Jolly Cinema > 16:15


Rouben Mamoulian


Thursday 29/06/2023


Original version with subtitles


Film Notes

A ravishing display of Mamoulian’s dazzling technique and his mastery in directing action scenes, this distinctive and light-hearted swashbuckling film is as much about steel as about silk. Violence and desire are intertwined in an endlessly ironic tale of identity during a time of repression.
This was the first of the three pictures Mamoulian made for Fox, two of them remakes of silent films, in this case Fred Niblo’s The Mark of Zorro, starring Douglas Fairbanks. Set in 1820, it tells the story of brash Diego Vega (seductively played by Tyrone Power) who, tired of military academy life in Madrid with its ceaseless duels, relinquishes the sword and violence to sail back home to the Spanish city of Los Angeles. There, he finds that the mayor, his father, has been ousted and the community subjected to heavy taxes and inhumane treatment by a certain Captain Pasquale. Diego puts on a black mask, dons a dark cape and rides against oppression.
This is yet another Mamoulian variation on a person triggered by an urge at a crucial historical moment to pretend to be someone else. An ace swordsman poses as a city dandy, hiding his passion for a local noble woman under an aloof façade, just as he hides Diego Vega beneath the mask of Zorro. Here, dressing-up becomes crucial,  not  only as the accessory of concealment but as the visual apparatus on which the film plays. Diego Vega’s fashionable Spanish costumes, his Zorro gear and even the monk outfit that he uses in one instance to escape from danger are distinct layers of a character that Mamoulian brings together into one.
This is a superhero movie with a soul, a friskiness unusual in action films. Where others use fast-cutting, Mamoulian opts for continuous shots. When others insert rousing music, he settles on silence. Where others set the action in vast expanses, he chooses confined spaces. Here, most things, desires as well as action, are suggested rather than directly shown. The film, like its hero, is a complex work of shadows and the invisible power of images.

Ehsan Khoshbakht

Cast and Credits

Sog.: from the novel La maledizione di Capistrano (The Curse of Capistrano, 1919) by Johnston McCulley. Scen.: John Taintor Foote, Garrett Fort, Bess Meredyth. F.: Arthur Miller. M.: Robert Bischoff. Scgf.: Richard Day, Joseph C. Wright. Mus.: Alfred Newman. Int.: Tyrone Power (Diego Vega/Zorro), Linda Darnell (Lolita Quintero), Basil Rathbone (Esteban Pasquale), Gale Sondergaard (Inez Quintero), Eugene Pallette (Fray Felipe), J. Edward Bromberg (Don Luis Quintero), Montagu Love (Don Alejandro Vega), Janet Beecher (Isabella Vega), Robert Lowery (Rodrigo). Prod.: Twentieth Century-Fox. 35mm.