Friday, January 10, 2014

Reviewcap: Zorro the Gay Blade (1981)

This is not Antonio Banderas's 'Zorro'; it's much, much more...more.

Sorry, wrong gay blade.

That's more like it
I recently rewatched this gem with my sister, her husband and Dylan on New Year's Eve and because it's so gloriously bad, I felt compelled to share the awesomeness with you all. This was a family favorite back in the day and actually getting a copy for my very own self, well, transcendental joy doesn't even come close. So sit back and relax, it won't hurt *that* much.

Do you remember the legend of El Zorro? Well of course not, most of us were born after the 1950s but he was the native Californian's superman in the 1840s where greedy, unscrupulous landowners had pretty much enslaved the peasants. He fought for truth, justice, and the poor trodden-down pepels in the field so of course the masses were crying out for a movie in the 1980s.

George Hamilton starred as Don Diego de la Vega, a wealthy playboy in Madrid. Caught with his pants almost down with another man's wife, his loyal mute servant Paco (Donovan Scott) pantomimes a letter from Diego's father. Two thoughts here: 1) I want Paco on my charades team every time and 2) Did Scott get a SAG card as he had no actual lines in the movie? Moving on. To California!

No pants are safe around me
Diego and Paco arrived in Los Angeles to be greeted by Diego's boyhood friend Esteban (Ron Liebman) who has risen to the rank of Capitan in the local guard. In no sort of coincidence whatsoever, Diego's father was killed in a tragic riding accident, elevating Esteban to acting Alcalde or boss of the dons and who it turns out married the object of both of the boys' affections, Florinda (Brenda Vaccaro). Diego congratulates Esteban on his luck and can't not charm the pants off of every woman he meets. Esteban is slightly unhinged so a threesome is out of the question. Now that Diego's back in town and new Don de la Vega, the dons meet to formally elect the next Alcalde which to the surprise of precisely no one is Esteban. Interrupting his victory speech however is rich political do-gooder Charlotte Taylor-Wilson (Lauren Hutton) who is trying to bring independence to the people of Los Angeles. Esteban threatens jail to anyone who listens to her leaving only Diego hanging around. He's instantly smitten and turns on the charm but girlfriend is having none of that as he is not concerned about the pepels working with the ships in the field.

Repairing to his family villa, Diego finds a note from his father detailing the de la Vega's true destiny: in time of crisis, the Vega men don the mask of El Zorro...and this hat, which needs reblocking. True to form, the import is lost on Diego who thinks it's a snazzy costume to wear to the celebratory masquerade ball but I'll be honest, Hamilton cuts a dashing figure as Zorro, though a bit puffed up with his own importance. As Paco and Diego head to the ball, they come across an old man crying for help; a one-eyed man has taken all of his money! Diego chases the bandit down and returns the coins to the old man, plus interest. Alas, it turns out that the bandit was actually the tax collector who was also on his way to the ball. He fingers Diego as the masked man who robbed him and Esteban immediately challenges Diego to a duel.

They fight all through the ball room until the masked Diego effects a grand escape from the balcony...breaking his leg in the process and missing his destiny by a foot. He limps off home and is visited first by Florinda who had carried a torch for him all these years and then by Esteban who suspects his friend. Esteban challenges Diego to a dance off to prove that it had to have been Diego in the mask which is one of the funnier things I've seen. Satisfied, Esteban leaves and engages in a reign of terror as the peasants are treated worse and worse because of the interference of Zorro.

Early form of zumba
Diego is despondent that he can do nothing until a surprise visitor shows up: his long-lost twin brother Ramon de la Vega (George Hamilton. Again) who their father had sent to the British Navy to man up. And man up he did, reinventing himself as Bunny Wigglesworth with a falsetto that could make your ears bleed. Diego comes up with the brilliant idea for Ramon, er, Bunny to take over as Zorro until his leg heals. Bunny doesn't 'do' swords but he's a mean hand with a whip and with a colorful flair for fashion as the traditional black is just too drab.
Never fear, El Zorro is here
Looking like a bag of Skittles threw up, Bunny slashes and dashes his way through Los Angeles, bedeviling Esteban at every turn and giving Diego a perfect cover. Unfortunately, Charlotte is falling for our masked hero, leaving Bunny as the intermediary between Diego and Charlotte. The only good news is that Bunny is definitely not a player in this game.

Esteban is being driven completely around the bend by Zorro when he sees a chance to lure his nemesis into the open: a grand ball to show off Florinda's expensive new necklace. Figuring that Zorro could never pass up the chance to swipe the necklace, Esteban surrounds Florinda with quite possibly the most inept quartet of guards ever, discounting Stormtroopers of course. In my favorite scene of the film, Esteban is talking to the tax collector Velasquez saying that they need to be sharp, it's not like Zorro is going to walk in announcing 'Here I am!'...which Diego precisely does, elating and disappointing Esteban that it wasn't harder to catch him. comes another guest also dressed as Zorro! What the blazes is going on here?! A mysterious servant delivered instructions to all the guests to come dressed as Zorro! And mayhem ensues.

But the Alcalde is right; Zorro is planning to steal the necklace but how will he pull it off? Why, having his twin brother dress in drag and present as his cousin Margarita Wigglesworth from Santa Barbara.

Perhaps 12 times a night once a year isn't the best idea...
What no one anticipated was that Esteban fell hard for whom he termed, his 'large, blond dove.' So Bunny Margarita creates a diversion by spilling a drink on Florinda and under the guise of 'helping' relieves Florinda of her jewelry. They escape in the madness that ensues and Bunny heads back to the English Navy, finally clueing Diego in the Charlotte is in love with Zorro. Why he couldn't have shared that particular bit of information earlier I'm not really sure as he was not going to pursue that avenue ever. Diego as Zorro goes to Charlotte and yay! Love! BUT...a spy of the Alcalde sees Charlotte and Zorro together so of course she is kidnapped to trap Zorro when he comes to rescue her. Zorro hides in the crowd as a priest and is caught. Charlotte is released, Zorro is set in front of the firing squad when a voice cries out 'Two bits, four bits, six bit a peso. All for Zorro, stand up and say so!' Bunny-Zorro has returned and the dynamic duo turn the tide on the Alcalde's force, firing up the pepels to fight for their independence. The Alcalde abashed, destroyed, bereft is left in the square. Bunny finally boards his ship back to London and Diego and Charlotte depart for Boston to get married. And the pepels? Well, good luck y'all. Let us know how that independence works out for you.

Yes, the story is ridiculous and silly but such tremendous fun. George Hamilton was nominated  for a Golden Globe for his dual role and the physical comedy is top notch. Ron Liebman and Brenda Vaccaro chow down on the scenery something fierce. None of the lead actors are Hispanic and given today's sensibilities teeters dangerously close to a stereotypical parody of Hispanic accents. It's eminently quotable for what better way to announce your presence than with Don Diego's 'Here I Ammmm!'

Zorro: he stands against tyranny, he stands for justice and he your bedroom. Go watch it. You can thank me later.

I am intelligent. Intuitive. And not in Barcelona.

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