A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Mark of Zorro (Fred Niblo, 1920)

Film firsts are usually worth checking out, and this one is a double first: It's the first appearance of the title character on-screen, and it's the first of the genre of films for which Fairbanks remains best-known, the swashbuckler. Since Fairbanks and co-scenarist Eugene Miller adapted Johnston McCulley's 1919 magazine story, "The Curse of Capistrano," the masked hero has been played by Tyrone Power, Guy Williams (in the Disney TV series), Frank Langella, George Hamilton (in a spoof featuring Zorro's gay twin brother), Anthony Hopkins and Antonio Banderas (as the aging Zorro and his hand-picked successor), and appeared in numerous Mexican and European films, including one starring Alain Delon. The trope of the do-gooder who pretends to be a wimp but turns into a force for justice when he hides his identity behind a mask is seen in countless superhero tales, most notably the Clark Kent/Superman story. As the languid fop Don Diego Vega, Fairbanks affects a weary slouch and spends his time doing tricks that involve a handkerchief. When he turns into Zorro, with mask and scarf over his head, he pastes on a little mustache oddly reminiscent of Boris Badenov, but he succeeds in taking on the villains with great élan. The film itself begins slowly, with too much exposition crammed into the intertitles, but eventually Fairbanks gets his act together, and the climax of the movie is a hilarious showpiece for his acrobatic moves. He leads the Capistrano constabulary on a merry chase over walls and across rooftops, inevitably tempting them into disaster: He leaps over a pigsty, for example, whereupon the pursuers fall into it. At the end, revealing his secret identity, he wins the hand of Lolita Pulido (Marguerite De La Motte), by saving her family's estate from the clutches of the evil governor (George Periolat) and his henchmen, Capitán Juan Ramon (Robert McKim) and Sgt. Pedro Gonzales (Noah Beery), both of whom get branded with the emblematic Z (though the sergeant gets his only in the seat of his pants). Good fun, once it gets going.