By Kevin Jagernauth | The Playlist November 26, 2012 at 2:57PM
As long as there as been cinema, there has been Zorro. From the silent era to the multiplex, from Douglas Fairbanks to Gael Garcia Bernal, the masked hero has caught the imagination of both filmmakers and audiences. But of course, there are the forgotten films and versions of the character as well, and Duccio Tessari's 1975 "Zorro" is certainly a curiosity. Starring famed French thesp Alain Delon in the lead role, surrounded by a mostly Italian supporting cast with everyone getting dubbed later into English, perhaps the best way sum up the experience of the film is point out that the man who provided the wigs, Grazia Miccinelli, gets his own credit.
Indeed, there is nothing about this movie that is subtle or nuanced for better and mostly for worse, and that goes for the story as well. Set in a fake South American country, Zorro finds himself taking on the identity of his recently murdered friend, Miguel De La Serna, and taking the role of governor of Nuova Aragon in the hopes of finding the killer and bringing him to justice. What he finds is a country under the grip of Colonel Huerta (Stanley Baker), who keeps the people under an iron fist, but Zorro of course balances the scales. And as you might expect, the governor/Zorro winds up on a collision course with Colonel who -- shocker -- killed Miguel. And yes, there is a damsel in sort-of-distress, Contessina Ortensia Pulido (Ottavia Piccolo), an aristocrat who sides with The People, who also runs afoul of the Colonel, who naturally wants to marry her.
Long available in a 90-minute version, this new DVD release runs at an uncut 2 hours, and unfortunately makes the case that sometimes shorter is better. At 120 minutes, "Zorro" drags considerably, mostly because you know exactly where it's headed. It's not always a bad thing to have a narrative that makes its path clearly known, especially if it gets there efficiently and entertainingly, but "Zorro" spends a lot of time spinning its wheels. But at least it's never long without some kind of action set piece, so there is some reward for sitting through dull dialogue scenes, with lots of unnecessary exposition mostly to get characters to different locations.
But perhaps even more egregious is the filmmaking itself. Tonally off balance, "Zorro" attempts to be a thrilling, hard-hitting action adventure, but makes some pretty wide reaching and sometimes jarring concessions to kids, including a gesticulating mute sidekick who can only communicate in funny sounds, a little kid who keeps the legend of Zorro alive among the people and lots of pratfalls, particularly from one fat, bumbling baddie. But worse, it seems that even with the amount of coverage Tessari managed, takes and prints must have been damaged in the editing process. Every now and then a scene will randomly cut to a camera angle from literally two rooms away -- sometimes shooting through a bizarre amount of foreground objects -- either because it was the best shot he had, or the ADR was so awful they couldn't show the actor's mouths.
But through it all, it's Delon who makes the movie at least worth a glance, particularly for fans of the actor. He has a grand old time as Zorro, leaping from roofs and dispatching with the nameless legion of inept soldiers who try to bring him down. But he's perhaps even more memorable in his alter ego as the governor, a grandly bewigged (like nearly everyone in the movie, thanks Grazia!), mincing and fabulous fop. He's often hilarious in this guise, with a charm that the rest of the movie mostly lacks.
And it's that missing quality that ultimately makes "Zorro" only recommended to those who want to see one of the least accomplished entries in the genre. As we mentioned, the production values are minimal at best and outside of Delon, the cast are mostly slotting in archetypes (fat slob, mustache twirling villain, earnest love interest, cute kid) without much fanfare. And calling this a "digitally re-mastered, gorgeously restored" edition of this movie stretches the meaning of those words considerably -- it still looks pretty beat up all around with lots of print damage. But we will say this, once you hear Oliver Onions' theme song -- repeated ad nauseum throughout the movie whenever Zorro appears -- you will not forget it. [D+]
"Zorro" is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.