This is a 1974 made-for-TV movie that I didn't know existed until about a couple years ago, when Carissa mentioned it in a comment on my review of Johnston McCulley's original Zorro novel, The Mark of Zorro, which was originally published as the serialized adventure story "The Curse of Capistrano." I finally got to see this for the first time last year, and when I went into that first viewing, I didn't realize that it was shot from a condensed version of the script for the 1940 movie The Mark of Zorro that starred Tyrone Power. As it so happened, I had just watched the 1940 film a week or so before I watched this for the first time, and not knowing that they'd made it from the same script, I became very annoyed by what I thought was a rip-off of the classic. They kind of explain that they were using the same script during the opening credits:
Only I didn't quite get that the above meant they took the previous screenplay, trimmed it down to a much zippier 78 minutes from the original, which was a whopping 94 minutes long, and basically filmed a direct remake. After I finished that first viewing, I looked it up online and discovered that they'd actually used the same script, and most of the same music. Then I was no longer annoyed that they had "copied" the 1940 version, once I learned they had meant to do so. So now, when I watched it for a second time, I was completely fine with it!
But enough of this. Time to discuss the movie. And yes, this is going to be one of those reviews where I include a zillion screencaps and basically tell you the whole story, but if you don't know how the Zorro story goes by now... it's time you did. I don't think spoilage is actually an issue in this case, is it? If it is for you, guess you'd better quit reading here.
It all begins, as you can see above, at a military academy. A handsome young man, Diego Vega (Frank Langella), is making his farewells because he has to leave his friends in Spain and go home to California.
His friends are not pleased by this. They like Diego. He's a cheerful, peaceful fellow, friendly and kind. Also, he's a really good horseman and swordsman, and they're sorry to see him go. So he says he'll leave them a little something to remember him by.
And he tosses his sword up so it sticks in a beam in the ceiling. This is straight out of the 1940 movie, and the spot where I first went, "HEY! They copied that from the Tyrone Power version!" Hee. Yes, they did.
Anyway, he heads home to California, which is a Spanish possession at this time, governed by the cabelleros, wealthy Spanish settlers like the Diego's family, the Vegas. When Diego arrives, he is very puzzled by the way people behave when he tells them his father is the alcalde (a sort of magistrate and mayor) of Los Angeles. They freak out, basically. They stare at him in horror and fear, and scurry to do his bidding. This is not what he was expecting, not what he was used to when he left California as a boy to attend school in Madrid.
Diego demands to be taken to the alcalde's house, where he stomps around in a magnificently swirly cloak, startled and annoyed to find soldiers all over his childhood home.
In the courtyard, he meets Captain Esteban (Ricardo Montalban), who is also puzzled, amused, and perplexed to hear this young man claim to be the son of the alcalde.
Esteban threatens Diego with his sword, and at that moment, Diego instinctively plays the fool. He can see things are not as they should be, and instead of drawing his own sword and fighting back, he pretends he doesn't like weapons or fighting, that he is gentle and peaceful to the point of being effeminate. He clumsily slices open his finger on Esteban's sword tip while pushing it away, and makes a great show of bandaging it up.
And this is one of the places that I feel like this version actually works a little better than the 1940. Because in the 1940, Diego's adoption of his foppish facade is almost a whim -- I never feel like he thought it out at all. But here, Langella's Diego has been puzzled and thoughtful for a couple of scenes, and it feels like he's got this half-planned already by the time he encounters Captain Esteban.
Then the mystery of everyone's reactions to him is explained when the alcalde arrives -- he's not Diego's father, he's Don Luis Quintero (Robert Middleton), who has forced Diego's father to retire and taken over his home in Los Angeles. Diego continues to play the foolish charmer when he's introduced to Quientero, though he turns serious again for a moment.
Why? He has seen Teresa (Anne Archer), the Quinteros' niece or ward or something... she's their heir, but not their daughter. I think. Script is a little fuzzy on that point. Anyway, she's young and pretty.
