Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Harris Thorpe

The Mark of Zorro (1920)

Douglas Fairbanks is a swashbuckling hero in this first adaptation of the famous novel “The Curse of Capistrano,” published just one year before. Generally seen as the beginning of a new direction in his career, the movie shows us how far cinematic techniques come since his start in 1915 as well.

MarkofZorro

The movie begins with intertitles that establish what might be Doug’s ideological stance – that oppressive systems breed their own downfall by causing heroic men to become freedom fighters in the cause of the people. Zorro is presented as such a man, and we see a soldier with a “Z-” shaped scar commiserating with his fellows in a bar. We learn that Zorro punished him for mistreating a local Native American, but also that the situation for the rich is not much better as the Governor imposes such high taxes on Don Carlos, father of Lolita Pulido (Marguerite de le Motte), that he is doomed to lose his lands. We return to the bar, where Sergeant Gonzales (Noah Beery) rails against Zorro and boasts of his prowess with the sword. He insults, but accepts free drinks from Don Diego (Douglas Fairbanks), a foppish, sickly noble. After he leaves, of course, Zorro comes in and defeats Gonzales in a duel, and fights off all of the other soldiers as well, humiliating them and generally wrecking the place.

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A Modern Musketeer (1917)

Douglas Fairbanks extends his brand of good-natured athletic all-American comedy into the realm of swashbuckling with this feature from 100 years ago. No doubt Fairbanks saw the potential in a story setting him as an adventurer in the Grand Canyon as soon as he read the source, a piece called “D’Artagnan of Kansas” by Eugene P. Lyle.

The movie begins with an extended flashback to the “Three Musketeers” which is almost a short movie in itself. Doug plays D’Artgnan, and he makes a point of mocking his own mustache and long locks in what seems to be a kind of wink at the audience. He rides into a tavern where he sees a woman inconvenienced by a nobleman of some sort, then starts a fight that leads to fencing and stunts, including leaping up to the rafters and continuing the fight from there. This is the first time I’ve seen Fairbanks with a sword in his hand (he’s had plenty of fights with guns and fists, up to this point), and it’s easy to see that he was a natural to Hollywood-style swordplay. His sword flashes and leaps, parries and thrusts, and never seems to draw any blood as he disarms and dispatches his foes. I can’t imagine that any fan of later action movies would be disappointed in this sequence or find it slow-moving. And, again, it includes Doug’s now-patented physical comedy touches, as when he grabs the beard of a sleeping drunk to steady himself during the battle.

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