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Sunday, January 16, 2011

THE MARK OF ZORRO (1920)

Douglas Fairbanks’ first period swashbuckler set the style & the tone for rest of his silent film career; and for the genre as a whole right up to today’s THE GREEN HORNET/2011. The cheery, self-mocking tone; the Milquetoast who morphs into superhero; a spirited damsel-in-distress; impossible last-minute rescues; even the put-upon locals to silently bear the brunt of all burdens; already in place and with a fresh sense of discovery that would prove difficult to recapture. Newbies to silents will be surprised at how natural most of the acting is, with only Noah Beery’s comic villain chewing up the scenery. Fred Niblo’s helming is more solid than imaginative, but it proves easy to adjust to the reticent camera movement & editing patterns of 1920 moviemaking with a print as consistently stunning as this Flicker Alley DVD edition. If more silents were in such good physical condition, the format just might make a comeback! The cause might also be helped if film classes could be persuaded to show ‘mere’ entertainments like this alongside all those historically important classics.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Instead of a storybook at bedtime, try a silent film adventure with inter-titles you can read out loud.

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