Don Q: The Son of Zorro

It’s rare for sequels to match the originals, and it’s even rarer for sequels to outright best their originals, but Don Q: The Son of Zorro is one such sequel. At times it only seems a sequel in name, though, as Zorro himself doesn’t appear until the finale and the majority of the plot seems as if it could’ve been taken from any serial adventure. But don’t let that deter you; if Don Q is a serial adventure then it’s a superior one. Much is owed to the production, which, now 5 years removed from the original, truly has the budget to stack up rousing set-piece after set-piece that thrills as much (if not more) than any modern incarnation could conjure.

Of course, at the heart of the film is still Douglas Fairbanks Sr., who is now playing the son of the same character he played in the first film, here named Don Cesar. Cesar has traveled to Spain after completing his education, and he soon stirs up crowds of admirers with his phenomenal prowess with a whip. But this gets him trouble with Don Sebastian (Donald Crisp, who also directs), a member of the Palace Guard. But it doesn’t stop him from getting in good with Queen Isabella (Stella De Lanti) and her guest, Austrian Archduke Paul (Warner Oland), whom later accompanies Cesar as they go out looking for fun. But when Cesar falls in love with Dolores (Mary Astor), the same woman whom Don Sebastian likes, Sebastian executes a plan to frame Cesar for the murder of Archduke Paul.

If fault could be found with The Mark of Zorro it’s that the film spent too much time on talk and not enough time on action, which is rarely a good thing in silent film. That’s a flaw that Don Q fixes as there’s nary a boring moment in the entire film. Even the opening scenes of Cesar impressing with the whip are entertaining, but things are ramped up even higher when a bull is released into the streets. It’s moments like these when Fairbanks really gets to shine, and it’s never anything less than amazing watching his physical wizardry, especially the scene where he ties a sheet to a rope, lures the bull in, and ties its horns up almost all in the same motion.

Like in Mark, there are still plenty of opportunities for Fairbanks’ gifts being utilized in lighter moments. One has him climbing like a cat up the edifice of the Queen’s abode so he can stand outside it and serenade Dolores. Their first meeting doesn’t involve any gymnastics, but is just as charming as Cesar steals on a sculptor sculpting a statue of Dolores. Cesar takes to playfully irritating the sculptor, such as throwing things at him, which the sculptor thinks is Dolores doing it. If ever there was an auspicious meeting between a cinematic couple, this is surely it. The bar scene provides ample impetus for Fairbanks to do what he does best, and that’s elude an army of angry pursuers whom are perpetually one step behind both physically and intellectually.

Don Q’s screenplay is, overall, much more finely sculpted than its predecessor is, with a tremendous balance between levity, character, action, and drama. Perhaps the only flaw is that the entire dramatic arc rests on a pivotal point situated near the middle, when Don Sebastian kills the Archduke in a fit of anger and clumsily frames Cesar. The two biggest problems with it is that it comes out of nowhere and doesn’t really work logically. The second point is more crucial and hard to fix, as Sebastian’s method for framing Cesar is to bop him on the head with a candlestick and place the bloody sword in his hands, which is how everyone finds them. But how could Cesar of killed Paul and THEN gotten knocked out? It shouldn’t have taken a great lawyer to see there was something fishy there.

Logical or not, that scene sets up the film’s entire second half, which eventually provokes Don Diego, Cesar’s father, to come to Spain. Don Diego is also played by Douglas Fairbanks in an amazing double role. Under what must have been pounds of (very convincing) make-up, Fairbanks as the older Diego is a completely different character, so much so that I kept doing double takes, questioning if it was really the same actor. If just one Fairbanks on screen was electric, then two is an explosive lightning storm. The finale, which situates the two in the ruined Vega castle, is a masterclass in orchestrated action, from the crosscutting and multiple sword-fights, to the mini-narratives involving chasing down the man who has the proof of Cesar’s innocence.

While Fairbanks remain the indubitable star of the film, he’s joined by an even more accomplished supporting cast. While Don Sebastian may not be any more rich of a character than Ramon in the first film, Donald Crisp certainly lends him much more personality. Most know Crisp from his consistently solid work throughout the 30s and 40s, most notably winning a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for How Green Was My Valley?, but he was also a fine director who co-directed none other than Buster Keaton in The Navigator. Mary Astor is at least the equal to De La Motte in Mark, but her Dolores is arguably a better, more well-rounded character.

Overall, if I would primarily recommend the original Mark of Zorro to fans of silent film, swashbucklers, and fans of Douglas Fairbanks, I’d recommend Don Q to anyone that just likes action/adventure films performed at their peak. One can see echoes of Don Q all the way out to Indiana Jones, especially the pervasive use of the whip. But Spielberg and Ford achieved their magic through editing. With Douglas Fairbanks, he was the real deal, and Crisp new how to capture it by setting the camera back for long shots and takes that allowed Fairbanks to work his wizardry out in front of our beguiled eyes.


About Jonathan Henderson
I'm a dedicated aesthete that's been fascinated with the arts since I was in my early teens. At 13 I saw my first foreign film, which ignited my passion for world cinema. I also discovered the enormous world of music out there and fell in love with everything from death metal to classical. My love for literature has especially grown in recent years, and I've taken up writing (and working really hard at) poetry. But over the past 12 years I've probably taken to film criticism more than anything, and seeing Neon Genesis Evangelion reignited my love for the arts (especially film) and took it to an even higher level. Now I write film reviews for two sites, including this one and Cinelogue. I play poker professionally, and while the world of arts and poker don't seem to converge much, I have taken the deductive and inductive logic that poker requires and attempted to apply it to all the arts as well as my criticism in an attempt to get past the jellybean syndrome ("I like blue jellybeans, you don't, and that's all we can say.").

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