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Film / The Mark of Zorro (1940)

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The Mark of Zorro is a 1940 film directed by Rouben Mamoulian based on the character of Zorro. It is a remake of the 1920 Silent Movie The Mark of Zorro that starred Douglas Fairbanks. Alfred Newman composed the music.

Spanish California, late 18th-early 19th century. Don Diego Vega (Tyrone Power) is the son of Don Alejandro, the alcalde (basically a provincial administrator) of a sleepy town called Los Angeles. Diego, who is studying at a military academy back in Spain, comes home to find that his father has been deposed as alcalde. The new alcalde, Luis Quintero, is a corrupt stooge who is victimizing the people with oppressively high taxes which he is using to line his own pockets. In this he is assisted by by his sinister military chief, the murderous Captain Pasquale (Basil Rathbone), the real power behind the throne, who does stuff like cut out the tongues of peasants who talk back.

Alejandro appeals to his son for help in fighting against Quintero and Pasquale. But rather than oppose them openly, Diego elects to act like a foppish Idle Rich twit. Having convinced Quintero and Pasquale that he is no threat, he assumes the secret identity of Señor Zorro ("Mr. Fox"), a masked swordsman who fights for the peasants and against the oppressors. Meanwhile, there is the problem of Quintero's gorgeous niece Lolita (Linda Darnell), who is drawn to Zorro the dashing cavalier.

The Mark of Zorro provides examples of:

