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Film / The Mark of Zorro (1920)

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The Mark of Zorro is a 1920 film starring Douglas Fairbanks. Fairbanks is Don Diego Vega, a lazy, effete nobleman in the days of Spanish California. Lolita Pulido, his fiancee in an arranged marriage, finds him dull and uninspiring. What she doesn't know is that he is actually Zorro, a masked avenger who is fighting the oppressive Governor Alvarado and his villainous henchmen Capt. Ramon and Sgt. Gonzales. Zorro crusades for justice and rallies the people of California against their oppressive overlords.

This film was basically the Trope Maker for the whole Zorro franchise. It was based on the first Zorro story, "The Curse of Capistrano", published just the year before, but that story featured a Zorro who wore a sombrero and threatened people with a gun. This film invented the masked swordsman that became popular. It also marked a change in direction for Fairbanks, who had spent his career to date making light comedies but would spend the rest of The Roaring '20s making elaborate action films.

It was remade in 1940 with Tyrone Power and in 1974 with Frank Langella. Not to be confused with the 1998 film The Mask of Zorro, though of course they are based on the same character.

In 2015, The Mark of Zorro was selected by the Library of Congress National for preservation in the National Film Registry, finding it "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." (The 1940 version got that same honor in 2009.)

The Mark of Zorro provides examples of:

  • Alternate Company Equivalent: Take Batman, move him to Spanish California, and remove the tragic dead parents, and you have this story. The writers of Batman even acknowledged the similarities: the film the Wayne family were coming home from when they got mugged was The Mark of Zorro.
  • Attempted Rape: Captain Ramon is clearly about to rape Lolita when Zorro breaks in.
  • The Big Damn Kiss: The final shot has Don Diego and his Love Interest smooching behind a kerchief. While their faces are concealed, the woman's hands flutter and contort in a way that suggests it's much more than a modest peck on the cheek...
  • The Blade Always Lands Pointy End In: Always, like when Don Diego is challenging Captain Ramon to a duel.
  • Calling Card: Zorro leaves the "Z" everywhere. See Zorro Mark below.
  • Crapsaccharine World: The opening text describes early 19th-century California as a place warmth, romance, and beauty... that is stricken with a disease called oppression.
  • Double Standard: Fray Felipe points out to the Kangaroo Court that is accusing him of swindling hides that if he supported this corrupt government, then his hides would have been deemed good, and that he's only on trial because he's a Franciscan monk.
  • Flynning: Fifteen years before the Trope Maker, Douglas Fairbanks had perfected the art of colorful sword duels.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Downplayed when Gonzales rebels against Ramon and joins Zorro at the very last second after witnessing that his true identity is that of his friend Don Diego de la Vega and, mostly, that he's surrounded by rebels, all of them persons of noble heritage and noted prestige.
  • Horseback Heroism: Zorro is good on a horse.
  • Implausible Fencing Powers: Zorro can slice a Z on your forehead with one movement, or carve an entire letter to the authorities into the bark of a tree.
  • Master Swordsman: No-one can beat Don Diego.
  • President Evil: The evil governor of California.
  • Royal Rapier: Zorro's weapon.
  • Signature Headgear: This film established Zorro's iconic black Cordobés.
  • The Speechless: Bernardo, Zorro's Indian servant.
  • Sword Fight: Established the trope for the Zorro franchise. There's a big one with Capt. Ramon at the climax, however, the fight with Capt.
  • A Taste of the Lash: The evil governor has a Franciscan friar whipped.
  • Zorro Mark: Naturally! In the climactic fight Diego does this on Capt. Ramon's forehead.