The Mark of Zorro (1940)

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Released 8-Jun-2004

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Adventure None
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1940
Running Time 89:54
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Rouben Mamoulian
Studio
Distributor

Twentieth Century Fox
Starring Tyrone Power
Linda Darnell
Basil Rathbone
Gale Sondergaard
Eugene Pallette
J. Edward Bromberg
Montagu Love
Janet Beecher
George Regas
Chris-Pin Martin
Robert Lowery
Belle Mitchell
John Bleifer
Case ?
RPI $19.95 Music Alfred Newman
David Buttolph
Hugo Friedhofer


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles Dutch
English for the Hearing Impaired
French
German for the Hearing Impaired
Italian
Spanish
Smoking Yes, A sign of the times.
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Released in 1940, The Mark of Zorro is a swashbuckling adventure film which follows on directly from the great 1930s tradition of films such as The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934) and The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938). As a fan who first saw these films at my local cinema's Saturday Matinee I well remember sitting enthralled at the exploits of the larger-than-life heroes up on the screen as they defeated the (really evil) villains and won the love of a beautiful (but pure) girl, all in the space of 90 exciting minutes.

    If you have read my biography on this site (check it out via the link at the bottom of this review) you might also have noticed that The Mask of Zorro (1998) is one of my Top 10 DVDs. In many ways the later Zorro is a sequel to the 1940 version, both in its storyline and in its style, and if you like Mask you really need to watch Mark. As you might have guessed by now I really enjoyed reviewing this DVD, and my better half, who is a major Tyrone Power fan, was also along for the ride.

    Based on The Curse of Capistrano by Johnston McCulley, the story had already been filmed in 1920 as one of the great swashbucklers of the silent cinema with Douglas Fairbanks in the leading role. Our tale opens in Madrid with various young rakes practicing the art of combat at a military school - the star pupil is the "California Cockerel", Don Diego de Vega (Power). He is called home to America by his father who is Alcalde (equivalent to governor) of the Spanish colony there but arrives to find another, more venal, man (Don Luis Quintero) in charge. The usurper is kept in power by the evil Captain Esteban (Basil Rathbone), and of course they keep the poor commoners downtrodden and overtaxed.

    While he is working out how to return his father to his rightful position, Vega publicly pretends he is a foppish, foolish and rather lazy noble. In fact, he soon dons the famous mask, and becomes the heroic Zorro, champion of the repressed and the best hope for justice in California. In no time, the famous "Z" mark of the title is appearing everywhere, most notably on the bodies of Zorro's victims. Along the way he falls in love with the beautiful niece (a very pretty Linda Darnell) of the evil Alcalde and has to work out how to keep her love while deposing her uncle. This all leads to one of the great sword fights in cinema history between Vega and Esteban (guess who wins?).

    The parallels between this film and the others I mentioned are many and diverse. I will give a few examples here. The twin role taken by Vega, dilettante in public, hero in private, follows directly from that of Leslie Howard in The Scarlet Pimpernel (and both Howard and Power play the two roles perfectly). Two of the key supporting players from The Adventures of Robin Hood play very similar roles in The Mark of Zorro. The most noticeable is of course Rathbone who is a glorious villain in both films; but almost as effective is Eugene Pallette who plays the role of the feisty Father Felipe in Zorro - he was also Friar Tuck in Robin Hood.

    I won't dwell upon the similarities between this film and the 1998 version, but if you watch both you will see that the later film plays homage to the earlier one in many scenes, while its plot could almost be seen to carry on directly from the 1940s version. If you are a fan of swashbuckling action films (like Pirates of the Caribbean) then this is one of the best early examples. It is expertly directed by Rouben Mamoulian and the entire cast play their roles perfectly. The experience is tempered somewhat by the fact that there has been no attempt at restoration of the picture or sound on this classic film, which does detract slightly from the viewing experience.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    This is now a very old film and unfortunately it looks it in this print. There is significant wear and tear on view, which is distracting at times.

    The aspect ratio of the transfer is 1.33:1, non 16x9 enhanced which is the correct aspect ratio.