  • Apologetic Attacker: Fray Felipe apologizes as he knocks out the alcalde's soldiers with a club during the climactic melee.
    Felipe: (WHACK!) God forgive me. (WHACK!) God forgive me.
  • Arch-Enemy: The supremely evil Captain Pasquale, who is the real threat.
  • Badass Preacher: Fray Felipe. He taught Zorro to use a sword. At one point, he tells the villains he plans to "ask God to reward them according to their merits."
  • Big Bad Duumvirate: The corrupt alcalde Luis Quintero is the nominal Big Bad who works in collusion with his Dragon-in-Chief Captain Estaban Pasquale to oppress the people of California.
  • The Blade Always Lands Pointy End In: After receiving his unexpected summons home from the military academy, Diego flings his sword up into the ceiling, where it sticks in a beam.
  • Blowing Smoke Rings: How Diego announces his presence in Quintero's office.
  • Call-Back: A clueless Inez asks when Diego will be joining her in Spain. Diego says no time soon, as he has to "marry, raise fat children, and watch my vineyards grow," the same thing he said in his first scene in Spain (see Tempting Fate below). Then he flings his sword into the ceiling, as he did in that first scene, and the film ends.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Don Diego demonstrates a talent for sleight-of-hand tricks as part of his Upper-Class Twit guise. When he and Fray Felipe are in jail he uses some sleight-of-hand to distract the guard so he can grab his gun and force him to unlock the cell.
  • Costume Evolution: Zorro's out notably evolves over the the course of the film from a simple black outfit with with a mask into his classic look.
  • Dancing Is Serious Business: The elaborate and energetic dance of Diego and Lolita brings the two lovebirds closer together.
  • Diagonal Cut: In the lead-up to the climactic sword fight between Diego and Pasquale, Pasquale attempts to unnerve intimidate Diego by cutting the top off one of the candles on Quintero's desk. Diego takes a swing at the other candle, and apparently misses it completely, but Pasquale's mockery is cut short when Diego lifts the top half of the candle up, demonstrating that he cut it in half so cleanly that the cut was not visible and the candle's flame was undisturbed.
  • Dragon-in-Chief: Luis Quintero may be the Big Bad in name, but it's Captain Estaban Pasquale who's the real danger. Solidified in their first scene together, where the captain dangerously teases his "boss" with the point of his sword.
    Quintero: I don't like such jests. Your eye might fail you.
    Pasquale: It's possible.
  • Dramatic Drop: The bartender does this when Diego says "I'm the son of the alcalde." Diego hasn't yet found out that there's a new alcalde.
  • Face Framed in Shadow: The first time we see Diego in his Zorro outfit, when he's creeping into Quintero's office, all we see of his face are his eyes. The rest is shadow.
  • High-Class Glass: In his idiot fop persona, Diego busts out an even more annoying one of these, a High Class Glass on a rod that he uses to inspect Lolita.
  • I Have No Son!: Don Alejandro is increasingly disappointed with Diego's foppish behavior, but it all comes to a head when he announces his plans to marry Quintero's niece Lolita. At one point Alejandro warns Diego, "If you marry Lolita you leave this house forever!"
  • Irony: The film is produced by 20th Century Fox studios.
  • I Shall Taunt You: Diego gets in a doozy during his fight with Pasquale after Pasquale cuts him in the arm with his blade:
    "I needed that scratch to awaken me!"
  • Just Like Robin Hood: It wouldn't be Zorro without that aspect now, would it?
    Fray Felipe: Are you trying to make me the receiver of stolen goods?
    Diego: No, Padre, the dispenser. This gold was wrung from the peons. It's up to us to restore it to them.
  • Master Swordsman: Diego and Pasquale in one hell of a duel, possibly one of the best in movie history as it paired off two actual master swordsmen in Tyrone Power and Basil Rathbone.
  • Mating Dance: Diego's dance with Lolita is as close to sex as movies in 1940 could get.
  • Meet the New Boss: Discussed Trope. When Diego reveals his identity as Zorro to Fray Felipe, he explains why he chose not to simply kill Quintero, saying that he would be replaced by another alcalde, as bad or even worse than Quintero. Instead, his goal is to scare Quintero into naming Don Alejandro as his successor.
  • Not-So-Harmless Villain: After spending the entire movie as the resident Butt-Monkey, getting bossed and bullied around by Zorro and his own Dragon, Captain Pasquale, Luis Quintero shows his true colors in the wake of the captain's demise, managing to piece together Zorro's true identity and arranging for Diego to be arrested and executed. It takes an angry mob of peasants and nobles alike to break Diego out and defeat Quintero for good.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Diego does this to trick the bad guys into thinking he isn't a threat.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Barkeeping: Naturally, when Diego gets off the boat in California and stops in a cantina, the bartender is cleaning glasses.
  • One Dialogue, Two Conversations: When Don Diego returns to Los Angeles, he innocently says "I'm the son of the alcalde." This causes everyone to treat him with fear, because Don Alejandro had been ousted by Don Luis without his knowledge. Strangely, Diego questions this reaction, but doesn't figure out that there's a new alcalde until reaching his residence and meeting him.
  • The Reveal Prompts Romance: Lolita is not too impressed with Diego when they first meet and horrified at the idea of being sold off into marriage to him. Later, when he reveals to her that he is Zorro, she is much more receptive to his marriage proposal.
  • Secret Identity: Before Batman, Zorro was doing this, convincing the bad guys that he was a spineless weakling while fighting against them under his secret identity.
  • Secret-Keeper: Fray Felipe becomes this when Diego reveals his actions as Zorro, entrusting Felipe with the gold he wrung from Quintero and his soldiers, so he can return it to the peasants.
  • Swashbuckler: One of the most famous examples from this period, and definitely the most famous example that didn't have Errol Flynn in the movie.
  • Sword Fight: The climax is an epic duel-to-the-death between Zorro and Pasquale.
  • Tempting Fate: When he gets the letter from his father, Diego describes California as a land of "everlasting boredom...where a man can only marry, raise fat children, and watch his vineyards grow."
  • Title Drop: Diego pretends to be horrified when he sees "the mark of Zorro!" on Quintero's wall.
  • To Be Lawful or Good: Despite his hatred for Quintero and his bleeding the people dry, Alejandro refuses to lead a rebellion because "the law is the law". Hearing his father's reasoning prompts Diego to assume a masked identity.
  • "Wanted!" Poster: Quintero puts one up offering 5000 pesos for Zorro.
  • Zorro Mark: You can't make a Zorro movie without one. Zorro leaves his in Quintero's office, after forcing Quintero at sword-point to promise to go back to Spain. He leaves another on a bulletin board after he rips off a Zorro "Wanted!" Poster.