THE LEGEND OF ZORRO, GONE WITH THE WIND, THE GOOD EARTH

Video Picks & Passes
by STEVEN D. GREYDANUS | Source:
THE LEGEND OF ZORRO (2005): PASS




GONE WITH THE WIND: PICK


(1939)





THE GOOD EARTH: PICK

(1937)








CONTENT ADVISORY:
The Legend of Zorro includes much stylized violence, marital discord and divorce, comic drunkenness, and mixed depictions of religious figures, including a weirdly religious villain. Gone With the Wind includes battlefield violence, romantic complications and some stereotypical depictions of blacks. The Good Earth contains much hardship and some tense scenes, and some pagan religious references. All three pictures are appropriate for teens and up.

The Mask of Zorro was one of the best surprises of 1997 and one of the best swashbucklers of its decade. After the high standard set by the original, The Legend of Zorro (new this week on DVD) ranks among 2005’s biggest disappointments. The belated sequel reunites director Martin Campbell and returning stars Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, but Anthony Hopkins as the original Zorro is sorely missed. And so are the thrills, wit and romance.

With a tame PG rating and animal gags, the filmmakers are clearly targeting the family audience. Yet which of the four credited writers thought that families — or anyone else — wanted to see the 10-year marriage of Zorro II (Banderas) and Mrs. Zorro (Zeta-Jones) on the rocks, or Alejandro served with divorce papers just as he was about to go home and beg his wife’s forgiveness? Didn’t anyone have misgivings about the soirée scene in which a jealous Alejandro furiously chugs glass after glass of wine, then drunkenly brawls with Elena on the dance floor in a cringe-inducing echo of the first film’s sultry tango scene? Didn’t anyone realize that Zorro should be above such loutish behavior?
At least the Church is generally positively represented, with one priest in particular supporting the heroes against the villains to the point of heroism. There’s also a scene in which a broken Zorro prays in a church before a statue of the Blessed Virgin.
On the other hand, there’s also a nasty, racist villain with a cross-shaped scar carved in one cheek, who sneers constantly about “doing the Lord’s work.” (By the way, in the end Alejandro and Elena are remarried by a priest, which makes no sacramental sense.)
The Legend of Zorro follows Fantastic Four as an alleged “family movie” whose key qualification as kid entertainment is that it isn’t good enough for grown-ups. Too bad. Our kids deserve better. For that matter, so do we.
This week, two classic 1930s MGM literary epic spectacles come to DVD. Gone With the Wind adds a two-disc edition to other available editions, including a (slightly more expensive) four-disc collector’s edition, while The Good Earth, based on the Pearl Buck novel, makes its DVD debut.
Both films are melodramatic odes to the lands in which they are set, mythic portraits of exotic cultures of long ago or far away. Gone With the Wind is a nostalgic remembrance of the fading world of the antebellum South; The Good Earth is a Hollywood dream of rural China of the first quarter of the 20th century. Both feature stellar lead performances with a not entirely likeable but long-suffering protagonist (Vivian Leigh’s Scarlett O’Hara; Paul Muni’s wheat farmer Wang Lung) who struggles against poverty and learns too late to appreciate the one who loves her or him (Clark Gable’s Rhett Butler; Luise Rainer’s kitchen slave-turned-wife O-Lan).
Both Scarlett and O-Lan are as indomitable and resourceful as any 1930s woman, yet O-Lan’s self-sacrificial generosity and loyalty provide a striking contrast to Scarlett’s selfishness and narcissism. Both films feature special effects that astonished audiences in their day and still have the power to awe in ours: GWTW’s burning of Atlanta and TGE’s locust plague.


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