Put a black mask on Alain Delon's face -- and a sword and a bullwhip in his hands -- and the venerable people's outlaw Zorro instantly becomes a dashing, insoucient hero.
In retrospect, the marriage of Zorro and Delon seems inevitable. Created in 1919 by writer Johnston McCulley as the featured character in a five-part pulp magazine serial, he was instantly recognized as fodder for the movies by none other than Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford. The Mark of Zorro made its appearance in theaters barely a year later, the first of numerous page-to-screen adaptations.
By 1975, Delon was more than a decade and a half into his own international stardom, and he picks up Zorro almost from its first frame and carries it on his shoulders with effortless charm. The film, written by Giorgio Arlorio and directed by Duccio Tessari, follows the narrative pattern established by McCulley. After his longtime friend Miguel is killed just before he travels from Spain to the New World to begin serving as Governor of Nueva Aragon, Diego de la Vega (Delon) assumes Miguel's identity to honor his pacifist ideals -- and also to avenge his friend's death.
Upon arrival in Nueva Aragon, Delon takes on a foppish air to portray the pacifist Miguel, meanwhile quietly taking the pulse of the local community. As he suspected, the people live in fear of Colonel Huerta (Stanley Baker), a military strongman (and ace swordsman) who yearns for power. Learning about the local legend of Zorro, a great fighter who always wins and can never die, Diego decides that it's time for Zorro to return -- complete with a catchy theme song!
From there, the already-lively tale begins alternating between short bursts of action, expressions of righteous indignation, comic relief, and passionate looks exchanged between Zorro and Hortensia (Ottavia Piccolo), a noblewoman with empathy for the common man. Other than a welcome portrayal of the local village's inhabitants as multi-racial, the film does not do much more than follow the same old storyline, but Delon's joie de vivre is readily apparent, and the assured direction by journeyman Tessari is well-staged and efficient.
The fight scenes are punctuated by generous use of trampolines and other acrobatic devices sufficient to make one (almost) believe that a man can fly through the air and then land on his horse without the complete and painful destruction of his genitals.
Zorro is a lot of fun to watch, suitable for nearly all ages, featuring a lovely star turn by a very relaxed Delon, and a great, lengthy, climactic sword fight.
(And, I must acknowledge, an insidious theme song that is now lodged in my head: "Here's to being free. Here's to you and me ...")
The picture elements look very decent. Speckles and blemishes are present during much of the running time, reflecting less-than-pristine source material. (See the brief restoration comparison clips, which are included.) I did not find the blemishes to be overly distracting; in that sense, it contributes to the film-like image, albeit a film print that's been run through a projector a few times.
More importantly, to me at least, this edition represents the original, 118-minute theatrical version released in Europe, with about a half hour of material restored to the cut U.S. release version. Again, it's not the prettiest picture, but the entertainment value of the film itself far overrides any of my concerns about the minor imperfections.
The DD 2.0 audio track sounds fine, though its clarity makes the post-production dubbing process more apparent.
The extra features of value are limited to two trailers and two radio spots, but appear to represent a good-faith effort to collect what's available, without producing anything new.
All in all, it's a solid package for fans of Delon and/or 70s swordfighting flicks. Recommended.