“Zorro: The Gay Blade” — A Queer Film Review
Sword-fighting, cross-dressing, mistaken identities, and a twist on the legend of Zorro? Oh yeah! These and so much more is what “Zorro: The Gay Blade” offers. In this campy spoof, written in the same style as Mel Brook films, the witty one liners perfectly play on the hysterical situations everyone ends up amidst. Though things get a bit over the top at times, this queer film will keep you invested from start to finish. Let’s break it down a bit more.
Synopsis of “Zorro: The Gay Blade”
Set back in the 1840’s, Don Diego Vego (George Hamilton) is discovered in bed with another Spanish Don Juan’s wife! During the ensuring swordfight, his mute sidekick Paco (Donovan Scott) “reads” a letter from Deigo’s father begging him to return to California before they escape into a waiting carriage. But when they arrive in Los Angeles and are greeted by Deigo’s childhood friend, Esteban (Ron Leibman) who’s now a Captain, Diego learns that his father was killed a few weeks prior in an accident with a turtle. To add salt to the wound, Esteban ended up marrying Florinda (Brenda Vaccaro), whom they both fought over growing up. Senior de la Vega, Diego’s father, was actually the Alcalde for the region until Captain Esteban is “elected unanimously” by the other Dons of nearby cities. But his rather shocking inaugural speech about raising taxes and providing a safe regime is interrupted by the arrival of Charlotte Taylor-Wilson (Lauren Hutton) who cries out for California to join the newly founded United States. Diego is smitten instantly with Charlotte — but she has zero interest in his arrogant nature.
While relaxing at the de la Vega villa, Diego receives an invitation to a masked ball to celebrate Esteban’s election. But when the family housemaid lugs in his inheritance and a letter addressed to both of his sons, things suddenly change. Senior de la Vegas was none other than legendary Zorro himself! A masked mantle that Diego willingly takes on, although his attempt to reawaken the legend en route to the party doesn’t quite go as planned. Diego confronts a criminal robbing a peasant, winning the duel and announcing himself as Zorro. But the “criminal” in reality was the tax collector, Velasquez (James Booth) who reports the theft directly to Alcalde Esteban. When they realise that Diego is at the ball, another sword fight ensues! But when he escapes by jumping off a high wall, Diego injures his foot and hobbles away. Later that night, while Florinda attempts to seduce Diego, Esteban suddenly arrives to inquire why Diego was not at the party. Diego is thankfully able to sway Esteban’s suspicions, but only barely! However, being unable to protect the people, the Alcalde begins a reign of torture and tax gauging.
But wait! Diego’s brother, Ramon (also George Hamilton), suddenly returns from the British Royal Navy. The two brothers couldn’t be more unalike. Now calling himself Bunny Wigglesworth, Diego’s brother is flamboyantly homosexual, but willing to help continue their father’s legacy and portray Zorro while Diego recovers. However, he insists on a “costume change”: adding fringe, tassels, entire outfits in all colours of the rainbow, and swapping out a whip for the iconic rapier. Things quickly progress. The peasants revel and cheer as Zorro works to protect them, the local Dons are furious at Zorro’s interference (and his constantly changing clothes and behaviour), and Charlotte falls in love with Zorro. Throughout all of this, Esteban’s ire builds as he constantly fails to capture Zorro. But it’s Florinda who comes up with a plan — hold another ball and use her new necklace as bait!
However, Diego’s foot is now healed and they have a plan. One by one the guests arrive to the masquerade ball — all dressed as Zorro! Meanwhile, Diego shows up in his official Zorro ensemble while escorting his brother Bunny — dressed in drag as his cousin, “Margarita Wigglesworth”! After spilling wine on Florinda’s dress, Bunny is able to swipe the necklace before leaving the iconic “Z” in lipstick on the mirror. With their plan a success, Bunny takes off to return to the Royal Navy. Still dressed as Zorro, Diego dashes off to give the necklace to Charlotte and reveal his love for her. But she had already guessed that Diego was Zorro. But wait, the reveal is overheard by one of Esteban’s spies! In order to finally capture Zorro, Esteban arrests Charlotte and sentences her to public execution. Diego sneaks in dressed as a monk to save her, but only does so after he offers up his life in exchange. At the last minute, Bunny swings into the courtyard wearing a gold lamé Zorro costume to save the day! After freeing both Diego and Charlotte, they fight off the soldiers and convince the peasants to revolt and finally overthrow Esteban. Afterwards, Bunny finally leaves to return to the Royal Navy, before Diego and Charlotte ride off into the sunset.
