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The Sign of Zorro

Movie review by
Jennifer Green, Common Sense Media
The Sign of Zorro Movie Poster Image
Fun, swashbuckling classic based on series; some violence.
  • G
  • 1960
  • 91 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Educational Value

Meant to entertain rather than educate.

Positive Messages

Honesty, courage, and chivalry are positive values that engender respect and beneficial outcomes. Greed, dishonesty, and criminal behavior tend to backfire. Friends and family support each other, despite dangers to themselves.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Juan de la Vega could live a comfortable life as the son of a wealthy landowner, but he prefers to do good and fight crime as the masked avenger Zorro. Juan’s father is a man of action willing to risk his own life to do the right thing. Juan’s manservant Bernardo is unfailingly loyal. Characters stand up to the scheming Manastario, even at risk to themselves.

Violence & Scariness

Regular sword-fighting throughout, including two fatal duels that kill secondary characters. Monastario and his men shoot guns at suspects and enemies, wounding Zorro’s father in one scene and killing a man in another. Men fall over walls, cliffs, and furniture in skirmishes, but generally get right back up. Threats along the lines of, “I will have that man’s ears,” “cut him down,” and “fight well, for I am going to kill you.”

Sexy Stuff

Men talk about finding women attractive, including a flamenco dancer for whose company one man loses his life in a duel.

Language

Mild insults include “clumsy oaf,” “scoundrel,” “wench,” “devil,” “fool,” and “idiot.”

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Several scenes take place in a bar, but what the men are drinking goes unstated.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Sign of Zorro, a film made from episodes of season 1 of the 1950s-era Disney show, is good, swashbuckling fun for just about any age. If your kid is especially susceptible to on-screen violence, be aware that there are frequent sword-fights and threats at sword-point, as well as some shooting of 1800s-era guns, both of which result in injuries, including fatal. But deaths aren't dwelled on or treated morbidly. And, the good guy, the masked gentleman Zorro, always wins, doing so with a merry smile and a playful dominance over his foiled nemeses. Viewers will also quickly grasp that Zorro’s rival, Capitán Monastario, will never prevail, and his character’s menacing schemes and threats are softened by a laughable arrogance and ineptitude. Comical secondary characters, especially Zorro’s manservant Bernardo and Monastario’s lead guard Sgt. García, add more lightness to the proceedings. Language is mild and includes presumably era-appropriate taunts like “clumsy oaf,” “scoundrel,” “wench,” “devil,” “fool,” and “idiot.”

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What's the story?

In THE SIGN OF ZORRO, which is set in the year 1820, the handsome gentleman Don Juan de la Vega (Guy Williams) has been called by his father (George J. Lewis) home to California from Spain, where he’s been studying for three years. His village, Los Angeles, has fallen under the control of a power-hungry dictator, Capitán Monastario (Britt Lomond), who overtaxes ranchers, enslaves Indians, imprisons anyone who speaks out against him, and aims to be the richest man in California. De la Vega decides to pose as a “man of letters,” and his deaf assistant Bernardo (Gene Sheldon) poses as "deaf and dumb," in order to appear unthreatening and be able to spy on Monastario from up close. Events quickly turn ugly when Monastario threatens to kill an honorable neighbor on trumped up treason charges. Maintaining his front and convincing the world he’s actually a coward, de la Vega secretly dons a cape and mask and invents the figure of Zorro in order to save his townspeople from the evil dictator. Each episode of the film, edited together from the 1950s-era television series, sees Zorro foil Monastario in another malicious scheme.

Is it any good?

Viewers may come to this movie for the legendary character’s promise of adventure, but they’ll stay thanks to the charisma of lead actors Guy Williams as Zorro and Britt Lomond as Monastario. Both play their parts with such sheer delight that they’re hard to take your eyes off of in The Sign of Zorro. Williams, a former model, is a dashing hero, always ready with a witticism and a toothy smile. He can do no wrong, gallantly saving victims and escaping unscathed, scaling walls, dodging bullets, defeating enemy guards, and outwitting Monasatario at every turn. “It takes no skill at all to make a fool of you,” he quips. Lomond is equally dazzling as the overconfident, moustachioed dictator. Each has his own overweight sidekick for laughs, Sancho Panza-style.

But viewers should also take this fun at face value, without trying to apply 21st century values to it. Casting mostly non-Hispanic actors to don apparently darkened hair and mustaches and fake Spanish accents was the norm when the series was made in the 1950s. There are long-haired “Indian” characters as well, mostly houseboys and servants. Women appear largely for decoration, as flamenco dancers for the men’s enjoyment or as the mostly-mute wives or daughters of male characters. The black and white can be shadowy in outdoor scenes, at least on the small screen. And there's a musical score that never seems to rest. But, if you can ignore all that and enjoy the action and the acting, you may just have as much fun as it appears the people who made this Zorro did.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the history and legacy of Zorro that includes The Sign of Zorro. What other Zorro films and shows have you seen, and how does this one compare?

  • What was the connection between Spain, Mexico, and California in 1820?

  • What did you think of the characters’ accents? Do you speak Spanish? Do you think the actors were native Spanish speakers? Why or why not?

  • Do you enjoy watching films in black and white? How is the experience different from watching films in color?

Movie details

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