The Mark of Zorro: Special Edition (1940)

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Released 16-May-2006

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Adventure Audio Commentary-Richard Schickel
Web Links
Alternative Version-Colorised Version
Biographies-Cast-Tyrone Power: The Last Idol
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1940
Running Time 89:53 (Case: 94)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (45:40)
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 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)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary 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 English for the Hearing Impaired
English Audio Commentary
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    Don Diego de la Vega (Tyrone Power) returns to Los Angeles from military school in Spain to discover that the Spanish province, of which his father (Montague Love) is Governor, lives in fear of his harsh rule. It is not until he reaches town that he learns that his father has been displaced by Don Luis Quintero (J. Edward Bromberg). Quintero is something of a corrupt but comic figure, and the real power in the province is being wielded by the evil Captain Esteban Pasquale (Basil Rathbone). Don Diego immediately decides that he must do something about this, and presents himself as a foppish, effeminate figure, much to his father's angst. Publicly not a threat to the regime, Don Diego moonlights as the masked avenger Zorro, to free the peasants of the yoke of the corrupt leadership and to bring the evildoers to justice. Which leaves him just enough time to romance Don Luis's niece Lolita (a radiant Linda Darnell, but then she always was).

    A remake of Douglas Fairbanks' 1920 blockbuster swashbuckler was always on the cards following the success of the Errol Flynn adventure epics of the late 1930s. As the film was made at Twentieth Century-Fox and not on a high budget, using Flynn (contracted to Warners) was out of the question, so Fox's biggest young male star was cast in the leading role. While this film is not of the same quality as, say, The Adventures of Robin Hood or The Sea Hawk, it is still very entertaining. It could have been a lot better if more money had been thrown at making some of the crowd scenes more realistic (they show the limitations of the budget) and if the script had a slightly more serious tone. As it is the screenwriters obviously had their tongues planted firmly in their cheeks, so much so that the dramatic elements of the plot are often pushed into the background. Also the direction of Rouben Mamoulian seems to be better in the dialogue sequences than in the action sequences, apart from one exception, which I will come to shortly.

    The original Zorro story was published in 1919 and bears some similarities to Baroness Orcszy's The Scarlet Pimpernel (1905), especially in the dual character of the hero. Power is very good in this role, and all of the cast seem to be having a fine time. Particular of note is Basil Rathbone, who looks as if he was not especially interested in the part. Perhaps he had had enough of being continually run through by the hero, something he was prone to when acting opposite our Errol. However there does seem to be something of a subtext running through the film concerning the sexual preferences of Captain Esteban - he spends a lot of his time prancing around and thrusting his sword or his cutlery at things. Perhaps I'm reading too much into this. In any case Rathbone was an expert fencer, and Power was by no means a novice, which makes the claustrophobic final duel between them one of the best in all cinema. I wonder whether the final product is so impressive because of Mamoulian's direction or Fred Caven's choreography. It certainly makes a contrast with the duels Rathbone fought against Flynn, especially the shadowy fight in the enormous castle set at the conclusion of The Sea Hawk. A pity that it seems undercranked a little too much.

    This is surely the best Zorro film of them all, certainly better than the glossy but overdone 1998 remake and just a notch or two above the Fairbanks version. It has previously been released in Region 4 but without the special features of this edition, some of which are not so special.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The film is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, not far from the original 1.37:1. The video review concerns the black and white version in the set, not the colorised one. Technically the original version is the extra in this set and the colorised version the main feature, but that just sticks in my craw. Makes me want to don a black silk costume...

    I expect that the surviving elements for this movie are not in pristine condition, as while this transfer is quite good it could be a lot better. It is nicely sharp and bright throughout most of the running time, though there are a few shots that look like they came from duplicate material, or have fuzziness caused by being zoomed in an optical printer (in which case the original would have looked the same). Black levels are good, and grey scaling is also good, though perhaps not as good as other films of the era have received in their DVD incarnations.

    I did not notice any film to video artefacts. There are more film artefacts than I would have liked. Throughout much of the running time there is variation in brightness between frames causing a flickering effect. There also appears to be some moisture damage causing portions of the image to flicker. There are scratches, flecks and dust visible throughout. Grain levels are acceptable.

