Written in ink, etched in stone, or carved in a man’s flesh, the letter “Z” can mean only one thing: Zorro has struck again. Wonderfully portrayed by Tyrone Power in 1940’s black and white classic The Mark of Zorro, the Mexican vigilante is a hero for the ages. Playing the role of the fop, the fool, the coward, Diego Vega is never suspected of being the masked swordsman fighting for justice. Son of Alejandro Vega, former alcalde of the district of Los Angeles, Diego returns home after an extended stay in Spain to find his hometown greatly changed.
Forced out of office by the avaricious yet bumbling Luis Quintero and his dastardly henchman Capitan Esteban Pasquale, the elder Vega still refuses to lead a revolt against them. His son holds no such scruples. Dressed all in black, complete with black mask, he aids the weak and oppressed and opposes those who abuse their power. The weak and cowardly Quintero soon fears for his life and decides to flee the country. Pasquale, being made of firmer stuff, is determined to destroy Zorro.
Diego’s act fools his own parents and even Friar Felipe, his boyhood mentor. In between terrorizing Quintero and robbing the rich to aid the poor, he still finds time to romance the current alcalde’s wife Inez – with 2 ulterior motives. First, it allows him to dazzle her with stories of the Spanish court’s grandeur and she in turn begs her husband to take her away from this provincial life and back to civilization. Secondly, it brings him closer to the true object of his affections: Quintero’s niece Lolita. Lolita, being smitten with Zorro’s courage and heroism, has no time for the foppish Diego Vega. How he wins her heart, defeats the villainous tyrants, and proves himself to his father is classic Hollywood at its best. Filled with adventure, humor, and romance, and capped off with a rousing ending, The Mark of Zorro is a classic the whole family will enjoy.
(P. S. If you can find it, watch the colorized version. The color brings out details that are easy to miss in the black and white original.)
I love old movies. Don’t get me wrong, I love new ones too of course. But the great classics – there’s just something so magical about them. One of my all-time favorites is Captain Blood, starring Errol Flynn. Loosely based on the Rafael Sabatini novel of the same name, Captain Blood was Flynn’s breakout role. His co-star, Olivia de Havilland was also relatively unknown before this picture. Both turned in stellar performances and launched their careers with this 1935 film.
This is the story of Peter Blood – soldier of fortune, doctor of medicine, slave of Jamaica, and captain of pirates. No matter what turn his fortune takes, our hero always maintains both his honor and his chivalry. This is what makes Captain Blood one of the greats. Peter Blood is a true hero. Never broken, never bitter, and always someone we can admire. This is what sets classic films apart from most of today’s movies. There is a clear distinction between right and wrong, good and evil, hero and villain. And yet, the heroes and villains of this picture are not caricatures. They are completely human and there is some gray shading on the scale of good and evil.
Take Arabella Bishop (de Havilland) for example. On the scale of good and evil, she is very clearly all the way on the good side. And yet, for a large portion of the story, she is both wrong and an antagonist to our hero. On the villain side, we have pirate Captain Levasseur (Basil Rathbone). Pure evil, he is nevertheless on Blood’s side for a time. And he is not without a certain code of honor. Then we have Arabella’s uncle, Colonel Bishop (Lionel Atwill). He has no honor or integrity, yet he is not solidly on the side of evil. But he is unequivocally the primary antagonist of Peter Blood – the villain we love to hate. And of course we have our hero, Captain Peter Blood himself. He is truly a hero, yet he has one foot on the wrong side of the line. This is what keeps him human and relatable. This is what makes his heroism accessible, making us believe we can be heroes too. That is why Captain Blood has stood and will continue to stand as one of the greatest pictures ever filmed and one of my all-time personal favorites.