It seems fitting that Somerville House would be releasing Zorro on Blu-Ray shortly before Django Unchained revives that character for a new generation; the character of Zorro is sort of like the yin to Django's yang. Where Django acts only selfishly, manipulating people for his own ends, Zorro acts selflessly, fighting for justice and the little guy. This 1975 film appears to be a re-telling of the basic tale, showing how Don Diego (Alain Delon) ends up putting the mask on and fighting for the people in the small town of Nuova Aragon, where the corrupt and arrogant Colonel Huerta (Stanley Baker) and his men will stop at nothing to protect their power.
Don Diego is on his way back home when he stops to visit an old friend, Miguel de la Serna (Marino Masé). Miguel has just been appointed the governor of Nuova Aragon, following his uncle's death. Before Miguel can take the post, however, a group of men burst into the hotel where they are staying the night and fatally wound Miguel. Before he dies, he convinces Don Diego to go to Nuova Aragon and pose as him, but makes him swear that he will not use violence to help the people of the city. When Don arrives, he puts on an exaggerated imitation of the rich and powerful for Huerta and the other aristocrats, while secretly scoping out the lay of the land with his faithful mute servant Joaquín (Enzo Cerusico).
Director Duccio Tessari sets a goofy, comedic tone for most of the movie, which is surprising, but fun. I think many viewers would think suave wit before wacky hijinks, but this is definitely more of the latter: there's plenty of goofy business with the fat Sgt. Garcia (Moustache), who spends most of the movie falling on his butt (yes, his pants split at one point). There's even a scene where Don Diego and Joaquín "talk" to the dog. It's silly, but Tessari knows what he's doing, and Delon is perfect for it. He's just the right kind of handsome to seem like an action star in the mask and buffoonish and unthreatening in fancy robes, and he has lots of fun playing Miguel, gasping and stumbling all over himself (yet, wisely, he also never quite crosses over into insulting fey caricature). At the same time, the lighthearted nature of most of the film doesn't stand in the way of meatier drama, which Tessari handles with ease whenever Zorro and Huerta are face-to-face. One scene, with Zorro and Joaquín whacking attackers in the forest with logs, might be a little too goofy, but it's a minor quibble at best.
Zorro's closest ally in the cause to help the people is the beautiful Contessina Ortensia Pulido (Ottavia Piccolo). Although she comes from a wealthy family, she despises the upper class. Predictably, Huerta is determined to make Contessina his wife, despite her protests, and also predictably, she quickly falls for Zorro and his dashing antics. Piccolo only has so much to do, but her spunky personality shines through in her interactions with the other characters. An early scene with all three players is one of the film's highlights. Sadly, the thread is not as developed as viewers might hope at the beginning, and I wouldn't be surprised if the filmmakers had hoped to explore more of Zorro and Contessina's relationship in future films that did not come to fruition.
The film ends with a spectacular swordfight that feels like Tessari set out to cover every classic swordfighting scene in history: Zorro and Huerta start in the courtyard, head into an armory, move to the stairs, fight on the roof beams of a giant cathedral, head up into a bell tower, and finally end up on top of a castle tower. Along the way, they pick up axes and torches, destroy the decor, and slice up a few candles for good measure. It's a rousing conclusion that sends an already excellent Zorro adventure out with a bang -- fans of Zorro of any age should enjoy this funny, exciting incarnation.
Somerville House goes for the "red-and-black" color scheme as Fox's Mark and the Antonio Banderas Zorro films for their Blu-Ray of Zorro. However, Alain Delon's sword arm seems to have been gimped, which is sort of unintentionally funny. It's also a bit strange that they only put the "Unedited" banner on the back cover, because it seems like something that they'd want to push. The disc comes in a standard Blu-Ray case, and there is no insert.
The Video and Audio
For a nearly 40-year-old film produced outside of America and owned by a tiny studio, this 1080p 1.85:1 AVC presentation by Somerville House is exemplary. The blue skies pop, the image is nicely crisp and defined, and film grain is still fully visible. Sometimes, blacks are a little heavy, but for the most part, they stop short of crush, with details still noticeable inside of Zorro's cape. A fair amount of nicks and scratches can be seen throughout the film, but in my opinion, they don't detract at all from this otherwise top-notch restoration.
An English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track is strong, if not as impressive as the picture. Dialogue is easy to understand, even if the source material is still murky, and that theme song is big and bold. The only disappointment is the lack of subtitles or captions -- always a disappointing oversight.
First and foremost, fans will be very relieved to hear that this Blu-Ray of Zorro includes the full 118 minute version of the film. A number of DVD releases (possibly public domain) have come and gone, running between 80 and 90 minutes. Most of these presentations have been battered full-screen versions, to boot, so the restoration of the complete film will be reason enough to purchase this disc and an extra in and of itself.
Beyond the cut of the film, there's not much here: a couple of text bios written in a very tiny font, a photo gallery, and three restoration comparisons that are unusually unimpressive -- it seems to be a comparison between the new print used on this release before and after some clean-up, rather than a comparison between a previous DVD master and the new Blu-Ray master.
Two original trailers and two radio spots are also included.
Alain Delon and Duccio Tessari's version of Zorro is an excellent one, handling humor and drama with ease, and closing with a truly spectacular swordfight that's reason enough to see the film. The Blu-Ray looks and sounds excellent for its age, and features the full two-hour version of the film. Highly recommended.
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