Monday, November 14, 2016
ZORRO THE GAY BLADE (1981)
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *comedy*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *sociological*
I hadn't watched ZORRO THE GAY BLADE since it appeared in theaters. I found it fairly amusing back then, but not so much in a "home theater."
BLADE may be one of those comedies that just doesn't work that well when one doesn't have the "infectious laughter" factor. I remember that the line "He looked like-- like a poof!" worked in the theater, but not so well without a mass audience reaction.
BLADE followed quickly on the heels of George Hamilton's successful LOVE AT FIRST BITE, but since the 1981 film was also the last above-the-title film for the actor, I have to assume BLADE didn't do nearly as well. It may be that Zorro simply wasn't a hot topic for the early 80s as Dracula had been for the late 70s; BITE is a better comedy than BLADE but not by that much.
In the 21st century BLADE's repertoire of gay-jokes and Mexican-dialect jokes probably wouldn't play very well. I find them silly but innocuous. They're not as bad as the borscht-belt stuff that came out of the 1960s-- even in good comedies like GET SMART-- but the BLADE jokes are fairly trivial, like George Hamilton saying "the peoples" instead of "the people."
The gay schtick is more central to the story. Hamilton plays Don Diego de la Vega, but this time he's the son of the original Zorro, the role filled by a fellow named Cesar in the original Zorro sequel.
As in most of the films that remake the original 1920 film, Diego is a master swordsman trained in the schools of Spain, who returns to the hacienda of his father in California and finds that a military dictatorship now oppresses the people. However, when this version of Diego arrives, he's informed by a faithful servant that the elder de la Vega-- now deceased-- played Zorro twenty years earlier. This inspires Diego to don the black mask and crusade against the petty-- and puny-- dictator, Esteban (Ron Leibman). Then Diego is injured, so he's forced to bring in a ringer, his long-unseen brother Ramon. It happens that when Ramon left California he ended up serving in the British Royal Navy, which apparently not only inflicted on him not only an effete British accent but an effete personality, with a penchant for "gay" colors. Thus, when Ramon doubles as Zorro, he affects costumes all in white or shocking pink. Nevertheless, though Ramon prefers the whip to the sword (hmmm), he proves as adept as Diego at confounding Esteban and his soldiers.
In a twist not derived from earlier Zorro iterations, this time Diego's romantic interest is not of Spanish descent: rather, lead-female Charlotte (Lauren Hutton) is a Caucasian American who's come to California to stump for political reforms to benefit the people. Hutton has an appealing scene in which she tries to confess her love to the Ramon-Zorro, who has to endeavor to keep his pose without revealing that his interests really don't swing her way. (To be sure, one never does see Ramon go after any guys, which might have made eighties audiences a little queasy in the midst of the light entertainment.)
On balance, though the humor is merely fair, some of the sociological observations between Diego and Charlotte, and the gay character is at least one portrayed with verve and daring despite his "whoops ducky" attitude. Despite being a comedy, the film mounts its duels and chase-scenes better than a lot of straight Zorro films, and the effective music was apparently culled from earlier work by the respected Max Steiner.