Judge Bill Gibron usually marks his reviews with a "B"—for baby and he.
Our reviews of Walt Disney Treasures: Zorro: The Complete First Season (published November 15th, 2009) and Walt Disney Treasures: Zorro: The Complete Second Season (published November 23rd, 2009) are also available.
Swashbuckling, Spanish/Italian style.
For most of us, Zorro is Guy Williams. Yes, that Guy Williams, the dad from Lost in Space and all around kid vid good guy from the '50s through the '70s. Many didn't know that Williams was actually Italian (his given name was Armand Joseph Catalano) and that when he showed up as the titular masked marauder in the near definitive Disney TV series, he created quite a stir among underage audiences. For others, Zorro is (and will always be) Douglas Fairbanks, or perhaps Tyrone Power. You'll even get a few who find George Hamilton, or Anthony Hopkins/Antonio Banderas as their favorite take on the swordsman. Still, for many across Europe, Alain Delon owns the character. Coming at the midpoint of the Me Decade and drenched in the still-popular Spaghetti Western tropes, this intriguing look at the Mexican legend may have a different setting (South America) but it contains many of the same trappings—both for good and for bad.
Diego de la Vega (Alain Delon, Le Cercle rouge) returns to his homeland of Nuova Aragon only to discover that his best friend, the ruling Governor Miguel de la Serna (Marino Mase, The Godfather: Part III) has been beaten and left for dead by the thugs of military despot Colonel Huerta (Stanley Baker, A Lizard in a Woman's Skin). Fast forward a few months and the evil officer wants complete control. At that moment, Diego steps in and states that he is actually de la Serna and is taking over. Playing dumb, he gets into Huerta's good graces.
Still, the people of Nuova Aragon feel oppressed and a monk named Brother Francisco (Giampiero Albertini, The Case of the Bloody Iris) has had enough. He incites the people to rise up, and is arrested. Similarly, a beautiful young woman named Contessina Ortensia Pulido (Ottavia Piccolo, The Leopard) is threatened with jail by Huerta for rejecting his advances. Deciding to avenge all around him, Diego takes on the mantle of the legendary "black fox" known as Zorro. Dressed in a disguise, he plots against Huerta and his men.
Zorro has always been a more murderous version of Robin Hood, standing up for the poor and oppressed with a lot less jocularity and a lot more bloodshed. That being said, the character's successful translation to the small or big screen has always centered on the actor playing him. Williams, as mentioned above, had a nice TV geniality, while Fairbanks and Power were more action oriented. Delon is an intriguing addition to the mix. He's very charismatic, can handle a sword with aplomb, and delivers his dialogue with the necessary hero worship will. But the rest of Zorro remains locked in a cornball conceit that is hard to overcome. We are still stuck with mugging locals responding like lemmings whenever a group of guys with guns shows up to play oppressor and there is a mute manservant, Joaquin, replacing the previous pulp character Bernardo that's a chore to endure.
But this Zorro is really a product of its time, a hot tempered, packed in the Spanish sun struggle to be both brutal and innocent, challenging and yet cheesy in its ancient plot point parameters. The actors are all fine and there is a nice atmosphere of heated anticipation. But aside from the obvious appeals, the movie more or less goes through the motions. Story segments arrive, are dealt with, and disappear, while possible complications are cast off for more swordplay. Granted, the saber work is wonderful, but not necessarily enough to carry us across two hours. Even Uncle Walt recognized the limited appeal of this material and included the occasional comic relief of corpulent Sergeant Garcia for good measure. For those who enjoy the long established media mythology, Zorro is just fine. Those looking for something more inventive or engaging may have to seek solace elsewhere.
This Zorro is often available in a flawed import-only version, but Somerville House has retrofitted this often-edited film onto a new, uncut Blu-ray release, with mixed results. The visual element is pretty good, if not great. The 1080p, 1.85:1 MPEG-4 AVC encode is not bad, but it pales in comparison to current post-digital releases. The colors are a bit inconsistent and there is a certain softness that grates against the HD format. On the positive side, the picture has been cleaned up, with little dirt or negative scratches evident. On the other hand, we have an English-language-only lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track that, while clean, begs the question: where is the original Italian audio? Discs outside the US often feature it, so why not here? Granted, the theatrical release was geared toward the West (read: lots of obvious overdubbing), but a chance to see the actors speak their native tongue would have been nice.
As for extras, we get very little of value. There is a restoration overview (three short clips), two trailers, a pair of radio ads, and some text bios. Not very impressive-kind of like the movie itself. Throughout his career, Alain Delon proved he could handle almost any character in any circumstance. His Zorro is perfectly acceptable. The story he's set in has its obvious, and often unacceptable, missteps.
Guilty, but only by a sword's razor edge. Interesting, if not wholly intriguing.
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Studio: Somerville House
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