I always label these things as “Audiobook Reviews” but I tend towards the audio dramas, and this was no exception. Despite being a life-long fan of Zorro (I was dressing as Zorro for Halloween fairly consistently as a child) somehow I have managed to have never read the original book, Curse of the Capistrano – otherwise known as The Mark of Zorro. Upon discovering that there had been a recent audio dramatization of the book, I immediately sought it out to fill the time in my driving commute. My only reservation was in the casting of Val Kilmer as Don Diego – I’ve found his performances to be inconsistent in the past (sometimes great, sometimes terrible). I’m happy to say my fears were completely unfounded, in fact I’m not sure that I’ve have really recognized it as Val Kilmer without having been told it up front.
The presentation of this story is a large part of the appeal – if you like the way the old serials were, or the way some popular movies have managed to capture the feel of those serials (like Indiana Jones) – this should feel very familiar. The narrator is the owner of a tavern in Los Angeles, who brings the listener up to speed with some of the recent exploits of the masked man named Zorro. Is he fighting for the people, or is he a menace? At this point, not too many people really know – from the nobility (the Dons) on down to the lowest of people. But Sergeant Gonzales intends to end his rein of terror – right after he finishes his meal and drink. Zorro of course surprises him and manages to overpower him without difficulty, scratching his mark upon the man’s face – though a running gag will continue as those who match blades with Zorro will increasingly fabricate outlandish stories as to why Zorro didn’t fight fair and couldn’t possibly best them without resorting to cheating.
Meanwhile, Don Diego has been set a task by his father – find a wife or forfeit his family’s position. Diego seeks out Lolita, the daughter of a family who have long been friends of theirs – but who have also fallen out of favor with the governor of California. Lolita can’t stand the lazy Diego, who shows little interest in anything, least of all defending her honor when she is accosted by the Commandante who wants to force her to marry him. But of course, it is Zorro who comes to her rescue – and Zorro whom she falls in love with. And through a series of adventures their paths will continue to cross, ultimately leading to a small revolution in which Zorro shall play a pivotal role. Through subtle hints the listener is able to determine that Don Diego is Zorro, despite the fact that it is never revealed within the story, which I found to be another interesting aspect of this particular tale.
The acting, music, sound effects and narration were all used to wonderful effect in this audio drama – it felt like I was listening to a radio program of old. At the same time, the story didn’t feel dated to me – perhaps it’s been adapted some for this new performance, but it seems to me a classic enough story that it likely didn’t need many changes. I hope more of these older Zorro stories get the same treatment, I understand there are a few more Johnston books featuring the character and I’d love to have the opportunity to hear them all this way. But for anyone who may be like me and always wondered what the first story was like – it’s well worth checking out The Mark of Zorro.