One of the best parts of this movie is their inclusion of great actors from the age of classic Hollywood. Ricardo Montalban might be best known today as the original Khan from the Star Trek TV show and movies, but he was highly popular in "Latin Lover" types of roles when he was young (and boy, did he age well!). Robert Middleton played a lot of "heavies" in lots of old movies and TV shows, but the real casting coups in this are Diego's parents. They have Gilbert Roland as his father, Don Alejandro Vega:
And Yvonne De Carlo as his mother Isabella:
Yvonne De Carlo's exotic beauty had set pulses racing all through the 1940s and '50s -- you might remember her as Sephora, Moses' wife in The Ten Commandments (1956). And Gilbert Roland rode to fame as The Cisco Kid in the 1940s, a character rather similar to Zorro in his willingness to find unusual paths to justice in the southwest. He also appeared in a couple episodes of the Disney Zorro TV show in the 1950s, which I find a neat bit of trivia.
ANYWAY! Diego's father is heartily displeased with the useless clown his son has become, though his mother embraces him anyway. Diego learns from his parents all about the terrible abuses the people of Los Angeles are suffering at the hands of Quintero, Esteban, and their flunkies. That very night, he steals one of the swords from his father's office, determined to set about righting these wrongs however necessary.
And so, he becomes Zorro. (Just in case you didn't know, zorro is the Spanish word for "fox.") He acquires a black hat, mask, cape, shirt, pants, gloves, and horse (we have no idea where he got the horse or how he hides all his gear -- at 78 minutes, there's no time to go into such pesky details). And he goes around wreaking havoc on the big meanies who've been ruining everyone's lives.
And he doesn't waste time mincing words either.
He merrily rides around, robbing the Quinteros...
...stealing tax money the soldiers collect from the peasants, and swooping around with his swishy cape, being altogether devil-may-care and delightful.
There's some very nice scenery in some of the exterior shots too. I'm sorry my picture quality isn't better for these -- this movie has never been released to DVD, so all I have is a recorded-off-TV copy that's a bit grainy.
There he extinguishes a candle with his sword (because he can)...
...menaces the alcalde...
...looks dashing and dangerous (except I don't like how his mask's eye holes slant down on the ends because it makes him look sad all the time)...
...and vandalizes the wall before swooping off into the night.
But he doesn't stop there. Next, he breaks into his own home to confront Captain Esteban, who's there threatening/annoying the Vegas.
Don Alejandro is a little shocked by this intrusion, but he thinks this Zorro guy is pretty cool, nonetheless.
Zorro then threatens Esteban at gunpoint and warns him to quit threatening/annoying the Vegas.
Zorro has to quick leave before his mom either recognizes him or starts to feel attracted to him. Ahhh, the dangers of being Zorro!
Anyway, then the Quinteros decide that in order to stop Don Alejandro from hating them, they should get his son Diego to marry their niece/ward/whatever, Teresa. Teresa has kind of met Zorro already, but she's never formally met Diego -- they just saw each other in the courtyard that first day. She hears he's handsome and polite and charming, and of course he's rich. So she's kind of excited about meeting him at a dinner party.
Also excited to see young Diego Vega is Quintero's wife Inez (Louise Sorel). Although married to the most powerful man in Los Angeles, Inez has a fondness for handsome men. We get the idea that there's been something going on between her and Captain Esteban prior to this.
Diego totally picks up on Inez's proclivities and plays up to them. He is as suave and genteel as possible, flattering her and intimating that he's quite attracted to her. This never quite gets fully developed in this shortened version of the story, and just leaves Diego looking like a womanizing jerk, whereas in the longer 1940 movie, it had bearing on the plot.
Teresa is now much less interested in him.
And I'm only including this screencap because it illustrates so perfectly that the original Zorro story was inspired in part by The Scarlet Pimpernel. I half expect to Diego to exclaim, "Sink me!" here.
Throughout dinner, Teresa is less-than-amused by Diego.
Inez, on the other hand, is captivated.
But it's not Inez who gets an evening visit from Zorro in her boudoir.
