THE MASK OF ZORRO (1998) – They *can* make them like they used to

The following is my entry in The Costume Drama Blogathon, being hosted by Debbie at the blog Moon in Gemini from Sept. 6-8, 2019. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ tributes to a wide range of cinematic dresser-uppers!

1990’s.

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These days, when filmmakers do ironic takes on old movies, you get the feeling they’re serving up spoofs because they don’t have the energy or nerve to do the real thing. But The Mask of Zorro is sincere about updating the old Saturday-matinee hero and, happily, does a darned good job of it.

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At first, the storyline makes you fear the worst. The original Zorro (Anthony Hopkins), having been stripped of his wife and daughter by his evil adversary (Stuart Wilson, looking and acting like Mel Brooks on a tear), pulls a “Lethal Weapon” and decides he’s too old for this stuff. Twenty years later, Zorro Sr. recruits a down-on-his-luck bandito (Antonio Banderas) to revive the black-mask-superhero franchise.

But as this is a Steven Spielberg production, what The Mask of Zorro is really about is the art of filmmaking, and it shows what some imaginative people (director Martin Campbell among them) can do with a movie camera. There are some old-fashioned stunts and physical comedy that are carried off just about perfectly here. And usually, these shoot-the-works movies peter out just before the end credits, but this one has the most satisfying adventure-movie wrap-up I’ve seen in a long time.

I wouldn’t have guessed that Hopkins (as Zorro?!) or Banderas had this in them, but they play the most outrageous situations with perfectly straight faces, and it seems to invigorate them. (My only complaint with this gloriously fun movie is the unconvincing youthful look given to Hopkins at the movie’s start. I guess the filmmakers’ love of old-movie conventions extends to bad hair-dye jobs.)

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And Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, as the love interest, might just have you swooning with delight (especially with a beaut of a sight gag in which Zeta-Jones is undressed by Banderas in a most unique way).

It’s hard to say how modern-day movie viewers jaded by toy soldiers and destructo-epics will respond to swashbucklers who are presented without a trace of irony. But The Mask of Zorro proves that heroes can still be served up straight, if it’s done with some wit and panache.

THE HOTTER’NELL BLOGATHON – Da Big Finish

We’re not just blowing smoke when we say that we received some great entries to conclude our summer-and-heat-wave blogathon! So let’s end on a high (note) as we present

Click on the appropriate day to read entries from Day 1 and Day 2 if you missed them. For today’s entries, click on the name of each individual blog.

Movies Silently discusses Harry Langdon’s role as a well-meaning but inept fireman in the Mack Sennett comedy His First Flame.

A divorcee dad (Gerard Depardieu) has trouble dealing with the realities of his growing-up daughter (Katherine Heigl) in My Father the Hero, as chronicled by Taking Up Room.

Moon in Gemini points out how the themes of 1961’s The Day the Earth Caught Fire eerily parallel today’s hot-button issue of global warning.

And finally, Silver Screen Classics lovingly chronicles the ways in which Marilyn Monroe gives unhappily married Tom Ewell The Seven Year Itch.

Our thanks to all the participants and readers of our hot-headed blogathon. Have a happy, safe, and cool summer!