He’s named after an animal, wears a mask and a cape, dresses only in black and defends the innocent from crime and corruption in his home town. He has a faithful servant, a secret cave, and is ready at a moment’s notice to drop everything and speed to the rescue with his iconic, jet-black…. horse.
What, you thought it was Batman? Nah, I’m talking about Zorro!
Don Diego de la Vega is a nobleman living in Spanish California. When villainy and greed threaten the townspeople, he takes on the identity of Zorro, the fox. Zorro is a dashing vigilante; quick, cunning and unbeatable with a rapier. Diego keeps this dual identity a guarded secret – to avoid arousing suspicion, he pretends to be ignorant and foppish, a harmless dandy more concerned with his appearance and social standing than the plight of the people.
This, naturally, earns him the contempt of his family and the pity of his enemies.
Bruce Wayne could learn a thing or two from him, I’m sure. Let’s face it, it’s not hard to join the dots between wealthy loner Bruce and wealthy loner Batman. Who else in Gotham City could afford a jet, secret base and their own matte black-painted Thrust II?
Speaking of transportation, while Batman cruises for fillies with the Batmobile, Zorro literally cruises for fillies with his black stallion Toronado. The guy likes black, but I suppose that helps him blend invisibly into the darkness.
In some continuities, Toronado is called Phantom, compounding the similarities between Zorro and the masked hero of the same name. We all know that his horse was called Hero, though. Not Silver. You’re thinking of the Lone Ranger.
Zorro has been in many films and TV series since his creation in 1919. Douglas Fairbanks was the first to play the role in 1920, in the silent hit The Mark of Zorro. The film would be remade twice in the next few decades.
The 1940 version is one of my favourite movies of all time. It’s black and white, but has sound. Of course, it hisses and pops, but I think that adds to the atmosphere. The music is wonderful; it fits the tone of the film perfectly and gets the pulse racing. For me, The Mark of Zorro is the perfect superhero movie – we see the hero take up his dual identity, free the town and get the girl. There’s no cliffhanger or origin-story prequel.
It’s action-packed, and the duel between Vega and evil Captain Esteban at the end is the finest sword fight ever put to film, that much is sure. You can keep your lightsabers and ridiculous green-screen wire acrobatics, George Lucas – this is how real men do it.
The villainous Alcalde – putting it all together and busting Vega’s deception wide open – remarks that Deigo “handles a sword like a devil from hell!” and he’s not wrong. I can only imagine how long this scene took to choreograph and shoot.
The film would be remade again word-for-word and scene-for-scene about thirty-five years later in 1974, this time with Frank “Skeletor” Langella as Zorro and Ricardo “Don’t say it” Montalban as Captain Esteban. It’s a jolly update and worth watching if you see it on Channel 4 in the afternoon. I prefer the original because of the cast, and because Zorro’s mask doesn’t have such large eyeholes. Otherwise it’s the same film, just in colour.
There’s been a bunch of TV series over the years, most notably a Disney one in the fifties. I haven’t actually seen any of them, though, so I’ll withhold comment. The next time I saw Zorro was in 1998 with The Mask of Zorro. It’s a trifle dark and dour, but nonetheless a riveting tale of buckling swashes and derring do. It’s notable for being the first English-language Zorro film to actually cast a Spaniard in the leading role, and not a moment too soon.
It stands as my second-favourite Zorro film, and one of the better action films of the decade, and comes fully recommended. The less said about its sequel – 2005’s The Legend of Zorro – the better. It’s a tedious retread of the first, and falls into all the same trappings that modern superhero sequels have. It goes in the bin along with Spiderman 3 and X-Men: The Last Stand.
For me, Zorro is a classic superhero, the kind of which the world needs. He doesn’t shoot lasers from his eyes or webs from his wrists – he’s a normal guy like you or me, made exceptional only because he chooses to take a stand against corruption. He steals from the rich, gives to the poor and makes a personal sacrifice for the greater good. He’s a hero for the people.
That’s the kind of person I want to be. So I guess I better start taking some riding lessons.