During that romantic interlude, Zorro tells Teresa the truth -- that he and Diego are one and the same. And then she's totally okay with him having flirted shamelessly with her aunt/guardian/whatever, falls madly in love with him, and becomes a very happy girl. Her happiness lasts for about nine minutes, until the next morning when some soldiers attack Fray Felipe, the kindly spiritual leader of Los Angeles and Diego's boyhood mentor. They rob the church and start beating Fray Felipe, so Teresa runs off to the Vega hacienda to beg Diego to intervene. I'm mostly including the screencap below because it's the best one I could get of her lovely dress, my favorite of all her outfits. She's crying and making awful faces, but... it's still a pretty dress.
Don Alejandro is incensed both that the soldiers would dare attack a priest, and that his milksop of a son isn't running off to defend this old family friend. So Don Alejandro runs off instead, to rally his fellow cabelleros and put a stop to all this.
Diego rushes off, changes into Zorro, avenges Fray Felipe's mistreatment on the soldier who beat him, and then sneaks into Quintero's office again, this time as Diego. He has a vaguely menacing little chat with Quintero, the best part of which is him sitting in the alcalde's chair looking meditative.
So then Quintero and Esteban have a big argument about how Robert Middleton clearly is the lesser man because he's not willing to wear perilously tight pants like Ricardo Montalban is, and so on. No, actually they just yell at each other because Zorro keeps outwitting them, and they're both convinced this is the other person's fault.
And then all of a sudden, Don Alejandro and his cronies and pretty much every single citizen of the pueblo arrives and starts attacking the guards. And Gilbert Roland proves he's pretty spry for a guy going on 70 and climbs right up the gate.
While the soldiers, cabelleros, and townsfolk mix it up outside, Captain Esteban and Zorro square off in the alcalde's office.
Esteban greatly enjoys finally crossing swords with the elusive Zorro.
Zorro's having a pretty fun time of it himself.
They fight all over the room, jumping on furniture, overturning odds and ends, and generally being quite rowdy.
Then Zorro whips off his mask, which is when Esteban utters that phrase I quoted at the beginning: "Inside the peacock, you find a hawk."
Zorro/Diego doesn't seem to think much of the sentiment, and runs him through. It's one of the best bits of cinematography in the whole movie -- the rest is pretty pedestrian, but this one shot is very cool:
Esteban falls to the floor, dead, and Zorro/Diego is like, "Well, good riddance, that was fun, whatever." Or maybe more like, "Huh." He's kind of hard to read sometimes. Goes in for the whole inscrutable thing.
Outside, the Quinteros are taken into custody and sent back to Spain in disgrace. Which gives Inez a chance to show off her outlandishly embroidered jacket to great effect.
Diego's all masked up as Zorro again, and he's very smirky and pleased with himself.
Teresa's pretty pleased with him too.
And then, at the very end, he reveals to his father that he, Zorro, is actually Diego, and so Don Alejandro is pleased with him too.
The biggest difference for me between Tyrone Power and Frank Langella in this role is that I like Power better as Zorro than as Diego, but I like Langella better as Diego than as Zorro. Does that make any sense? I also like the Vega family better in this, as they're a bit dull in the 1940. But overall... I'm glad that if only one of these was going to be available on DVD, it's the 1940, because everybody should see that, while only Zorro afficianados (and Langella fans) need to search this out.
This is my fourth movie watched and reviewed for the Period Drama Challenge! I showcased a lot of costumes above, and discussed them a little there, so I'm not going to spend more time on them now.
Is this movie family friendly? Yes, it is. I would let my kids watch this. In fact, when we finish watching the Guy Williams Zorro TV show together, we'll probably branch out into this and the 1940 both. There's a bit of violence, and like I showed above, you do see people get killed, but it's pretty tame and bloodless. Captain Esteban's pants are VERY tight, however. And Inez Quintero wears some off-the-shoulder gowns. But don't be worried about that nighttime boudoir visit I mentioned -- Zorro/Diego leaves after a couple of quick kisses.