Promo (not a full trailer) for MARK OF ZORRO (1940), then Trailers for RAWHIDE and WITNESS FOR THE PRSECUTION.
THE MARK OF ZORRO is a well-made Swashbuckling adventure with an impressive star turn by Tyrone Power. It’s not perfect, but once Zorro arrives it’s a suspenseful thrill ride. This Kino Blu-ray is full of extras and has a near perfect transfer. For first time viewers or Zorro fans, this Kino Blu-ray is the way to go. Highly Recommended.