    Optional English subtitles are available in standard and hard-of-hearing formats. While they sometimes just paraphrase what is said due to space considerations, they are well done otherwise and easy to read.

    The original version of the film is presented on Disc Two, which is RSDL-formatted. I did not notice the layer change, but further investigation reveals it to be during a black screen transition at 45:40.

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

Audio

    The original English soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, with a stereo alternative also included.

    The soundtrack was much as I expected it to be: clear and easy to understand with reasonable fidelity, but nothing special. Dialogue comes across well with unexceptionable audio sync, though there are a couple of examples of looped dialogue that does not quite fit. Effects are well presented. There is a little bit of hiss but nothing serious unless you like it really loud.

    The stereo version sounds overly reverberant and does not add anything to the filmic experience. In fact it is quite distracting, and the original mono is much to be preferred.

    Alfred Newman's music score is a strange beast. He used what sounds like Mexican folk songs to give the film the flavour of old California, plus some very effective musical themes. But at times the music is banal and just sounds like filler. Perhaps the fault was with the performance rather than the scoring? In any case the music fits in well with the rest of audio in this transfer.

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

Extras

    Unlike the previous Region 4 release, in this Special Edition we get most of the extras available on the Region 1.

Audio Commentary-Richard Schickel

    When I saw the film had a commentary by Richard Schickel, I had misgivings, though I was pleasantly surprised to find it much better than I expected. While he still has a tendency to drone and to describe what is happening on screen, he does give lots of information about the film and about the actors and crew, as well as some of the history of the film's production. The commentary is an option on both versions of the film, so you don't need to change discs to listen to it. Subtitles are also provided, a nice touch.

Web Links

    A link to the local Fox website.

Alternative Version-Colorised Version

    This is the same film as the original but colorised. Unlike most colorised films I have seen, this is reasonably well done, without the attendant loss of detail that normally accompanies a colorisation. The colour though is not nearly up to Technicolor standards of the period. Just about everyone seems to have the same skin colour, which is a little off-putting. This version has the same audio and subtitle options as the original version.

Biographies-Cast-Tyrone Power: The Last Idol (45:03)

    This is one of those numerous Biography Channel documentaries about film stars narrated by Richard Kiley, made in 1996. It features interviews with Power's former wives Annabella (who died that year) and Linda Christian, as well as his daughter Taryn and co-stars Alice Faye and Piper Laurie. There is plenty of archival material including photographs and some information about Power's father, also Tyrone, who was the chief villain in John Wayne's first film as star, The Big Trail. It covers the arc of Power's life up to his death while filming the duel scene in Solomon and Sheba (is that really a photo of the dying Power?). Fortunately for the producers of that film Power was well insured and they were able to reshoot it with Yul Brynner. You can see how Power seemed to grow haggard when only in his thirties. The documentary does not avoid revelations of his bisexuality, though it barely touches on his relationship with Cesar Romero, except to refer to them as friends. I had heard that Power was a worrier who took to drink in the fear that his double life would be made public, but there's no mention of that here.

    It was good to see again after many years a gag filmed during Zorro involving the studio chief and co-producer Darryl F. Zanuck. I won't spoil the fun by revealing any further details.

R4 vs R1

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

    The Special Edition appears to be the same as the Region 1 offering, though without a bunch of trailers that our US counterparts get. Not really much of a difference. The earlier Region 4 had no extras, so this new release is an improvement.

Summary

    A very entertaining classic swashbuckler.

    The video quality is good.

    The audio quality is good.

    The documentary and commentary are welcome extras, the colorised version is not.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
Review Equipment
DVDSony DVP-NS9100ES, using Component output
DisplaySony 86CM Trinitron Wega KVHR36M31. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD Player, Dolby Digital and DTS. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony TA-DA9000ES for surrounds, Elektra Reference power amp for mains
SpeakersMain: Tannoy Revolution R3; Centre: Tannoy Sensys DCC; Rear: Richter Harlequin; Subwoofer: Richter Thor Mk IV

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