Home Video Hovel- Zorro, by David Bax
There are dozens of films based on the character of Zorro. People are seemingly always out there with a plan to revive the Latin American Robin Hood. Perhaps these are liberals hoping to address income equality. Perhaps they are conservatives wanting to restore control to individuals instead of a powerful government. Whatever it was that inspired Italian director Duccio Tessari to make his own version in the mid-1970’s and cast Alain Delon in the title role, let’s just be grateful that he did. It’s a delightfully silly movie that flies by, only thrown off course by one particular, repeated element that is perhaps a step too far in the direction of goofiness.
At the beginning of the picture, Don Diego (Delon) is some sort of rogue swordsman planning to return from the colonies to Spain. At the inn in the port town, he happens across an old, aristocratic friend who is on his way to assume the governorship of a colonial province. That very night, though, the man is murdered by assassins sent by a corrupt colonel (Stanley Baker) who would hope to rule that province himself. Diego kills the hell out of these guys and then he hears his friend’s dying wish. He is to pretend to be the new governor and restore justice to the land. Oh, and no killing. So, Diego plays at being an ineffectual ruler while finding plenty of time to change clothes and assume the identity of Zorro whenever he wants to rankle the colonel and inspire the common folk.
Zorro begins and ends with some violence that carries actual consequences. In between, however, it’s all pratfalls and acrobatics in its multitudinous swordplay sequences. It’s kids’ stuff in the best way possible. One scene in particular, a chase/fight between Zorro and a dozen soldiers through a busy marketplace, contains such impressive choreography – of people; of camera; of props and sets – that it recalls the work of Jackie Chan. The obvious fact that there are trampolines hidden out of view so that bad guys can fly high after being smacked with a board (or what have you) only increases the joy.
Possibly the most bizarre yet intriguing element is that Delon chooses to portray Don Diego largely as a gay stereotype. Is such behavior a ploy to further persuade people that he is powerless as a governor, making the choice regressive and insulting? Or is Don Diego (as well as Zorro) actually supposed to be gay, making the choice progressive and laudable? The fact that Zorro displays no affinity whatsoever for his ostensible love interest would support the latter hypothesis. Regardless of the intention, the spectacle of Delon flouncing around Diego’s villa in a succession of consistently ridiculous outfits is a pleasure all its own.
Yet, one supremely odd addition repeatedly detracts from the work and threatens to heave it off the rails by being too silly even for this film. The theme song is called “Zorro Is Back,” it’s sung by someone called Oliver Onions and it plays in the movie about 50 times. The thing is sickeningly infectious and the lyrics are so insipid that you’ll wind up hating yourself for singing it over and over for days. “Here’s to being free/Here’s to you and me.” You can find the full four minute version (FOUR! MINUTES!) on YouTube but I wouldn’t recommend it.
Zorro is just as serious-minded in its message of justice and the rights of the common man (with whom the Catholic church is intriguingly equated) as it is recklessly indulgent in slapstick and near-slapstick action. The combination of those elements (in addition to the work of Oliver Onions) makes this film a true oddity but a fun one.
This marks the first time Zorro has been available on DVD or Blu-ray. It’s out now.