31 July 2021

The Sign of Zorro (1958) Somewhat Reviewed

Before I watched The Sign of Zorro (1958), I knew there had been a Zorro television show starring the same actor, Guy Williams. The show, which first aired in 1957, was one of my mother's favorites, and although I have not yet had the pleasure of watching it, I was grateful that I could at least watch this movie. I found the movie exceedingly entertaining, but I began to notice that it seemed like two or more movies had been fused together, much like a re-edited serial. Sure enough, I learned afterward that it had been re-edited from eight different episodes of Zorro. As much as it pleases me to have found a way to enjoy the television show in some capacity, it saddens me that I currently have no means of watching the show itself in its entirety, and any review of The Sign of Zorro is less a complete review of a movie than an incomplete review of the series.

Nonetheless, I will say this much about The Sign of Zorro and whatever I can glean from Zorro: It is a far more thoughtful, exciting, and humorous adaptation than I expected, and Guy Williams was superb at imbuing his portrayal with subtlety and complexity. His Zorro is genuinely interesting and not a mere cliché.

If Zorro is ever made available again in any format (preferably Blu-ray), I will happily watch it and report my findings here in Theoretical Swashbuckling. In the meantime, The Sign of Zorro, currently available on Disney+, is a delight for any fan of Zorro.

Writing: Good
Directing: Good
Acting: Good
Cinematography: Good
Stunts: Great
Swordplay: Great
Panache: Great

Overall Rating: Good
Swashbuckling Rank: Great

Written by: Norman Foster, Lowell S. Hawley, Bob Wehling, John Meredyth Lucas, and Ian Hay (uncredited)
Based on: The Curse of Capistrano by Johnston McCulley
Directed by: Lewis R. Foster and Norman Foster
Performed by: Guy Williams, Gene Sheldon, Henry Calvin, George J. Lewis, et al.

28 June 2021

The Legend of Zorro (2005) Reviewed

The Legend of Zorro (2005) is another example of the sequel that ought never to have been made. I ought to enjoy writing a review that eviscerates a film so deserving of it, for bad reviews are invariably more enjoyable both to write and to read, but in this case, I am merely tired. I am tired of seeing capable actors lowering themselves to reciting lines as if they were bored [redacted]. I am tired of screenplays that are nothing more than toothpick sculptures built to support a few over-budgeted stunts and script-doctored catch phrases with a bit of family-safe sentimental tinsel draped over it. I am also tired of unconvincing and uninteresting villains, which is a flaw that was present in its predecessor, The Mask of Zorro (1998), but which is even more egregious in this film. Without going into painful, fruitless detail, I will merely state that this is a disappointing and yawn-inducing film that seems better suited for the small screen with commercial interruptions, extended snack breaks, and serving as background noise as one makes unnecessary telephone calls or works on a crossword puzzle. If my attention had been more profitably engaged in such activities, I might not have detested this film quite as much.

Writing: Terrible
Directing: Mediocre
Acting: Mediocre
Cinematography: Fair
Stunts: Fair
Swordplay: Mediocre
Panache: Poor

Overall Rating: Mediocre
Swashbuckling Rank: Mediocre

[Originally posted in Cuparius.com on 21 August 2006.]


Written by: Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman
Story by: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Ted Elliott, and Terry Rossio
Based on: The Curse of Capistrano by Johnston McCulley
Directed by: Martin Campbell
Performed by: Antonio Banderas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, et al.

05 June 2021

The Mask of Zorro (1998) Reviewed

The Mask of Zorro from 1998 could almost have been entitled, The Unofficially Adopted Son of Zorro. It doesn't quite have the same ring, but that is essentially what it is. Anthony Hopkins plays Don Diego this time, carrying out what he believes will be his last adventure as Zorro, hero to the people. Without giving away too much of the plot, the film eventually jumps ahead in time, and we get to see the training of the Zorro who will replace him, Alejandro Murietta, played by Antonio Banderas.

