Zorro

Garcia, the fat fool, is led by the nose, weighed in the balance and found wanting. He’s on his knees in the corral with his rump upreared, but Zorro spares him for the moment, mercifully. He turns his attention to the other soldiers, mere toys in his hands. They pursue him past a row of olive-oil tuns, the camera feints right like a magician’s other hand, then cuts back to a farther vantage as they are doused. Zorro climbs to a balcony (a nice appreciation of Douglas Fairbanks) to fence with a couple of fellows, whose swords are caught in a door he opens, suddenly. He closes it and swiftly locks them in. The battle continues on and on, until the two burst their way out and fly over the balcony like tumblers. It’s a three-ring circus, and when it ends, Garcia is down on his knees again, presenting an irresistible target. Zorro cuts his majuscule into that rotund bottom, and away.

Richard Lester labored in the clay of The Three Musketeers before he discovered the perfect art of The Four Musketeers, but there it is. It helps to be a genius, and what is that but recognizing the possibilities of the material?

The ladies in church are bathed in tongues of fire, in the midst of which is Zorro, answered by a child’s laughing face.

His foppish alter ego is naturally built on the Scarlet Pimpernel, with a flash of inspiration drawing on The Great Race (Jack Lemmon as Professor Fate and the Prince). As such, Alain Delon arises from the throne at a formal gathering, takes a few steps forward with a fairy grace and trips over something all the way down to the red carpet, face-first—and springs up again, laughing.

Rich costumes fill the palace Tessari films in, with a great eye for the angular impression that gives life to the scene.

The advantages of the Italian school are these: a soldier doing a spit take at the sight of Zorro has the serene outward manner of a piece of fountain statuary; the one-second gag can become your forte, even if it involves a dozen actors and a barrack-room full of props; you can set up leisurely variations on the Harry James bugle gag in Private Buckaroo.

Rolling barrels down a slope against your victim, that’s a gag varied here by making it a narrow curved corridor deep in the palace. The soldiers climb it, Zorro rolls out the barrels, they topple, he climbs into a large one and barrels past them all.

Tessari’s impressionism is best seen in a plein-air pursuit on horseback, with rapid cuts, a one-second dolly shot la Olivier, every freshness available in the variation of angles and approaches, brought to a perfectly cogent end.

He understands from Welles the value of Griffith’s editing. Battle affray is smeared across a few comprehensive shots, clear or blurred, and there’s Zorro’s mastiff having a pee in a medium long shot, then loping off with a lolling tongue.

Stanley Baker plays a figure who is Zorro’s only equal, at first more comical the more serious he tries to be, and then in the final swordfight a worthy opponent, at least in appearance. This long sequence is fought so bravely and filmed so well that when Zorro seems to have been vanquished with a stupendous gag (swung on a rope crashing through the rose window of the chapel) you honestly have to cheer his vanquisher for a moment. Ah, but “Zorro’s back,” as the truly delightful song has it, and the dramatic conclusion has all the savor of the Saturday sagas.