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20th Century Fox presents
The Mark of Zorro: SE (1940)

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

Review By: David Krauss  
Published: October 19, 2005

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 18, 2005
UPC: 024543205111
Genre: historical 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 by night as the mysterious and heroic Zorro. 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 complement 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, yet 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

 OneTwo
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyesyes
Anamorphicnoyes


Image Transfer Review: Before anyone gets too excited about this new "special edition" of The Mark of Zorro, let's be honest right up front. The only element that distinguishes this release from the previous Studio Classics disc is an all-new colorized transfer of the feature. That's right, the audio and extras are identical to the Studio Classics disc, so if you already own it, steer clear of this barefaced retread. If you don't, I'm happy to report this special edition also includes the original black-and-white version of the film, so it's still a safe purchase for true blue classic movie junkies.

I usually abhor and decry colorized classics, but much to my amazement Fox has lavished considerable care on The Mark of Zorro, producing one of the most detailed and accurate color-treated transfers I've seen. It's still no substitute for the original black-and-white, but it's a fine effort considering the format's limitations. Most surprising is the impressive level of background detail in the colorization, which lends this disc a polish others in its class lack. So often studios cut corners during the dye process by concentrating solely on the foreground and ignoring the frame's finer points, but Fox makes sure every miniscule detail is completely colored. Costumes especially benefit from the solid, stable hues, but the California scenery also looks lush and natural. Unfortunately, fleshtones are a bit wan (but vary enough from character to character to maintain realism), and the colorization's overall pastel look pales considerably when compared to three-strip Technicolor (duh!). But the seamless presentation is easy on the eyes, and may appeal to younger viewers who foolishly refuse to embrace black-and-white films.

Purists, however, will rejoice that Fox includes the original and far superior black-and-white version on the disc's flip side. The 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 the 65-year-old film a complimentary nostalgic glow, yet the print 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, Gentlemen'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
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual
Layers Switch: 00h:39m:23s

Extras Review: As stated above, the special edition label is a bit of a misnomer, as Fox recycles all of the extras from the previous DVD edition of Zorro, and adds nothing new. Viewers of the colorized version, however, must flip the disc to access the supplements, with the exception of the audio commentary by film critic Richard Schickel, which resides on both sides.

The full-length, scene-specific commentary 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, and it's well worth flipping the disc to see it. 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

A special edition in name only, The Mark of Zorro only adds a colorized transfer to the original Studio Classics disc, and, despite a stellar effort, that aspect alone is no reason to upgrade. The gimmick is a shameless and transparent attempt by Fox to cash in on the upcoming The Legend of Zorro, but if you haven't yet seen this stirring Tyrone Power swashbuckler, by all means pick it up. Quality transfers, solid extras, and Power's terrific performance make the film easy to recommend—no matter which version you watch.

 


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