I was looking for some simple action fare. A bit of adventure, some swashbuckling, a few witty one-liners. And when you’re looking for simple action movies, how could you go wrong with Zorro? Everybody knows Zorro. Classic adventure hero, fighting for the people of California against a corrupt regime. Suave style, a sense of humor, and highly skilled with a sword. Right there you’ve got the perfect recipe for a fun movie.
How can you go wrong with Zorro? By having it be put together by incompetents every step of the way, that’s how.
I wear this mask to hide my identity. And my shame at being in this film.
Start with having it be directed by a French director (Marius Leseour), and originally filmed in French (as La Marque de Zorro). I’ve got nothing against the French people, they’ve made some great films over the years. But I question whether they’re really the go-to guys for a movie where the historical background is the Mexican-American War, and especially when it’s the director’s first film (his final directed film was apparently Paris Porno, so it’s not like he was going on to become great either.) Then, since you’re filming it in France, use French actors, who don’t particularly look like they belong in 1800s California. But then, you’re not shooting in California, are you? Edit in bits from an old Spanish Zorro film (La venganza del Zorro, 1964), too. Then dub it into English, poorly, with stilted wording.
Of course, I didn’t know any of that going into the film. It all came as a rather unpleasant surprise, and much of it was information I looked up after viewing to explain the travesty I had just gone through. The dubbing, completely out of sync with the actors’ mouths, was the first clue. Then came the too-dark night scenes. Now, sometimes you watch an old film, and it’s poor simply because it hasn’t been digitally remastered. That’s not the case here; I don’t believe any amount of remastering could have made those scenes visible. The plot is passable, with Zorro (Clint Douglas) doing his usual dual role as a fop and a vigilante, while a new Governor of California (Howard Vernon) arrives with his daughter (Monica Swinn). The new Governor wants to usher in an era of peace, but the colonel in charge of his armies (Roger Darton) is corrupt, preferring to continue preying on the people of California, robbing them and killing any who oppose him. Caught up in the mess is Juan Aguilar (Jean-Pierre Bouyxou), a Californian opposed to the colonel who finds himself falsely accused of murder. It’s up to Zorro to prove his innocence, the guilt of the colonel, and establish peace.
And the acting — at least the actual acting, if not the dubbing — is likewise passable. Nobody’s doing a great job, but they appear to at least be showing the right emotions most of the time. But none of them seem to have any significant athleticism, and the fencing in the movie is pretty lousy. I only have half a term’s worth of fencing lessons in my background, and I could do at least as well as these guys. And while there are some films in which that might be excusable, this is Zorro. You have to have good fencers in Zorro, or what’s the point? The editing of the film attempts to cover up their ineptitude, but only exacerbates it, because the editing is also done very poorly. It’s full of jump cuts in the middle of the action, but it’s painfully apparent that there is no way for the characters to have gotten from position A to position B in the span of the cut. Or, in some cases, at all.
And scenes which aren’t fight scenes tend to be rather dull. The film devotes plenty of time to Zorro breaking into and out of places, or people involved in chases, or other things which ought to be exciting, but the director appears to have forgotten that you have to have things actually happen in those sequences. Watching Zorro break into a castle can be interesting; watching him as a speck on the castle wall while a couple of guards chat is not. It works as a moment of dramatic irony only if you actually restrict it to just a moment. Show us Zorro actually breaking in, darn it. And when you have a chase scene, you need to have something interesting to look at during the chase, some things to happen during the chase other than just the beginning and the end. A chase scene is about more than one horse following another in a straight line.
Quickly! Let’s ride out of this film before the audience catches us!
This was a serious disappointment. I don’t expect every Zorro movie to be a 5-star picture, but I do expect certain baseline qualities. Reasonable acting, a few good sword fights, that sort of thing. The Mark of Zorro fails on all counts.