    The picture is rather fuzzy at times, which appears to be due to the age of the film stock rather than an artistic choice (see 20:30 for one of the many examples). Shadow detail is also rather poor, and there are many night scenes when it can be quite difficult to see what is going on (see 37:09 for one). Luckily low level noise is not such a problem.

    The film is in black & white and has a rather poor range of shades across the spectrum - it seems that many of the shades of grey have faded over time so that what is left looks like it was shot on high contrast stock.

    There is significant minor damage on show here, from telecine wobble during the opening credits, through minor aliasing on shirts (3:13) and on to a range of negative and positive artefacts. There are also frequent vertical lines (as at 15:05) and occasional reel change marks (37:43). Even with all of this damage on view, the film is so much fun that after noting the damage it is possible to then get on with watching the movie.

    There are six sets of subtitles available including English for the Hearing Impaired. The Hearing Impaired track is reasonable, missing some dialogue only when there is a rapid interchange taking place on screen. One complaint I have with this subtitle track is that it doesn't indicate a change of mood in the music.

    There is no layer change on the disc.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The audio transfer is also showing its age, but is in better condition than the video transfer, though there is a "dated" feel to it.

    There are four audio tracks available; English, German, Italian and Spanish. All are Dolby Digital 2.0 mono tracks encoded at bitrates of 192 Kb/s. I listened to the English track and a lengthy portion of the Spanish (I thought that was appropriate as Zorro is set in California while it was still a Spanish colony). The Spanish track suffers from very thin sound and actors who sound nothing like their counterparts on screen, and so I will pay it no further attention.

    The dialogue is understandable at all times and audio sync is good, although it does slip at times where there appear to be missing frames, but this is infrequent.

    The music in the film is excellent. Alfred Newman is one of the greatest composers in cinema history with classic soundtracks (and many Oscars) across genres as either main composer or music director (including films such as Gigi, The Grapes of Wrath and How the West Was Won). For The Mark of Zorro Newman has created a soundtrack which swoops and soars to support the mood of the film perfectly. In one classic scene slow and lazy music is playing as the camera moves through a sleepy California village. Suddenly, at 21:53 rousing music lifts the pace as Zorro gallops into town for his first onscreen appearance - the effect is breathtaking and is one of the better examples of the way great music can lift a good film into the realms of film classic. OK, I'm calm again, back to the technical discussion; the volume of the music is well matched to the level of the other sound on offer.

    There is no surround presence in this mono track and no subwoofer activity. Luckily the duel at 77:00 sounds quite good, with the clashing blades and the dramatic music working together to produce an effective atmosphere.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    As if. They left the film in this state and you thought there might be extras?

Menu

    The menu is static and allows you to Play the Movie, go to Language Selection, or Scene Selection. There are 24 scenes to choose from.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    Interestingly this film is only available in Region 4 at the moment (though you can get the 1920s original on DVD in Region 1!).

    Adendum added post first review: As a number of our user comments have noted (thanks all) this film IS available in Region 1, and comes with a commentary from film critic Richard Schickel and a feature on Tyrone Power. The picture and sound seem to be identical to the Region 4 but the Extra features make the Region 1 the version of choice at the moment. I add my apologies for missing this version, I searched a number of sites when doing the review, I suspect that sitting up all night celebrating Manchester United winning the FA Cup may have had something to do with it (rueful grin).

Summary

    This is a very enjoyable action adventure film presented on a very disappointing DVD. It is about time that the film studios started to pay attention to the historical value of their films as well as the commercial value. A film such as this deserves at least some basic video restoration and perhaps a short documentary placing it in its historical perspective. Oh well - sigh. As it stands this one is worth a look if you can find it for $10-15, or if you like the genre or the star then buy it now. I loved this film as a kid and had a great time watching this DVD despite its faults.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Tony Robert Davison (read my bio)
Friday, May 28, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba SD-K350, using Component output
DisplaySONY VPL-HS10 LCD projector, ABI 280cm 16x9 screen. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderKenwood. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationKenwood
SpeakersKenwood

Other Reviews
DVD Net - Jules F
AllZone4DVD - TerryJ

Comments (Add)
Correction - Anonymous REPLY POSTED
R1 Version - Chris W (read my bio) REPLY POSTED
Mark of Zorro available in Region 1 - Keith Holder REPLY POSTED