Sunday, June 2, 2013

Review: The Mark of Zorro by Johnston McCulley

The Mark of ZorroThe Mark of Zorro by Johnston McCulley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I first encountered Zorro as a character in an old movie my parents liked. Since then, I've sought out the stories when I could. When I discovered a number of them as radio plays through Audible, I had to pick them up.

This is the book that introduced the character of Zorro in 1919, originally titled, "The Curse of Capistrano." Johnston McCulley changed some aspects of the character since this first publication, but the sense of adventure and heroism is all there. As is the character's thirst for fairness and justice, and the corrupt government he inevitably has to fight against.

The Mark of Zorro covers a period of time during which Zorro has been an established force in California, well-known but mistrusted. His evasion of capture is more due to his cunning and the ineptitude of the local law enforcement than because anyone would shelter him.

The story is fairly simple: the authorities would like to capture Zorro, and will stoop to almost anything to do so. He would like to stay free, and to keep his friends out of it, which is easier said than done. Meanwhile, his alter ego, Diego de la Vega, is attempting to court Lolita Pulido, who falls in love with Zorro.

The story is very much a product of its time. A married woman rhapsodizes about the rewarding life of a housewife, and a father encourages a suitor to pester his daughter who's uninterested, because women are fickle and change their minds a lot. (It is to the character's credit that he trusts the woman to know her mind, and graciously accepts her refusal.) The story is an adventure, and it's about guy things, so women are relegated to wives and daughters and damsels, though Lolita gets to show off some skill with riding and swordfighting.

The performance I listened to has the story narrated by the tavern barkeep, which saves the characters the awkward task of narrating their actions for the listeners' benefit. However, it has the drawback that the barkeep doesn't know everything, and so, if I hadn't known Zorro's secret identity from the lore, I'd be puzzled, and maybe a little frustrated.

Val Kilmer voices Diego/Zorro, and, while he has a fine, gravelly, heroic-sounding voice, that he doesn't even attempt an accent makes him stand out more than a little. He intersperses several Spanish words into his dialogue, and his pronunciation is cringe-worthy, even for non-Spanish-speaking me.

Highlights of the cast include Armin Shimmerman as the barkeep and Ruth Livier as the spirited Lolita. Most of the rest of the cast did a good job with their narration, and they all sounded different enough that I didn't have difficulty keeping track of who was speaking.

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