Justice for all! Punishment for the oppressors of the helpless!
This silent film stars Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., as the very first screen incarnation of the iconic swordsman, Zorro, and it’s something of a swashbuckling masterpiece. We all know the story, at least in broad strokes, of the foolish and despised Don Diego who is also the crusading warrior of freedom, Zorro. At first blush, it could seem a little odd to cast Fairbanks Sr. in this role. He’s not young, a bit chubby by modern standards and not handsome in the least. This, rather surprisingly, makes him perfect for the part of Diego; Fairbanks reveals a sly comedic talent in his scenes as Diego who he plays less as a fop or a wimp, but more as . . . well, call me crazy, but it seems in some scenes that modern viewers might think he’s on the autism spectrum somewhere. Some of these scenes are extremely funny. But once he’s in the mask and cape of Zorro and wielding his sword, all the charisma and athleticism comes through. The action sequences here are great. In particular, there’s a lengthy scene in which Zorro leads a group of soldiers on a merry chase through a small pueblo; this whole sequence is just a delight and features some great physical bits from Fairbanks. The supporting cast isn’t bad either. Once you get past the fact that the film has “Noah Beery” as “Pedro Gonzales,” you can start enjoying one of the most histrionic comedic performances in silent film. Silent film acting had a style all its own, of course, but this is a good ten notches above that. He’s hilarious. I liked Marguerite De La Motte as the ingénue quite a bit more than I expected to. She has a fair comedy touch herself. The film is short, really fast-paced and manages to juggle both great action scenes and some surprisingly funny comedy bits. It’s a simple plot, but the film approaches the plot with such gusto and exuberance that I couldn’t help but be swept up in it. It’s an extremely entertaining film, one of the high water marks of the genre and a movie that I can’t imagine anyone disliking. What a pure joy. 4 stars.
tl;dr – crowd-pleasing swashbuckler introduces Zorro to cinema with gusto & exuberance; great action scenes and lots of laughs – who wouldn’t love this? 4 stars.