Hopkins and Banderas are both quite good as the two Zorros. Their characters have greater weight than those in earlier Zorro films, and although stunt doubles undoubtedly performed the more difficult stunts, they convey a convincing air of capability and confidence. As with earlier incarnations, there is a sufficient amount of humor and plenty of exciting swordplay. The training of the younger Zorro, in particular, provides some of the most memorable dialogue and action of the entire film.

I referred to Banderas' character as the "unofficially adopted son" of Zorro, since he becomes Don Diego's pupil, but in this film Don Diego actually has a daughter, Elena, played by Catherine Zeta-Jones. Elena is a challenging love interest for Alejandro, as she believes she is the daughter of Don Rafael Montero, Zorro's archenemy (played by Stuart Wilson). Zeta-Jones is an excellent choice for the role, and this time the leading lady knows how wield a sword, which is a pleasing change of pace.

The downside is that the villains are not as interesting as the heroes, and that's a pity. There is no one with the intensity and aura of danger that Basil Rathbone possessed in The Mark of Zorro (1940). There isn't even a villain with the comic relief factor. No, the villains are boring, and that is the major flaw of the film. As a consequence, its action-packed climax is rather tedious, clich├ęd, and fails to live up to the expectations raised by its beginning and middle. It is the weakness of the villains that makes this a lopsided film — a good film, but nonetheless lopsided.

Writing: Fair
Directing: Good
Acting: Good
Cinematography: Good
Stunts: Good
Swordplay: Great
Panache: Great

Overall Rating: Good
Swashbuckling Rank: Great

[Originally posted in Cuparius.com on 5 August 2006.]


Written by: Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio
Based on: The Curse of Capistrano by Johnston McCulley
Directed by: Martin Campbell
Performed by: Antonio Banderas, Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta-Jones, et al.

07 May 2021

The Mark of Zorro (1940) Reviewed

The Mark of Zorro from 1940 probably has the best fencing scenes of any Zorro film before or since. With Tyrone Power as Don Diego Vega/Zorro, and Basil Rathbone as the film's leading villain, Captain Esteban Pasquale, this should come as no surprise, as they constituted two-thirds of the trinity of Hollywood's greatest swordsmen at the time (Errol Flynn being the third). The climactic scene of the film is a breathtaking display of swordsmanship and drama as the two enemies duel, and it stands as one of the greatest single scenes in the history of swashbuckling films. In the tradition of its greatest forebearers, stunt doubles were neither used nor required in the fencing scenes.

In some ways, the film is standard Hollywood fare, although not offensively so. It manages to be inventive and spirited, despite a reliance on certain predictable conventions. Eugene Pallette, playing Fray Felipe, unfortunately reprises his role as Friar Tuck from 1938's The Adventures of Robin Hood, which is perhaps the worst of the film's imperfections. J. Edward Bromberg's portrayal of the corrupt Don Luis Quintero, the despotic Alcalde, is a bit on the clownish side, but manages to be adequate.

The romantic scenes are a great improvement over the film's silent predecessor, with Linda Darnell giving a fine performance as Lolita Quintero; the stunts are impressive without being over-the-top; and the banter is witty, but not distractingly so. All in all, it is an excellent bit of escapism, and the fencing is unforgettable.

Writing: Fair
Directing: Good
Acting: Fair Good
Cinematography: Fair
Stunts: Good
Swordplay: Superb
Panache: Great

Overall Rating: Good
Swashbuckling Rank: Great

[Originally posted in Cuparius.com on 5 August 2006.]


Written by: John Taintor Foote, Garrett Fort, and Bess Meredyth
Based on: The Curse of Capistrano by Johnston McCulley
Directed by: Rouben Mamoulian
Performed by: Tyrone Power, Basil Rathbone, Linda Darnell, et al.

