Pulp Corner: The Mark Of Zorro (1940)
The Mark of Zorro was the movie Bruce Wayne’s parents saw the night they were murdered. I figured if it was good enough for them to watch, it was good enough for me. Zorro is one of those classic pulp heroes that I’m completely familiar with despite not having seen a single movie or reading a comic, novel etc. All things considered that’s pretty impressive and speaks volumes of his reputation. I would wager in most average households people are more familiar with (at least) the image of Zorro over the genre’s staple, The Shadow. The 1940 version of this movie is widely considered the best film interpretation of his legend, so I decided to start with it.
Don Diego Vega’s origin story is a classic pulp trope. He had been sent to Madrid for his education and to learn the art of fencing but returns home to California to find that his father who was Alcade (which Wikipedia tells me “Is the traditional Spanish municipal magistrate, who had both judicial and administrative functions”) has been forced out of his position and Luis Quintero has seized power. Deigo’s home of early 1800’s Los Angeles now lives in fear and despair as this tyrant runs it into the ground. Don Diego decides to right those wrongs.
The best part about this movie is beyond what I just told you there is no more origin story. 20 minutes into it Zorro shows up. We don’t see the gears turn in Diego’s head or him creating the costume. He just appears with no mention prior and the audience is left to connect the dots on who the vigilante really is. He begins his campaign to snuff out the corrupt and help the oppressed, a “modern day” Robin Hood.
Tyrone Power is great as the duel lead. He is noble and menacing as Zorro and lackadaisical as his playboy millionaire alter ego, very much in the Bruce Wayne mold. Also of note, he sports one of the most incredibly sophisticated mustaches I’ve ever seen. He is so damn suave that he actually picks up a woman while he’s hiding out and pretending to be a priest. Now that’s impressive.
Overall, The Mark of Zorro was a pretty good watch. It’s not for everyone though. The pacing of movies from this era can drag compared to modern standards if you’re not use to it. In a way it was very similar to a Western with almost Samurai like elements. The sword fights were easily the high point and I wish there was so much more. It’s fascinating to watch rich men fence to solve their differences in a completely dignified way.
I did make a strange connection I wanted to share with you. Almost always we traditionally see Zorro with his mask and hat. There’s a scene where Zorro has his hat off but mask still on and he looked identical to Wesley as the Dread Pirate Roberts in the Princess Bride. That may be old news, but it was eye opening for me. By the end of the movie, Zorro has started a revolution and is fighting unmasked. The Mark of Zorro helped reinforce the thought that it’s not just the man, but the idea of the man.
Batman would be proud.
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