To the poor he was a hero. To the landowners, he was a pain in the ass.The ever-tanned George Hamilton follows on the fangs of his success in the goofy disco Dracula spoof Love at First Bite, this time mocking gays and Latinos instead of Transylvanians. With the help of gap-toothed freckle-frau Lauren Hutton, Donovan Scott (the fat pushover cop from the Police Academy movies) and the explosive and hilarious Ron Leibman as the evil alcade squeezing taxes out of the peasants, this is classic 80’s humor. Back in the 70s and early 80s we had a name for silly historical comedies like this, and it was “not quite Mel Brooks.” But everything can’t be Blazing Saddles (or even Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother) and Peter Medak’s Zorro, the Gay Blade is still quite an entertaining and very silly film.
Somewhere in the 1800s, Hamilton plays Don Diego- a Casanova with a questionable accent, a pencil-thin mustache, and a gift for swordplay- and plenty of angry husbands to keep him in practice. His mute servant Paco- the aforementioned Scott of “Officer Leslie” ignominy- shows up with a note from his father, asking him to return to their home in California. Surrounded in a woman’s bed by her husband and his brothers, there’s no better time than the present.
When he arrives at his childhood village of Los Angeles, his friend Esteban is now the Captain, enforcing the will of the landowners, and married to the girl they both wooed, Florinda. She still holds a torch, perhaps a flamethrower, for Diego, so we know there will be trouble. It doesn’t help that Esteban is squeezing every peso from the peasants, and when pretty young activist Charlotte (Lauren Hutton) shows up with pamphlets decrying the conditions of the poor, he wants to kill her. The final straw, he tells Diego that his father has died. His horse was frightened by a turtle. “La tortuga?”
Shortly after Diego returns home, his servant Consuelo is lugging a black coffin up the stairs. His father wanted him to have it, and when he opens it, he finds a black mask, a black cape, and a rapier. He realizes that his father was the heroic Zorro, and he was called home to don the cape he was born to wear. So when he sees a peasant set up by who he thinks are bandits, he is quick to rescue them. But the bandits are of course the bloodsucking tax collectors, who squeeze the peasants dry while the landowners have lavish costume parties! He carves a “Z” into the barn door, to leave his mark, but the grateful farmer says it looks like a “2.” He’ll have to work on his penmanship.
Later, at Captain Esteban’s party, he shows up in his Zorro regalia because his return hasn’t been made known. And what better way to put fear in the hearts of the greedy tyrants than to crash their party? In his escape, he injures his ankle leaping from the window, but manages to hobble home.
Hamilton is quick with his wit and his ridiculous accent, where he watches over “the ships in the field,” and “protects the pipples,” is the source of most of the comic energy. Plus he always has a self-effacing smile, as if to say, “I’m pretty good at this Mexican stuff.”
Between that and Ron Leibman, more famous for his Broadway roles, chewing up the scenery like so many tamales, and the grin and groan level stays high. His Captain Esteban nearly steals the whole film. For example, when he suspects Diego, and asks him to walk for him to see if he has a limp, they end up marching all around the room, “walking and strutting and jumping ah-hah!”
And then halfway through, Don Diego’s lost twin brother Ramon shows up. Their father found him too effeminate and shipped him off to the British Navy, and they sure cured him. Now he’s Bunny Wigglesworth, the effete gentleman of oh so many gay double entendres. And he shows up just in time, so Zorro can continue harassing the oppressors while Diego’s busted ankle heals. Soon he’s donning his own color-coordinated masks and capes, and keeping up the fight, with a whip instead of a rapier. He is of course played by Hamilton in new make-up, and interacts with himself throguh judicious use of doubles and split screens. “Bunny” is even more over the top- he tells the “pipples” there is no shame in being poor- only in dressing poorly!
While he keeps striking the landowners, dressed in avocado, plum and rose ensembles, Esteban comes up with a surefire plan to lure him into a trap- he makes his wife Florinda wear an expensive necklace at a new costume ball. But to his apoplexy, everyone comes dressed as Zorro, even the landowners! Ramon, aka “Bunny,” goes in drag, and of course in the best Bugs Bunny tradition dances with Esteban and catches his eye. Florinda is furious that she’s being used as bait, and commiserates with Diego- “Do you know Esteban only makes love to me 12 times a year?” “Well, once a month is not so bad.” “No, he makes love to me 12 times in one night and then, zip, nothing!”
Diego finally dons his cape again when he finds from Ramon that Charlotte of the People’s Independence Committee gets the vapors when Zorro is around, and woos her with donations to the cause. When Esteban finally smartens up and takes her hostage, it’s time for a final battle before the firing squad. Will Zorro be unmasked? Will the people rise up and throw off their chains? Will Bunny run out of colorful capes to wear?
This was a staple of early ’80s cable television, and when I heard the theme from The Adventures of Don Juan used incessantly on the soundtrack, I was brought back to my early years. We loved this movie, and while it’s no classic, it is still funny in a PG-Brooksian way. Directed by Peter Medak, who brought us the ghost story classic The Changeling, The Krays, The Ruling Class and somehow also Species II, you can tell that everyone involved is having a lot of fun with the campy concept and it doesn’t drag on too long. No pun intended. Okay, pun intended.
Beers Required to Enjoy: 2
Could it be remade today? Carlos Mencia might do it. Ugh.
Quotability Rating: Good- coined the term “swishbuckler”
Cheese Factor: Mucho Manchego
High Points: Campy Zorro antics
Low Point: Lauren Hutton’s tooth-gap is larger than her part.
Gratuitous Boobies: Some cleavage. But this is gay camp. Duh.