(director: Fred Niblo; screenwriters: Johnston MacCulley’s story The Curse of Capistrano/Douglas Fairbanks; cinematographers: William McGann/Harry Thorpe; cast: Douglas Fairbanks (Don Diego Vega/Zorro), Charles Hill Mailes (Don Carlos Pulido), Noah Beery, Sr. (Sgt. Pedro Gonzalez), Marguerite de la Motte (Lolita), Robert McKim (Captain Juan Ramon), Walt Whitman (Father Felipe), George Periolat (Gov. Alvarado), Tote Du Crow (Bernardo), Claire McDowell (Dona Catalina Pulido), Sidney De Gray (Don Alejandro), Snitz Edwards (Short Barkeep); Runtime: 90; United Artists; 1920-silent)

It was such a successful box office film; it became a precursor to the type of action film Hollywood is now noted for.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Douglas Fairbanks plays his first action hero role as Zorro, the sort of part he will play for the rest of his film career. Before this very popular film, he was cast only in light comedies. He also produced the film as he formed a studio called United Artists, that also included partners Mary Pickford, D.W. Griffith, and Charlie Chaplin.

This fun type of swashbuckler film gave him a chance to show-off his athletic ability, as he himself did all the dueling scenes and acrobatic routines the story required. He is dressed in a black mask-and-cape, which gave the role a certain amount of mysterious appeal to audiences.

The film is not much on character study, instead it’s filled with action sequences and a melodramatic love story between Zorro and the sweet Lolita Pukido (Marguerite). She doesn’t know that he is the son of the aristocratic rancher Don Alejandro (De Gray), as he wants to see if she loves him for his money.

Zorro is forced by his father to seek a wife, Lolita. But he acts unmanly, forcing her to reject him even though he is so wealthy and her father wants this marriage. She is the daughter of a blue-blooded Spanish family that has fallen on hard times, her father is Don Carlos Pulido (Charles Hill Mailes) and her mother is Dona Catalina Pulido (Claire McDowell).

The reason for the Zorro disguise is because he just returned three months ago from studying in Spain and wants to secretly organize the caballeros against the ruling oppressors who are cruel towards the poor, the natives and the priests. He leaves his trade-mark of a Z on the skin of those oppressors he duels with.

The action takes place in 19th century southern California where the corrupt governor, Alvarado (Periolat), who is from the northern part controls the colonial territory. The governor comes south because he is upset with Zorro’s interference in his affairs. He will post a reward to get him dead or alive. There is no mistake about who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. The bad guys are the governor and his henchmen- Sergeant Pedro Gonzalez (Noah Berry) and Captain Ramos (Robert McKim).

Zorro suddenly appears in the local cantina and fights a duel with his enemies, while keeping all the other soldiers at bay. It reminded me of a Charlie Chaplin routine, the one where he’s the tramp and is kicking the cop in his behind. Zorro likes to laugh a lot and play cat-and-mouse games with his enemies, all the while courting danger as he disarms his opponent and toys with him.

The film disappointed me in many ways, not the least being that Zorro’s plan to help the poor, seemed misplaced. This was more a story of aristocrats and those of wealth versus bad politicians, rather than the Robin Hood story it projected itself to be. It was really a stretch to believe that the noble Zorro was anything but a rich aristocrat having a bit of sport, and finding love with someone he could have easily found love with anyway without going through his masquerade. The story itself was a cliche-ridden one featuring his cardboard-like father wanting his son not to be an idler and make something of himself, while the son feigns being fatigued all the time by acting effeminate and performing silly magic tricks when he should be seriously courting the eligible senorita his father fixed him up with.

His faithful native servant is Roberto (Tote Du Crow), who knows Don Diego Vega’s secrets but cannot speak-he can only hear. Roberto plays the cliche part of the loyal sidekick, a role the western films made part of their staple.

There are no surprises in this predictable costume actioner, but it is pleasantly shot in B&W with a tinted look. It was such a successful box office film; it became a precursor to the type of action film Hollywood is now noted for.