05 May 2021

The Mark of Zorro (1920) Reviewed

The Mark of Zorro from 1920 is one of the great film classics of the swashbuckling genre, starring that immortal master of derring-do on the silver screen, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. The caballero Don Diego Vega, newly returned to California from Spain, is forced to disguise both his competence and his opposition to the oppressive rule of the new Alcalde in order to avoid offending his father who will not tolerate criminal behavior, and also to protect his family from retribution. As this deceptive Don Diego, Fairbanks humorously plays the snobbish, lazy fop who is bored by everything around him and finds all activities to be tiresome except when it comes to displaying his skill at sleight-of-hand. As his alter ego Zorro, however, he presents us with the iconic figure of the heroic vigilante who inspires terror in his enemies and hope in the hearts of the downtrodden. He can be menacing, as when he emerges from the shadows in the midst of his enemies, wreathed in the smoke of his cigar like a devil from Hell. He can be charming, as when he wins the heart of the beautiful Lolita Pulido (played by Marguerite De La Motte). And he can be astonishing, as when he leaps from rooftop to rooftop and over obstacles as if he could ignore gravity at will. Fairbanks, as his fans know, did all of his own stunts, and he made them all seem simultaneously easy (to him) and impossible (for everyone else). Truly, his feats of agility are jawdropping, and if the film had no other merits whatsoever, his combination of panache and superhuman stuntwork alone would make it immortal.

Writing: Mediocre Fair
Directing: Good
Acting: Fair
Cinematography: Good
Stunts: Superb
Swordplay: Good
Panache: Superb

Overall Rating: Good
Swashbuckling Rank: Great (Legendary)

[Originally posted in Cuparius.com on 5 August 2006.]


Written by: Johnston McCulley, Douglas Fairbanks, and Eugene Miller
Based on: The Curse of Capistrano by Johnston McCulley
Directed by: Fred Niblo
Performed by: Douglas Fairbanks, Marguerite De La Motte, Robert McKim, Noah Beery, et al.

18 April 2021

How to Create a Swashbuckler in Flashing Blades

Flashing Blades, published by Fantasy Games Unlimited in 1984, is a game "set in 17th Century France; the France of the bland King Louis XIII, the dynamic King Louis XIV, the evil Cardinals Richelieu and Mazarin, the dashing three musketeers, and countless other swashbucklers, dandies, cavaliers, rogues, villains, highwaymen, and cutthroats; a time when duels, brawls, and high adventure were the order of the day."

Allow me to introduce my first character for Flashing Blades:

Name: Pierre Rocher

Strength: 13
Dexterity: 12 [rolled 14, but lowered by 2 to raise Charm by 1]
Endurance: 16 [rolled 15, +1 due to combined Height and Build]
Wit: 10
Charm: 8 [rolled 7, but raised by 1 by lowering Dexterity by 2]
Luck: 5

Height: (Average) [chosen]
Build: (Stocky) [rolled]

Hit Points: 14 [10 modifed by Strength, Endurance, Luck, and Build]
Encumbrance: 13 [10 modified by Strength, Endurance, Dexterity, and Build]

Background: Soldier
Regiment: Royal Dragoons

Bargaining (Wit) [2 skill points]
Captaincy (Charm) [1 skill point]
Carousing (Endurance) [2 skill points]
Espionage (Wit) [2 skill points]
Horsemanship (Dexterity)[free due to martial training in the Dragoons]
Strategy (Wit) [1 skill point]

Martial Skills
Dueling, Cavalry Style, Expertise: 10
Firearms, Expertise: 9 [normally 8, but +1 by spending 1 skill point]

Advantage: Wealth (Well-off, +200L/year)
Secret: Secret Loyalty

Yearly Allowance: 400 L [150 L rolled + 200 L advantage +50 L pay as sergeant]

Social Rank: 4 (Sergeant)

The Royal Dragoons have provided Pierre Rocher with a helmet, leather jerkin, gauntlets, padded breeches, boots, a riding horse (and gear), a sabre, and two flintlock pistols. Additional equipment may be purchased normally.

