Zorro the Gay Blade (1981)
Humorous take-off on the Zorro legend. George Hamilton stars as Don Diego Vega, an 18th Century Mexican playboy who suddenly discovers as an adult that he is one of Zorro's two sons. Accepting his "destiny," Diego assumes the costume and role of Zorro and immediately protects some peasants from the heartless tax collector Velasquez, played by James Booth with an eye patch, brown leather pants, and a dodgy Mexican accent. This puts Diego secretly at odds with his best friend, the evil Alcalde, to whom Velasquez reports. A cat-and-mouse game ensues, but is interrupted when Diego injures his foot and has to suspend his swashbuckling.
At that moment, along comes Diego's long-lost brother (also played by Hamilton). Reared in England, and now a British naval officer, he's a swishy, lisping fop who calls himself Bunny Wigglesworth.. Bunny agrees to take over the Zorro role until Diego's foot heals--but he dresses in bright colors instead of black and brandishes a whip instead of a sword. Despite his flamboyant flaming, Bunny is Diego's equal in swashbuckling. He creates a stir among the villains, who don't know there are two Zorros.
When the evil Alcalde holds a masked ball so his wife can show off her priceless new necklace, the Zorro brothers attend together with the intention of stealing the necklace. Diego, like most of the other men, attends dressed as Zorro, while Bunny is in drag, pretending to be Diego's female cousin. The plan succeeds and later Diego, still dressed as Zorro, gives the same necklace to his love interest, an American human rights crusader named Charlotte Taylor Wilson (Lauren Hutton). The two declare their love and she admits that she has always known that Diego and Zorro were one and the same. Their conversation is overheard and reported to the Alcalde, who arrests Wilson and puts her before a firing squad. Zorro appears and offers himself in her place. Wilson is released. The firing squad is about to shoot down Diego when who should appear but Bunny, dressed in a gold satin Zorro outfit! He saves Diego and disrupts the proceedings. A melee ensues. The supine peasantry for once rises up and fights. When the dust settles, everyone--peasants, soldiers, reformers--has found common cause in their hatred of the Alcalde, who is ousted. The romantic coda sees Zorro and Charlotte reunited.
Zorro the Gay Blade tells its absurd story with a perfectly straight face and comes out charming and amusing. Though filled with stereotypes and caricatures, the humor is good-natured, never cruel, especially where Bunny's gayness is concerned, and the conventions of the old Zorro films are revered as much as they are mocked. George Hamilton gives a standout performance as Don Diego and his "sissy-boy" brother, and the rest of the cast is top-notch. Lauren Hutton seems oddly well-cast as the idealistic Charlotte Taylor Wilson. Her lean, angular beauty and moral intensity remind me of the young Katherine Hepburn.
Text copyright Diana Blackwell, 2004.
Link: Pauline Kael's review of Zorro, the Gay Blade