Before we get into the great bits of “Zorro: The Gay Blade”, there are a few things that didn’t quite sit right with me. For one, the characters are over the top and very stereotypical. Given that the film was made in 1981, it all was quite fitting of the time — but in today’s times, it would come across in poor taste and lose much of its charm. Tying into this issue of perception, some of the jokes don’t land as comical as intended. Even the “Gay” Blade isn’t quite as comical today (and the “sissy” jokes, limp-wrist, and lisp doesn’t help). But lastly, there was a timing issue that really jarred — the title cards. Yes, they were going for a spoof of classic Western films and in that aspect it works. But unlike the original style, they flew past so quick you could barely read the title (and I’m a rapid reader!) and it set up a jumpiness that annoyed me by the end of the film. In short, despite some great comedy “Zorro: The Gay Blade” is quite dated and a bit hard to ignore.
Yet as dated as “Zorro: The Gay Blade” is, it’s equally quite a funny and enjoyable film! Right away there’s one thing that just stands out: George Hamilton — wow! Portraying both the suave, epitome of masculinity as Don Diego Vega and the campy, flamboyant character of Ramon aka Bunny Wigglesworth, we get to really see the full range of his acting skills. And let’s not ignore the talented directing and editing efforts to pull it all off; when they share the screen, it’s difficult to imagine they’re the same actor! But Hamilton is not alone bringing hysterical characters to life. Ron Leibman is loud and obnoxious as Esteban, which contrasts comically to the seductiveness of Brenda Vaccaro’s Florinda. And even though her character comes across a bit flat, Lauren Hutton is very realistic as Charlotte. Together, they all have a chemistry that balances and bounces off each other to add even more humour to this spoof.
And let’s not ignore the brilliantly written script and characterisations. While “Zorro: The Gay Blade” was written by a team of writers, they took the well-known legend of Zorro and added quick wit and snarky lines that are still hysterical decades later. To start, Zorro — the suave, masculine womaniser and sword-buckling hero has a brother. A very flamboyant bother who was sent of the Navy to “become a man” yet returns holding a parasol while wearing an officer’s wig. We couldn’t have a funnier contrast, and it just gets better because they exploit the gay/queer side of Zorro by costuming Ramon in all colours of the rainbow and even cross-dressing in a full 17th century Rocco style outfit which somehow charms Esteban away from his seductive and rather full buxomed wife, Florinda. Throw in a mute sidekick in Paco, we are rarely bored as this circus unfolds on screen.
But the last part that impressed me were all the cinematographic elements that brought this spoof to life. While I eventually disliked the title cards, they paid homage to classic Westerns — right along with other iconic elements such as sword-fighting, riding horses off into the sunset, and more. The costuming equally impressed my eye as a costumer, and I absolutely loved the party costumes! Are they historically correct — nope, which was common in the 80’s but actually paid homage to the original western and early 19th century silent films that were a hodgepodge of fashion styles themselves. (But equally quite iconic and stunning!) But the best part — the fabulous orchestral score that instantly zaps us back to that classic Western film style. Overall, nearly everything pulls together in “Zorro: The Gay Blade” to create a zany comedic film that is a hoot to watch!
Despite a few issues (and even though I only have it half a star for “My Opinion”), I really do enjoy “Zorro: The Gay Blade”. I absolutely love comedic spoofs like these! With a great blend of quirky zany quips, an incredible score, and plenty of homage to classic Western films of ‘old, there is no doubt that this twist on the legend of Zorro is very queer and gay. But don’t take my word for it. Go find yourself a copy of this slightly dated, yet hysterical queer film today. You can thank me later!
Queer Relevance of “Zorro: The Gay Blade”
The queer relevance for “Zorro: The Gay Blade” is a bit tricky. Yes, “Gay” is in the title — but remember that for a good while, gay did not equal homosexual; but happy and perhaps a bit campy. Add to this is a buried layer of subtext that implies that Bunny Wigglesworth is gay or at the very least, queer. First, he shows up holding a parasol in a very British Navy lieutenant including the wig and fake mole with a very feminine manner of speech. Others throw homophobic slurs towards him, but it actually works within the context of this comedic & campy spoof. We don’t have any same-sex kisses, or really even any flirting. Other than a fabulous cross dressing Bunny Wigglesworth and his very flamboyant character, the queer elements aren’t always obvious — but it’s still quite a “Gay” film!
Plot & Script: 0.5 / 1.0
Casting & Acting: 1.0 / 1.0
Directing & Editing: 0.5 / 1.0
Cinematography: 1.0 / 1.0
My Opinion: 0.5 / 1.0
My Overall Rating = 3.5 / 5.0