Character creation in Flashing Blades is fairly simple and the pertinent rules are mostly confined to one section, but there are enough exceptions and decision points to prevent it from being called a quick process. The six attributes are generated by rolling 3D6 for Strength, Dexterity, Endurance, Wit, Charm and Luck. One attribute of the player's can be raised, if so desired, by 1 point in exchange for lowering another by 2 points. Height {Tall, Average, Short} and Build {Thin, Average, Stocky} are determined next, the combination of which can affect one's attributes. One of these may be chosen by the player, but the other must be determined by a 2D6 roll on a table. If, after the attributes have been rolled and modified, the total value of the character's attributes are less than 54, the player my take the difference and distribute these points as desired. Hit Points for all characters start at 10 and are modified according to a table based on Strength, Endurance, and Luck. Encumbrance value also starts at 10 and is modified by Strength, Endurance, and Dexterity. Both Hit Points and Encumbrance value can be further modified by Build.

The next step is to choose the character's background category, of which the choices are Rogue, Gentleman, Soldier, and Nobleman. This will determine the character's skills, rank, position, and wealth at the start of the game. Skill Points start at 10, modified by Wit and Luck, and are used to purchase skills. Skills cost 1, 2, or 3 Skill Points, depending on whether they are Bonus Skills of the character's background, normal background skills, or skills from a different background respectively. Competence in any skill is measured by its governing attribute. Martial skills are handled differently. There is a base Expertise every character has in different combat abilities, and these are modified by specializations in one of six different civilian organizations in the case of Rogues, Gentlemen, and Noblemen, or one of nine different company types in the case of Soldiers.

Players then choose an Advantage and/or a Secret to further differentiate their characters and provide potential plot hooks for the Gamemaster.

A character's yearly allowance is determined by rolling 1D6 on a table and consulting the appropriate background column, which yields a result from 50 to 500 silver Livres.

Social Rank is determined by a character's background, and may be modified by military rank, membership in an Order, and the possession of titles.

Of all the early swashbuckling role-playing games, Flashing Blades is probably the one I'd enjoy the most. Character creation is not overly complicated (compared to its peers), and it succeeds in conveying the details of the setting and the flavor of the genre, both of which would make character visualization much easier. The skill and combat rules, although falling short of my preference for lighter systems, are still more suited to swashbuckling than those of most competing role-playing games. There are a number of interesting rules I wouldn't hesitate to incorporate into other, newer, systems, and I might write more on this in the future. Overall, Flashing Blades is a game I would happily play.

[For more articles in this series, visit How to Create a Swashbuckler.]

28 March 2021

Zorro: The Roleplaying Game via Esoteric Podcast

Until I have time to read and run a session of Zorro: The Roleplaying Game (and I'll probably post something pre- and post-game), I have been listening to episodes of The Esoteric Order of Roleplayers podcast on the subject. The links below take you on an introductory tour of the game by a GM and two players who are experiencing the game for the first time.

[This article is cross-posted in Decidedly Six-Sided.]

21 February 2021

Coming Cross-Post Attractions

After much deliberation and second-guessing owing to the scarcity of reviews on the subject, I ordered Zorro: The Roleplaying Game yesterday. Published by Gallant Knight Games, it uses the D6 System (of West End Games fame) with some new innovations that look promising, so I will be cross-posting anything I write about it on Decidedly Six-Sided. Stay tuned.

07 February 2021

The Son of Captain Blood (1962) Unreviewed

Today, I learned of the existence of a 1962 film entitled The Son of Captain Blood starring Sean Flynn, the son of Errol Flynn, who starred in the 1935 film Captain Blood. This is something I would be very interested in watching and reviewing, but alas it is currently unavailable in any format. The most I can share are these movie posters. If I am ever able to watch it, I will be sure to share the experience here.

31 January 2021

Swashbuckling Thought of the Day 2021-01-31

Of the many sources of swashbuckling inspiration, are any quite as neglected as the animated shorts that appeared on The Banana Splits Adventure Hour? I am speaking, of course, of The Three Musketeers and Arabian Knights. These were amongst my earliest exposure to swashbuckling adventure, and I would like to revisit them to see if they hold up at all to my fond memories of them. I hope they get released in a format I can access whilst I'm still in the mortal realm. It would be a good subject for Theoretical Swashbuckling.