The Mark of Zorro (1940) directed by Rouben Mamoulian
Don Diego de Vega (Tyrone Power) leaves the comforts of 19th century Spain to return to his parents in Los Angeles, California. His father was mayor but has been replaced by a new and corrupt alcalde who is the puppet of Captain Pasquale (Basil Rathbone). Diego soon discovers how oppressed the regular people are. He maintains a foppish, spoiled persona by day, but at night he maraudes as Zorro. He robs from the alcalde to give back to the poor. Zorro enlists the aide of the local padre, Fray Filipe, to redistribute the wealth. Diego falls for the alcalde's beautiful niece (Linda Darnell), who is more interested in the heroic Zorro than the popinjay Diego. So the plot and main character is a combination of The Scarlet Pimpernel and Robin Hood moved to 19th century California.
What could have been a run-of-the-mill, derivative action film turns out to be a highly entertaining and action packed movie. Tyrone Power makes a great, athletic hero and is also perfect as the spoiled aristocrat. Rathbone is an excellent villain (even better than his performance in Robin Hood). Their sword fights are exciting and impressive. The stunt work is also amazing. Diego's schemes to return his father to control are fun and logical, and he plays every angle he can to convince the alcalde to go back to Spain. He manipulates the alcalde and his wife in different ways to great effect, while he also woes their niece. All the while Diego keeps his parents in the dark, causing a bit of household strife. The big battle at the end is exciting and satisfying.
I'm surprised this film is not more popular. It's just as exciting as Errol Flynn's Adventures of Robin Hood (maybe more so) and is much more substantive. My son saw about one minute of this film on TV while we were in a hotel and loved it (we had to switch because it was my daughter's turn to pick what to watch). Happily our local library had it on DVD but we will probably get our own copy of this wonderful action film.
A fun bit of trivia--Eugene Pallette played Friar Tuck in the Errol Flynn film and plays basically the same role, albeit as Fray Filipe, in this film. Filipe is a more substantial character, so this film has the better performance.