Sunday, 31 May 2015


“Unhappy the land that needs heroes.” – Bertold Brecht

As a child I always used to love adventure stories and read books with great heroic tales told in a wonderfully engaging way. I read not only the mythology of the past, but modern mythology too. I mean tales with heroes like “Tarzan”, “Robin Hood”, “Ivanhoe”, “Zorro”, and the like. I had the chance a couple of days ago to view the old classic of 1940, “The Mark of Zorro” directed by the great Reuben Mamoulian, one of the legendary directors of Hollywood. Tyrone Power cast as the swashbuckling hero was a great choice, as was Basil Rathbone having great fun playing the villainous captain Esteban Pasquale. Linda Darnell quite aptly was the romantic interest, Lolita, and the rest of the cast was well chosen and all played well.

The DVD I watched had a couple of versions on it. The original black white restored film, which was a pleasure to watch, but also a colourised version, which I had a brief skim through afterwards. This was interesting as the colours were muted and were quite well matched to the classic feel of the story. It reminded of early 20th century copies of National Geographic, with that “hand-coloured” look of the colour plates. I must admit that I am not a fan of these colourised versions – there is something phony about putting colour on what is in most cases a wonderfully composed and perfect looking black and white film. However, in this case the effect was rather quaint and not at all garish and grating. Nevertheless, I did watch the BW version!

The film is based on the story of Johnston McCulley “The Curse of Capistrano” (1919), which introduced the masked hero, Zorro. The plot is set in Southern California during the early 19th century and concerns Don Diego, the foppish son of a wealthy caballero who returns to California after a sojourn at school in Spain, only to be horrified at the way the common people are being mistreated by the tyrannical Governor Quintero. Don Diego disguises himself as Zorro (“the Fox”), who becomes a defender of the people. In the meanwhile, he romances the governor’s beautiful niece, Lolita, and fends off the adulterous advances of the governor’s wife while doing battle with the governor’s ablest henchman, the evil Captain Pasquale. Sounds an awful lot like Robin Hood, doesn’t it? The version I watched is a remake of the 1920 silent version, “The Mark of Zorro, which starred Douglas Fairbanks.

Numerous other versions of “Zorro” have been made in various countries around the world, as well as in Hollywood. Most lately, Hollywood has spawned several offshoots including the 1998 “Mask of Zorro” where an elderly Zorro comes out of retirement to train a new Zorro to fight a new threat to the community. In 2005 the story continues in a sequel “The Legend of Zorro”. I must admit that these later versions did not capture my imagination in the way that the 1940 original version did. I think I must be getting older…