Douglas Fairbanks's latest motion picture, "The Mark of Zorro," is at the Capitol this week. The program says that it is "from" a story by Johnston McCulley, called "The Curse of Capistrano," but one who has not read Mr. McCulley's story imagines that it is pretty far from it. There's too much Fairbanks in it for any one to have written it without the athletic comedian definitely in mind. What is on the screen is probably "The Curse of Capistrano" spiced and speeded up to suit the taste of Douglas Fairbanks and the many who enjoy his gay and lively style of playing. This means that whatever plausibility there was in the original has been sacrificed for headlong action, that whatever consistence there was has given place to intermittent fun and thrills, that whatever of sentiment there was has become romantic nonsense. All of which may mean that "The Mark of Zorro" is more enjoyable than "The Curse of Capistrano" could ever hope to be.
Certainly there are moments in the motion picture which must delight anyone, no matter how preposterous they are. There is a duel scene, for example, which is something distinctly original in the history of mortal combat on the stage or screen, and there are spirited races and pursuits, sudden appearances, quick changes, and flashes of tempestuous love-making that are typically, and entertainingly, Fairbanksian.
But "The Mark of Zorro" is also different in some respects from the usual Fairbanks picture. It is somewhat tamer, for one thing, the scenery especially having more of the quality of inertia. There are no mountain slides or floods in it, and the hero himself actually appears sometimes as a constitutionally languid individual, wearied by the exertions of a carriage ride.
He is one Don Diego Vega, an aristocrat of Spanish California, who seems content to loaf through life in fancy clothes and rich surroundings, but is really so moved by the tyranny of his country's rulers that he originates for himself another role, that of Senor Zorro, an alert and mysterious avenger of the people's wrongs, who appears suddenly when least expected by the authorities, and disappears as suddenly when most desired by them, always in black mask and costume, with a sure sword, a swift horse and a sense of humor.
There may be those who will find "The Mark of Zorro" a little tedious in places because Fairbanks is not frolicking through every scene of it, and, as he never creates a character and will not confine himself to any possible plot or plan, his pictures must depend almost entirely upon his own athletics and absurdities, supplemented by those of scenery and cast. So, whenever "The Mark of Zorro" calms down, something seems to be missing.
"Heliotrope," adapted from a story by Richard Washburn Child and directed by George D. Baker, who also wrote the scenario, is at the Rivoli this week. It is a melodrama which might have been a tragedy. It deals in mechanically contrived situations when it might have dealt in character.
The story, briefly, is of an imprisoned criminal who obtains a pardon in order to protect his daughter from an unscrupulous mother. The girl is about to make an advantageous marriage to a man who knows nothing of her antecedents, and the mother is preparing to blackmail the prospective husband. The father has given his word that he will not kill the woman, so, by an ingenious method of putting terror into her heart, he drives her to kill him. She is arrested for the murder, and, the girl's birth certificate having been destroyed by the father before his death, she is powerless. The last scene is of the girl's presumably happy wedding.
Herein the tragedy of the father's sacrifice, brightened by its success, and the irony of the daughter's unsuspecting happiness might have been developed if father and daughter had been made genuine characters. But they have not been, and so the story is simply a melodrama, interesting as such, and possibly destined to greater popularity than it would have had as a more human document.
Fred Burton, as the father, and Julia Swayne Gordon, as the mother, have flashes of genuineness, but, for the most part, follow the broad, exaggerated style of acting suited to melodrama. , as the girl, and , as her fiancé, are just two young people. , as a prison warden, is satisfactory., in the minor rôle of "Spike" Foley, a pal of the father, is the most lifelike person in the cast.
The direction of Mr. Baker has produced many scenes photographically excellent, but few of cinematographic distinction.
The Rivoli Pictorial includes, among other interesting subjects, amusing animal studies from the Urban studio, andact of 's entertaining with movable whiskers.