The Mark of Zorro (1940 film)

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The Mark of Zorro
The Mark of Zorro (1940 film poster).jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Rouben Mamoulian
Screenplay by John Taintor Foote
Story by Garrett Fort
Bess Meredyth
Based on The Curse of Capistrano
by Johnston McCulley
Produced by Darryl F. Zanuck
Starring Tyrone Power
Linda Darnell
Basil Rathbone
Cinematography Arthur C. Miller
Edited byRobert Bischoff
Music by Alfred Newman
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date
  • November 8, 1940 (1940-11-08)
Running time
94 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$1 million [1]
Box office$2 million (rentals) [2]

The Mark of Zorro is a 1940 American black-and-white swashbuckling Western adventure film from 20th Century Fox, produced by Darryl F. Zanuck, directed by Rouben Mamoulian, that stars Tyrone Power, Linda Darnell, and Basil Rathbone.


The Mark of Zorro was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Score. The film was named to the National Film Registry in 2009 by the Library of Congress for being "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant", and to be preserved for all time. [3]

The film is based on The Curse of Capistrano written by Johnston McCulley, originally published in 1919 in five serialized installments in All-Story Weekly , [4] which introduced the masked hero Zorro; the story is set in Southern California during the early 19th century. After the enormous success of the silent 1920 film adaptation, the story was republished under that name by Grosset & Dunlap.


Don Diego Vega (Tyrone Power) is urgently called home by his father. To all outward appearances, he is the foppish son of wealthy ranchero and former Alcalde Don Alejandro Vega (Montagu Love), having returned to Alta California after his military education in Spain.

Don Diego is horrified at the way the common people are now mistreated by the corrupt Alcalde, Luis Quintero (J. Edward Bromberg), who had forced his father from the position of Alcalde. Don Diego adopts the guise of El Zorro ("The Fox"), a masked outlaw dressed entirely in black, who becomes the defender of the common people and a champion for justice against Quintero and his garrison of soldiers.

In the meantime he romances the Alcalde's beautiful and innocent niece, Lolita (Linda Darnell), whom he grows to love. As part of his plan, Don Diego simultaneously flirts with the Alcalde's wife Inez (Gale Sondergaard), filling her head with tales of Madrid fashion and culture and raising her desire to move there with her corrupt husband, Luis.

In both his guises Don Diego must always contend with the governor's ablest henchman, the malevolent and deadly Captain Esteban Pasquale (Basil Rathbone). He eventually dispatches the Captain during a fast-moving rapier duel-to-the-death, as the Alcalde looks on in astonishment. This action leads to a forced regime change with the help of the people of Los Angeles, the other landowners, and his father. This became Don Diego's long-range plan from the time he arrived back in California and saw just how bad things had become in Los Angeles during his absence.


Remake and music score

The Mark of Zorro (1974) is a made-for-television remake film starring Frank Langella and co-starring Ricardo Montalbán in the roles of Power and Rathbone. It reuses Newman's original film score, along with new incidental music composed by Dominic Frontiere.

Portions of Newman’s original music score were reused by composer Ian Fraser for the George Hamilton swashbuckling comedy film Zorro, The Gay Blade (1981). The film's storyline is a tongue-in-cheek sequel to the original 1940 film.

1920 silent version

The Mark of Zorro is a sound remake of the lavish 1920 smash hit silent film starring Douglas Fairbanks as Zorro and Noah Beery Sr. as Sergeant Gonzales. This film depiction includes Don Diego's mother, Isabella, but it omits Bernardo (Don Diego's mute servant). That 1920 feature introduced Zorro's iconic all-black costume, subsequently incorporated into Johnston McCulley's later Zorro stories in his original fiction series upon which Fairbanks' film had been based. The 1920 film was the first in a popular array of swashbuckler action features starring the acrobatic Fairbanks, who had previously appeared mainly in comedies. Clips from the film were incorporated into The Artist nine decades later.

“Power was the most agile man with a sword I’ve ever faced before a camera. Tyrone could have fenced Errol Flynn into a cocked hat.” – Basil Rathbone from his 1962 memoir In and Out of Character. [5]

Acknowledging that director Mamoulian’s 1940 version is a “tongue-in-check” remake of the Douglas Fairbanks' 1920 swashbuckler, film critic Todd Wiener observes:

“Critics inevitably – and often unfavorably – compare the film to the earlier successful [silent] version, but Mamoulian’s interpretation of the Zorro myth stands on its own merits. Tyrone Power’s performance is especially spirited, displaying a range and wry sardonic charm not always evident in his other forays into this genre. [6]

Batman connection

In the DC Comics continuity it is established that The Mark of Zorro was the film that the eight-year-old Bruce Wayne had seen with his parents, Thomas and Martha, at a movie theater, only moments before they were killed in front of his eyes by an armed thug (later retconned to be Joe Chill). Zorro is often portrayed as Bruce's childhood hero and an influence on his Batman persona. There are discrepancies regarding which version Bruce saw: The Dark Knight Returns claims it was the Tyrone Power version, whereas a story by Alan Grant claimed it to be the silent Douglas Fairbanks original. Bill Finger was himself inspired by Fairbanks' Zorro, including similarities in costumes, the "Bat Cave" and Zorro's cave, and unexpected secret identities, especially since the Batman character predates the Tyrone Power remake by a year. In Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (set in the DCEU continuity), Bruce and his parents leave a screening of 1940's The Mark of Zorro the night of their murder. [7]

In the animated series Justice League Unlimited , a flashback of the fateful night establishes that for DCAU continuity Bruce and his parents were attending The Mark of Zorro but does not indicate which version. In earlier episodes of Batman: The Animated Series , the fictional character the Gray Ghost, a pulp fiction hero inspired by The Shadow, is the inspiration to young Bruce Wayne.

In Todd Phillips' 2019 film Joker , the Marquee above the theater young Bruce and his parents exit shows the 1981 films Blow Out and Zorro, the Gay Blade as playing.

Home media

The Mark of Zorro has been released twice on DVD. The first was on October 7, 2003, and featured the film in its original black-and-white, as part of 20th Century Fox Studio Classics Collection. The second was released on October 18, 2005, as a Special Edition, featuring both a newly restored black-and-white version and a colorized version, prepared by Legend Films. Both contain the short film "Tyrone Power: The Last Idol" as seen on Biography on the A&E Network, with a commentary by film critic Richard Schickel.

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  1. Solomon, Aubrey (1989). Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, p. 240, ISBN   978-0-8108-4244-1.
  2. Solomon, Aubrey (1989). Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, p. 219, ISBN   978-0-8108-4244-1.
  3. "2009 Selections to the National Film Registry Announced". News Releases. The Library of Congress. December 30, 2009. Retrieved April 27, 2015.
  4. All-Story Weekly vol. 100 #2 (August 9, 1919) – vol. 101 #2 (September 6, 1919)
  5. Wiener, 2004
  6. Wiener, 2004
  7. Ching, Albert (November 12, 2014). "'Batman v Superman' Set Pic Sets Stage for Wayne Murders". Comic Book Resources . Retrieved April 25, 2021.