Tonight: Tyrone Power, Linda Darnell and Basil Rathbone in the four-star adventure The Mark of Zorro.
“A smashing, swashbuckler,” proclaims the Motion Picture Guide. “The finest of the many Zorro films, this remarkable film owes everything to its inventive and action-minded director Rouben Mamoulian.”
Tonight’s film was 20th Century Fox’s answer to Warner Bros. The Adventures of Robin Hood, the Errol Flynn classic released in 1938.
Douglas Fairbanks Sr. had made the original silent version of Mark of Zorro in 1920.
In 1922, Fairbanks produced and starred in the original Robin Hood.
The dashing Fairbanks died in 1939. His son, Doug Jr., continued in his father’s footsteps with The Prisoner of Zenda (1937). But there were other pretenders to Fairbanks title as king of the swashbucklers.
Chief among them was Flynn. And, in 1938, Jack Warner revamped one of the original Fairbanks’ classics for his rising star as The Adventures of Robin Hood.
Darryl Zanuck, always in competition with his old boss at Warner Bros., responded by announcing plans for a swashbuckler of his own at 20th Century Fox—The Mark of Zorro.
Similarities between the two films are obvious—including the cast: Basil Rathbone, Montagu Love and Eugene Pallette appear in both.
Pallette is apparently ambidextrous. He duels right-handed in Robin Hood as Friar Tuck—and left-handed in Zorro.
Under Zanuck’s order, Eric Wolfgang Korngold’s stunning, Oscar-winning score for Robin Hood served as the inspiration for Lionel Newman’s Oscar-nominated score for Zorro.
Even the dueling scenes in each picture were staged and choreographed by the same man, former Belgian fencing master Fred Cavens.
Zanuck was unable to acquire Robin Hood’s most important asset, however—the dashing Flynn.
Zanuck first considered Richard Greene, who had just appeared in Fox’s Hound of the Baskervilles, the first of the Sherlock Holmes films starring Basil Rathbone. Greene actually made a test for the role, but wasn’t cast as Zorro. But he did appear as Robin Hood in the TV series in the 1950s.
It was the handsome 20th Century Fox star, Tyrone Power, who was chosen to appear in his first swashbuckling role. Less energetic than Flynn, Power was actually a bigger star at the time. He ranked second among male box-office draws in 1939; Flynn ranked eighth.
Cast opposite the handsome leading man as Lolita was the sultry, dark-eyed 18-year-old Linda Darnell. Mark of Zorro was her fifth film; three of which had paired her with Power!
In 1943, she was assigned to play the Virgin Mary in Song of Bernadette because, as she remembered it, “I was the only real virgin in Hollywood at the time.”
One doubts if she could have said that if three of her first five films had been made with Flynn instead of Power. “In Like Flynn” was a nickname Errol earned—and deserved!
Darnell died tragically in 1965 in a fire, while visiting her former secretary in Chicago. She was watching one of her early films, Stardust, at the time. She was 43.
Signed to play Zorro’s ruthless, cold-blooded adversary was everyone’s favorite villain, Basil Rathbone.
In The Mask of Zorro, he is a swaggering scoundrel.
He was also the best swordsman in Hollywood. Rathbone’s duel with Power is an obvious highlight of the film.
Power plays a fop in Zorro. And if his swish seems better than his swashbuckling, Rathbone pays tribute to his talent as a swordsman. “The most agile man with a sword I’ve ever faced before a camera,” Rathbone declared. “Tyrone could have fenced Errol Flynn into a cocked hat.”
In fact, Power accidentally inflicted two facial cuts on Rathbone during their on-camera duel, one of them requiring a visit to the hospital.
The original 1920 Mark of Zorro was based on a book by Johnston McCulley titled The Curse of Capistrano.
Doug Fairbanks adapted this literary work a second time in a sequel titled Don Q, Son of Zorro in 1925.
“Zorro” is the Spanish word for fox.
It was Fairbanks who invented the familiar “Z” signature left by his sword. It isn‘t in the book.
Principal photography ran from July 25 through September 12, 1940. The working title was The Californian. At the last minute, Zanuck wisely reverted to the original Doug Fairbanks’s title.
Zanuck re-edited Mamoulian’s original cut of the film, but when it played badly in sneak previews and the director threatened to take his name off the picture, Zanuck relented and restored it to its original form.
Released on November 1, 1940, the picture was a box-office smash. “Undiluted entertainment from start to finish,” the Hollywood Reporter proclaimed. “The Mark of Zorro sweeps across the screen as a vividly colorful, swift-moving panorama of spine-tingling action, glamorous romance and beauty. … In his direction, Mamoulian scintillated with some of the most brilliant work he has ever done.”
So now, from 1940, The Mark of Zorro.