The Mark of Zorro (1920 film)

The Mark of Zorro
Directed by Fred Niblo
Theodore Reed (2nd unit)
Produced by Douglas Fairbanks
Written by Johnston McCulley (story)
Eugene Miller & Douglas Fairbanks (scenario)
Starring Douglas Fairbanks
Marguerite De La Motte
Noah Beery
Robert McKim
Music by Mortimer Wilson
Cinematography William C. McGann
Harris Thorpe
Edited by William Nolan
Douglas Fairbanks Pictures Corporation
Distributed by United Artists
Release dates
November 27, 1920 (1920-11-27)
Running time
90 minutes
Country United States
Language Silent film
English intertitles
The Mark of Zorro

The Mark of Zorro is a 1920 silent film starring Douglas Fairbanks and Noah Beery, Sr.. This genre-defining swashbuckler adventure was the first movie version of The Mark of Zorro. Based on the 1919 story "The Curse of Capistrano" by Johnston McCulley, which introduced the masked hero, Zorro, the screenplay was adapted by Fairbanks (as "Elton Thomas") and Eugene Miller.

The film was produced by Fairbanks for his own production company, Douglas Fairbanks Pictures Corporation, and was the first film released through United Artists, the company formed by Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, and D. W. Griffith. The character Sgt. Pedro Gonzales (Noah Beery, Sr.) was later transformed into Sgt. Demetrio Lopez Garcia (Henry Calvin) by the Disney TV series with Guy Williams as Diego/Zorro, who was renamed Don Diego de la Vega.

Noah Beery, Jr. makes his first of many dozens of screen appearance spanning six decades. Of course he portrays a young child; his father began sporadically billing himself as Noah Beery, Sr. as a result.

The film has been remade twice, once in 1940 (starring Tyrone Power) and again in 1974 (starring Frank Langella). In 2015, the United States Library of Congress selected the film for preservation in the National Film Registry, finding it "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".[1]

Primary cast


A scene of the movie

The Mark of Zorro tells the story of Don Diego Vega, the outwardly foppish son of a wealthy ranchero Don Alejandro in the old Spanish California of the early 19th century. Seeing the mistreatment of the peons by rich landowners and the oppressive colonial government, Don Diego, who is not as effete as he pretends, has taken the identity of the masked Robin Hood-like rogue Señor Zorro ("Mr. Fox"), champion of the people, who appears out of nowhere to protect them from the corrupt administration of Governor Alvarado, his henchman the villainous Captain Juan Ramon and the brutish Sergeant Pedro Gonzales (Noah Beery, Wallace Beery's older half-brother). With his sword flashing and an athletic sense of humor, Zorro scars the faces of evildoers with his mark, "Z".

When not in the disguise of Zorro, dueling and rescuing peons, Don Diego courts the beautiful Lolita Pulido with bad magic tricks and worse manners. She cannot stand him. Lolita is also courted by Captain Ramon; and by the dashing Zorro, whom she likes.

In the end, when Lolita's family is jailed, Don Diego throws off his masquerade, whips out his sword, wins over the soldiers to his side, forces Governor Alvarado to abdicate, and wins the hand of Lolita, who is delighted to discover that her effeminate suitor, Diego, is actually the dashing hero.

Reception and impact

The New York Times gave the The Mark of Zorro a mixed review.[2]

Fairbanks biographer Jeffrey Vance, assessing the film's legacy in 2008, writes: “The Mark of Zorro is a landmark, not only in the career of Douglas Fairbanks, but also in the development of the action adventure film. With this, his thirtieth motion picture, Fairbanks was transitioning from comedies to the costume films for which he is best remembered. Instead of reflecting the times,The Mark of Zorro offers an infusion of the romantic past with a contemporary flair….Beyond reenergizing his career and redefining a genre, Fairbanks’s The Mark of Zorro helped popularize one of the enduring creations of twentieth-century American fiction, a character who was the prototype for comic book heroes such as Batman.”[3]

Further reading


  1. Mike Barnes (December 16, 2015). "'Ghostbusters,' 'Top Gun,' 'Shawshank' Enter National Film Registry". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved December 16, 2015.
  2. "The Screen", The New York Times, New York, NY, U.S.A.: The New York Times Company, November 29, 1920, ISSN 0362-4331, OCLC 1645522, archived from the original on August 30, 2007, retrieved June 2, 2015, All of which may mean that "The Mark of Zorro" is more enjoyable than "The Curse of Capistrano" could ever hope to be.
  3. Vance, Jeffrey (2008). Douglas Fairbanks. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, pg. 93. ISBN 978-0-520-25667-5.
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