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Fox Home Entertainment presents
The Mark of Zorro (1940)

"You handle a sword like a devil from hell."
- Don Luis Quintero (J. Edward Bromberg)

Review By: David Krauss  
Published: October 16, 2003

Stars: Tyrone Power, Linda Darnell, Basil Rathbone, Gale Sondergaard, J. Edward Bromberg, Eugene Pallette, Montagu Love
Director: Rouben Mamoulian

Manufacturer: Panasonic Disc Manufacturing Corporation
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:33m:24s
Release Date: October 07, 2003
UPC: 024543061007
Genre: adventure


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ C+B+B B

DVD Review

His calling card was the stuff of legend. Swiftly etched in sandstone or ripped into upholstery by his saber's razor sharp tip, the letter Z struck fear in the hearts of old California's ruling elite. The signature belonged to one man and even today means only one thing—the mark of Zorro.

Draped in a flowing black cape, his identity obscured by a Lone Ranger mask, Zorro was the Robin Hood of his day, single-handedly cleansing colonial Los Angeles of corruption and greed. Douglas Fairbanks Sr. originated the rakish role in a 1920 silent film, and Anthony Hopkins played an aging Zorro who grooms his successor (Antonio Banderas) in a rousing 1998 remake. Yet sandwiched between those portrayals may well be the definitive Zorro. Directed with artistic flair and tongue-in-cheek glee by Rouben Mamoulian, 1940's The Mark of Zorro is a slick, entertaining swashbuckler made all the more memorable by a breakout performance from the dashing Tyrone Power.

Trapped for years in stuffy costume dramas and stiff romances, Power finally earned a chance to flaunt his comedic gifts and graceful athleticism as Don Diego de Vega, who by day flounces about as a pampered fop so he can masquerade as the mysterious and heroic Zorro by night. Power immerses himself in the dual role, relishing its contradictions and subtle humor, and his exhilaration carries the film. For once, the actor's breathtaking good looks don't distract; instead, they compliment both sides of his character—soft and glamorous for the prettyboy nobleman, and dark and rugged for the macho bandit. In the action sequences, his deft, energetic swordplay rivals the work of Fairbanks and Errol Flynn. Almost effortlessly, Power makes Zorro his own.

Long considered a creaky melodrama, this version benefits from Mamoulian's spirited direction, which breathes new life into Zorro's story. After leaving school in Madrid, Diego returns home to Spanish California to find his father, Don Alejandro Vega (Montagu Love), relieved of his duties as the colony's leader. In Alejandro's place sits the tyrannical Don Luis Quintero (J. Edward Bromberg), ruthlessly aided by Captain Esteban Pasquale (Basil Rathbone), a sly Svengali who manipulates Quintero like a puppeteer. Together, the duo bleeds the town's residents of funds and hope until Zorro begins his honorable rampage. With flourish and panache, the masked marauder fights for the common folk, stealing from the regime and funneling the booty back to the people, all the while aiming to restore his father to power. Yet like any self-respecting swashbuckler, Zorro still finds time for romance, pursuing Quintero's niece, the shapely Lolita (Linda Darnell), on the side.

Rathbone's clipped speech and angular features make him the perfect foil for Power's elegance, and their climactic swordfight doesn't disappoint. Gale Sondergaard shines as Quintero's spoiled wife who can't hide her attraction for Diego, and the raspy-voiced Eugene Pallette is priceless as the rotund Spanish friar who disseminates Zorro's spoils.

Still, The Mark of Zorro is Power's show all the way, and though he went on to play many other notable roles, he never quite duplicated the energy and unbridled joy he displays here. He and Mamoulian (as well as Darnell) would re-team the following year for a remake of Valentino's bull-fighting classic, Blood and Sand. But while that film ends tragically, The Mark of Zorro is pure fun, the type of entertainment that coined the phrase "Saturday matinee." With a wink and a nod, a swipe of the sword, bright dialogue, and flashy stunts, Zorro will delight movie-lovers of all ages. Olé!

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: C+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Fox delivers once again, lavishing considerable care on this newest edition in their Studio Classics series. The full-frame transfer sparkles with rich black levels, good contrast and crisp details, all of which maximize the palpable beauty of Power and Darnell. Light grain gives this Zorro a complimentary nostalgic glow, yet the 63-year-old film does possess its share of faults. Most annoying are several vertical white lines that come and go throughout Zorro's running time, but a touch of image instability, occasional fuzziness, as well as the more forgivable specks and scratches also mar the presentation. I've seen far better black-and-white transfers than The Mark of Zorro, but Fox does the film proud with this above average effort.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Spanishyes
DS 2.0Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Fox offers a simulated stereo soundtrack along with the original mono, and while I normally admire augmenting the soundtracks of older films, I prefer the single channel option here. Although the stereo presents crystal clear audio and more substantial fidelity, it's hampered by hollow tones and a tinny quality that grates over time and lends the film a definite soundstage feel. The mono track is softer and smoother, offering slightly more realism without sacrificing detail. Noticeable hiss and pops occur occasionally, but never enough to distract. While Alfred Newman's rousing score plays better on the stereo track, dialogue is equally comprehendible on both audio choices.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
9 Other Trailer(s) featuring All About Eve, Anastasia, An Affair to Remember, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Gentleman's Agreement, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, How Green Was My Valley, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, Love Is a Many Splendored Thing
1 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by film critic Richard Schickel
Packaging: unmarked keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual
Layers Switch: 00h:39m:23s

Extras Review: Fans of classic film revel in special material and Fox indulges us once again with a couple of notable extras. The full-length, scene-specific audio commentary by film critic Richard Schickel offers plenty of interesting information, from a brief social history of Los Angeles to background on numerous supporting players (including the future blacklisting of Gale Sondergaard and J. Edward Bromberg). Schickel improves his delivery from his previous effort on 1953's Titanic, with less stammering and a more focused presentation. He discusses Mamoulian's fluid and carefully choreographed style, and how the director's background in musicals influenced even spectacles such as Zorro, and briefly chronicles the careers of Darnell and Power. (He even touches upon Power's alleged bisexuality and how it conveniently plays into Diego's duality in Zorro.) Schickel's pleasing vocal timbre, astute observations, and obvious enthusiasm for his subject make the track a worthwhile listen.

A more in-depth look at Power comes courtesy of a 1996 installment of A&E's Biography. The 45-minute documentary provides additional background on Power's childhood and theatrical apprenticeship, career, war service and romantic dalliances in a straightforward, non-judgmental fashion. A number of film clips, rare photos and archival footage augment the profile, as well as conversations with friends and co-stars, including Alice Faye, Roddy McDowell, and Piper Laurie. Even two of Power's wives, the French actress Annabella and former starlet Linda Christian, offer comments and perspective. Power's magnetism certainly comes across in the documentary, although the man himself sadly remains a mystery.

A whopping nine trailers from other Fox classics, all of which are entertaining and historically relevant, round out the disc extras.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

Fox continues its string of winners in the Studio Classics series with this stirring swashbuckler. A quality transfer, solid extras and Tyrone Power's terrific performance makes The Mark of Zorro easy to recommend. Fans of Hollywood's Golden Age shouldn't think twice about adding this disc to their collection.

 


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