Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Mark of Zorro

This was a film that I loved as a kid, for a host of reasons, not the least of which is the fight between Tyrone Power and Basil Rathbone. Wish I had a dollar for every time I've watched it since then.

This piece was under-cranked to speed up the action, in keeping with the common misconception that faster is better. When I was in film school in the way back when, I got a print of this and ran it on the moviola at about half speed -- a speed that would be realistic for weapons with a little bit of weight to them, instead of the silly fencing "sabres" they're using.

What I find interesting is that the actions hold up very well at a slower speed. The choreographer of this piece knew his swordsmanship very well. Try watching it in slowmo sometime.

Though his character gets the worst of it, Rathbone steals the show for me. He's crisp, precise, balanced -- a study in impeccable form.

I love the footwork of both actors (and their doubles, of course!) Perfectly centered, what I call "collected," every part of the body an element in a coherent whole, nothing flapping, dangling, loose or out of control, and no wasted movement.

That's the way to train.
And that's the way to fight.



  1. That would be the indomitable Fred Cavens. Choreographer for THe Sea Hawk, Black Swan,Bucaneers Girl, Cyrano de Bergerac, Scaramouche and many others. From his bio on IMDB
    Fencing master and graduate of the Military Institute of Physical Education and Fencing (Belgium), he was responsible for bringing style and technique to the duels in Hollywood films. Born of French parents, Cavens had started in a military school at the age of seven and by the time he was 15 had decided to take up the sword. He graduated from the Institute at 18 and was a fencing master at 21. Soon after his marriage, to a danseuse in a Belgian opera company, he emigrated to the US. His son Albert Cavens was his associate in the teaching and performing fencing stunts in Hollywood movies.

  2. Thanks for your comment, brother. Sometimes there are conflicting stories on who did what in which film (victory has many fathers; defeat is an orphan). Thanks for that info. My money's on Cavens as the most likely suspect. :)



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