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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Review -- Zorro 1975


One of my earliest memories is of Zorro.

I’m pretty sure it’s specifically a memory of the 1975 film starring Alain Delon.  It was a stormy night and our dachshunds, Pluto and Michael, had dug their way under the fence and escaped again. The adults were upset because this meant they were going to miss a big TV event: the airing of the new Zorro movie. I was far too young to go searching for the dogs (about three or so) so I got to stay home and watch this legendary event. The image that remains burned into my brain from that night is one of the most deliberately mythic in the Zorro oeuvre: a mysterious black figure approaches out of the heat haze rising up from desert sands, an ominous shadow viewed with awe by the gathered townsfolk, a figure that resolves into Zorro as a wide-eyed child smiles in glee. My reaction as a child seeing Zorro for the first time and the reaction of that child in the film were inextricably tied together forever.  It is one of my earliest memories and it is indelible.

This is not to say that “Zorro” (1975) is a great film, or even my favorite film version of the character (that’s a toss-up between Tyrone Power and Guy Williams), but it is my first Zorro and therefore important in my personal mythology. Your ability to enjoy the film will come down to whether you can enjoy (or, at least, ignore) the oft-repeated “Zorro is Back” song by Italian musicians Guido and Maurizio de Angelis (AKA Oliver Onions).

 
That song tells you a lot about the film:
  • It is a deliberate homage to the Disney series. Zorro is back – complete with a Sergeant Garcia (not Gonzales) dubbed to sound remarkably like Henry Calvin and a funny bugle-player who bears a surprising resemblance to Gene Sheldon. 
  • It is very, very European. Listen to Ennio Morricone’s score for “Danger: Diabolik” or his pre-Sergio Leone westerns and you’ll hear the connection. 
  • It’s pretty damned silly. 

“Zorro” (1975) definitely falls into the trend of slapstick ‘70s swashbucklers exemplified by Richard Lester’s “The Three Musketeers,” “The Four Musketeers,” and “Royal Flash.” Frankly, I feel “Zorro” director Duccio Tessari integrates the slapstick better than Lester does -- Lester cuts from his leads to bizarre period nonsense when he feels like throwing in a gag while Tessari works it into the frequent action scenes – but that’s the advantage of doing a fun-loving Zorro movie instead of the far grittier, often amoral works of Dumas and Fraser. It’s more family-friendly than Lester’s work (not a surprise, given the source material) with a comical romance between Zorro’s aunt and a clownish Prussian military advisor getting more screen time than the attraction between Zorro and Ortensia Pulido while Zorro swears an oath against killing early in the film that leads the action scenes to generally be bloodless acrobatic romps.

The film is mainly a remake of the familiar The Mark of Zorro origin story -- Diego arrives in town to discover a corrupt military government is oppressing the people so he starts dressing up as Zorro and puts a stop to it -- with a couple of odd embellishments.  When we first meet Diego at the beginning of the film, he's a rough and tumble adventurer on his way back to Spain, but then he runs into his old friend Miguel de la Serna -- newly-appointed governor of the fictional South American province of Nuova Aragon (sic) -- who is then promptly assassinated.  Driven to avenge his friend, Diego journeys to Nuova Aragon using de la Serna's name and takes over as governor.  He hears the legend of Zorro -- the totem spirit of the black fox -- from a young African child and adopts the identity to aid the oppressed.  Alternating between his two different disguises, Diego foments a rebellion against the avaricious Colonel Huerta and saves the day.

Alain Delon is charismatic as Diego/de la Serna/Zorro and Stanley Baker is menacing as Huerta.  Zorro's battles with the Colonel's lancers are filled with high-flying acrobatics that seem to have influenced Martin Campbell's direction of "The Mask of Zorro" and "The Legend of Zorro."  The final duel between Huerta and Zorro is one of the longest sword fights committed to film and contains a genuine tension lacking from most of the rest of the action.  It is a fun, swashbuckling adventure that's an enjoyable addition to any Zorro fan's library -- if you can tolerate the music.

Previous releases of the film were usually abbreviated affairs that cut the film down from over two hours to ninety minutes.  A restored version (that I have hawked previously) was released on DVD and Blu-ray last year.  Get it cheap from my Amazon affiliate link or brand-new widget.

BONUS SAVAGE WORLDS CONTENT

The Fat Sergeant

"Lancers, to arms!"

Unlike the boastful Pedro Gonzales, the Fat Sergeant is a jolly man torn between his duties to the crown (or governor) and desire for a peaceful, harmless life.  He is often the most educated man in the presidio despite being a blabbermouth and a bit of a fool and can be both a willing and unwilling ally to a wily bandit.  He is often a brilliant singer.

Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d6, Spirit d8, Strength d10, Vigor d10
Skills: Fighting d8, Intimidation d4, Investigation d4, Knowledge (Battle) d4, Notice d6, Riding d8, Shooting d6, Stealth d4, Streetwise d4
Charisma: +2  Pace:Parry:Toughness: 8
Hindrances: Big Mouth, Loyal, Obese
Edges: Block, Charismatic, Combat Reflexes, Command, Command Presence
Gear: Lance (Str+d8, AP 2 when charging, Reach 2, only usable in mounted combat), musket (2d8, range 10/20/40, two actions to reload), rapier (Str+d4, +1 Parry), 1d4-1 pesos.
 
Lancer

The underpaid, undereducated soldiers of the Spanish crown or the the Mexican governor, lancers are the primary line of defense for the pueblos of Alta California and the primary opponents of Zorro and his copycat bandits.  Most lancers aren't evil men -- just corrupt and foolish -- and player character vigilantes would be best off using the flat of their blades against them.

Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d4, Spirit d6, Strength d6, Vigor d6Skills: Fighting d6, Intimidation d4, Notice d4, Riding d6
Pace:Parry:Toughness: 5
Hindrances: Poverty (The government is always behind on their pay)
Gear: Lance (Str+d8, AP 2 when charging, Reach 2, only usable in mounted combat), Musket (2d8, range 10/20/40, two actions to reload), Saber (Str+d6), 1d4-1 pesos. 

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