The Mark of Zorro (1940)

(On Cable TV, May 2018) In some ways, there really isn’t anything new in The Mark of Zorro if you’d seen, say, the 1998 remake of it or have been immersed in pop culture for the past few decades: It’s a bog-standard story in which virtue triumph over perfidy after a fair amount of sword fighting. On the other hand, there is something to be said about execution, and that’s why there’s no tiring of The Mark of Zorro even if you’ve seen the 1920 version, the 1998 version, the 1980s parody, the Batman origin stories or any of the unacknowledged inheritors of the swashbuckling tradition. Tyrone Power makes for a fantastic hero, Linda Darnell has the whole damsel-in-distress thing locked down, and Basil Rathbone is simply awe-inspiring as a henchman more interesting than the main villain. The closing Power/Rathbone confrontation is a physical tour-de-force that hits all of the classic tropes of swordfights (cut candles, climbing on furniture, witty repartee) in a way that will leave no one unsatisfied. Seriously, if you watch nothing else, then fast-forward to the final sword fight—it will make you watch the entire film. Old and yet still bold, The Mark of Zorro amply justifies its lasting reputation as one of the finest swashbuckling epics of all time.

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