NOTE: This review was written under a previous rating system. Some of the older reviews may express opinions and judgment calls that are not in line with our current standards.1940
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation
There is, and has always been, something about stories of masked champions of justice riding against the very governments that outlawed them, that intrigues those of us who have good imaginations and a great appreciation for adventure. Whether this interest is kindled by our sense of heroism, or by some of our natural sensibilities that haven't been subjected to much sanctification, is a question worth asking, and worth answering. This question is one that is at the very heart of The Mark of Zorro, and one that is explored by it. We will be content, for now, however, in exploring The Mark of Zorro.
From the beginning to the very end, this film is a romance, in the truest sense of the word, with its strong and daring hero, its virtuous and adorably feminine heroine, its constant train of intrigue, action and reaction. The concepts of justice, bravery, beauty and love are presented with such confidence that the very notion of these things being subject to private opinion—that they are no more than an invention of society—is positively barred from consideration. When to these fine things we add masquerade and swordplay, it would be the rare person who could find nothing in this film appealing.
With all that said, it must be acknowledged that a rejection of half-heartedness and ambiguity doesn't drive away every other kind of evil. The foundational principals of the story have their own inherent complexities. We can't fight evil with sin; and the question of what constitutes "sin" is another one that merits discussion.
Violent and Intense Content:
The very name of Zorro is almost synonymous with violence—a milder form of violence, perhaps, because of the target audience and the conventions of the day; but remove the sword from the hand of Zorro (or from his enemies, either), and the plot disappears. The violence of this film is not usually graphic*, but viewers should be aware of the quantity of it, and that certain kinds of it (dueling, threats, etc.) are controversial.
It is also to be anticipated, in a movie of this style, that the hero will kiss his lady love at least once; and so he does*. A balcony scene brings Zorro into a lady's bedchamber, and although the location has nothing to do with the characters' behavior, a scheming uncle's approval of the scenario make one think. The senorita's aunt wears a low-cut dress from about 57 minutes into the movie.
Religion—that is, "true" religion—belongs properly to the good guys in this story; and this religion, Roman Catholicism, is quite pervasive. One of Zorro's supporters is a monk; characters are seen making the sign of the cross and praying to graven images, while all exclamatory remarks have something to do with the Madre de Dios. While Protestants may—and must—be opposed to these practices, they are accurate to the time and place, and will not likely undermine solid biblical teaching. The humorous insincerity of a character's repentance, however, might do that.
The strongest presupposition in Zorro, and yet one that is historically controversial, is that commitment to justice trumps patriotic loyalties. Given the independence many of us like to feel from our own civil governments, this is an issue that involves our consciences, as well, and is an area that calls for both philosophical and practical hypothesis—just not necessarily from me at the moment.
In the age in which we find ourselves now, and with the movies that we see emerging from our Western film culture, it is almost a matter of reflex to seize any genre that looks promising; and I believe our tendency is to view black-and-white as its own genre, rather than just a medium. The movie industry was corrupt then, before the days of Technicolor, as it is now, and there has always been offensive language and sexual immorality playing of the silver screen. The Mark of Zorro, however, is probably a pretty fair representation of the classic black-and-white that we are thinking of, when we picture the archetypal steel-and-grit romance—with all the bad things that we expect, and no more to surprise us. It is not the flawless film we would all like to find, and I have to say that it would probably be inappropriate for more sensitive children under the age of ten to look at the violence, particularly, and that any family member who has not assumed adult responsibilities may be better off watching it in the company—and with the commentary—of their parents or older siblings. In the end, however, I think careful families will probably be able to enjoy The Mark of Zorro for the classic that it is.
* Spoiler Warning (You may want to read the conclusion to the review to find out my recommended age range first, if you are looking for particulars for the sake of the young children in your family) :
A half-dead soldier is thrown over a courtyard wall, with a Z cut into his bare chest - after the Alcalde and the Captain wonder where a missing "Gonzales" is. Zorro kills the Captain in a duel, after he has been scratched on the arm by the Captain's sword.
Zorro kisses Lolita three times, but sufficient warning is given for those who wish to look away.