When a young Spaniard finds his hometown squeezed by the high taxes of an authoritarian government, he responds in the guise of the masked-hero Zorro. [Dir: Rouben Mamoulian/ Tyrone Power, Basil Rathbone, Linda Darnell/ 93 min/ Action-Adventure/ Anti-Taxation, Corrupt Government]
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Fresh from attending school in Madrid, where he learned among other things the fine art of sword fighting, a young caballero returns to California to find his hometown of Los Angeles filled with fear. It seems that a new local government has taken control and is oppressing the population with high taxes backed by terror.
This young man adopts weak, foppish mannerisms by day so that no one will suspect his true martial capabilities or his plan—to avenge state injustice in the guise of the masked-hero Zorro. In daring lone raids, he retrieves tax money from the government and returns it to the people via the town priest. So says Zorro: “This gold was wrung from the [people]. It’s up to us to restore it to them.” However, the priest is soon implicated and arrested, as is Zorro himself. In the end, Zorro must escape from jail and lead the aristocracy and the people in a final rebellion.
This is a terrific antitax film as well as a satisfying dramatization of revolt against bad government. The evil tyrant’s justification for high taxes—that they spur increases in productivity—seems familiar in the context of current calls among the Left for “reinvestment” and would probably be considered a good point by many in Washington.
The film is also superior entertainment. Basil Rathbone, who made such an impressive Sherlock Holmes that he eventually became typecast in the role, gives a remarkable performance here as Zorro’s archenemy. Rathbone was considered the best swordsman in Hollywood, and several scenes in this film make good use of that talent. This upbeat, enjoyable picture is my favorite Zorro film.