Dressed in the colour of a moonless night, with a sombrero and long flowing black cloak, a mysterious masked figure sets out to serve his brand of justice to all evil-doers of Old California. With a crack of his whip and the swift gallop of his black steed Tornado, he leaves behind a mark on the face of his corrupt victims - a distinguishing trademark "Z" scarred by his sharp blade. With stealth he arrives, with flair he fights, he's none other than Zorro, the "fox"!

Zorro has undergone many interpretations in various mediums - books, movies, television serials, cartoons, even operas and plays. Created by Johnston McCulley, Zorro's first appearance was on Aug 9 1919 in "All-Story Weekly" titled "The Curse of Capistrano", and ran in 5 parts. It was self-contained, and the ending revealed the true identity of Zorro. However, its popularity ensured that Zorro was to be featured in more stories, and as they say, the rest is history, entrenching the character as one of the legends in pop fiction.

Zorro's secret identity is Don Diego de la Vega, a rich aristocrat who seems lazy and uninspiring, a mild mannered and meek gentlemen of high society. It is of course in direct contrast to the swashbuckling heroics of Zorro, one whom society will probably not associate with Don Diego. Naturally, the story of Zorro and his use of duality and secret identities formed the basis and spawned a host of fictional characters like The Shadow, The Lone Ranger, and to some extent, even “brighter” characters like Superman. However, the most direct adaptation would be Bob Kane's creation The Batman. If you're familiar with both characters, you'll see the numerous references in which Batman/Bruce Wayne has in common with Zorro/Don Diego – the family fortune, the disdain playboy behaviour, and the penchant for the theatrics.

However, what really extended Zorro's initial popularity in the early formative years was the result of Douglas Fairbanks Sr.’s portrayal as the title hero in “The Mark of Zorro”. A silent film, The Mark of Zorro broke box office records of its time, and gave birth to the action-adventure genre. Its success meant that a sequel “Don Q, Son of Zorro”, also starring Fairbanks, was made.

Hold on, the Son of Zorro? Yes. With the various re-telling and mediums used, the character Zorro has seen some creative and artistic license being applied to spin new tales. It’s not always that Don Diego donned the mask, it could be his son, his great grandson too, and Zorro had even undergone a gender change in “Zorro’s Black Whip” (1944). Thank goodness that was the only female Zorro in his film history.

Throughout Zorro’s long film history of about 50 movies, starring legendary actors like Fairbanks, Tyrone Power, Frank Langella, Alain Delon, and even George Hamilton in a comedic spoof version, perhaps the most famous of all the actors to become Zorro was for Walt Disney’s television series in the 1950s. In more than 70 episodes, Guy Williams was that generation’s swashbuckler, and a fan favourite too. For all fans of the series, who could have forgotten the theme song that sang with gusto of the bold renegade making the Z, which stood for Zorro, in a low voiced chorus. But being a Disney production, certain elements of action were toned down, with the violent carving of the “Z” on the forehead or the cheek relegated to the harmless carving on clothes instead. But this did not dampen the effect of Zorro-mania in the late 50s and early 60s sparked by the series.

While Zorro had inspired other characters, what or who was the basis of inspirat ion for McCulley to create the “fox”? One theory was, surprisingly, that Zorro was based on Old California bandits, or in those days, they’re known as the banditos. More specifically, he was modelled after legendary bandito Joaquin Murieta. Journalist John Rollin Ridge romanticized Murieta’s life story as a champion of the oppressed and it was this version of Murieta that Don Diego was based upon.

In the last retelling of Zorro for the silver screen, “The Mask of Zorro”, Murieta and Don Diego meet. Well, not Joaquin Murieta but his brother Alejandro Murieta, played by Antonio Banderas. Anthony Hopkins starred as the aging Don Diego de la Vega, who trains Alejandro to pick up the mantle of Zorro. Directed by Martin Campbell, this version could be seen as an amalgam of various elements of earlier Zorro films – the changing of the guard, Zorro being someone other than Don Diego, the different scheming and buffoon-like villains, while staying true to the spirit of the masked avenger. In her breakthrough role, the beautiful Catherine Zeta Jones starred as Elena, Don Diego’s daughter, who contributed to the hot romantic sizzle with Zorro. It was probably this budding romance, the lovey-dovey score by James Horner and the duet theme song “I Want To Spend My Lifetime Loving You” by Marc Anthony and Tina Arena, that made this film memorable, aside from the exciting action set pieces.

Raking in gross box office receipts of more than US$200 million, it was certain that a sequel would be an attractive option, but it took almost 7 years to finally bring it to the cinematic screen. With the return of Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta Jones, and the vision of director Martin Campbell, “The Legend of Zorro” could prove to be as successful, fun, and filled with swashbuckling adventures that are the hallmarks of a Zorro movie.

"The Legend of Zorro" opens locally on 27 Nov and is reviewed here

Written by Stefan Shih | Layout by Lokman BS

DISCLAIMER: Images, Textual, Copyrights and trademarks for the film and related entertainment properties mentioned
herein are held by their respective owners and are solely for the promotional purposes of said properties.
All other logo and design Copyright©2004-2005, movieXclusive.com™
All Rights Reserved.