Ninety years later, it’s still easy to see why Douglas Fairbanks’ adventure films made the money they did. Fairbanks was the lighthearted trickster onscreen; a man who dispatched all manner of threats with total confidence; won the pretty girl with a combination of charm and skill, and did it in exotic places.
For the factory worker, the desk jockey or the housewife, this was escapism; and a safe investment, too. Fairbanks’ ‘big’ productions, like The Mark of Zorro (1920), Robin Hood (1922), and The Black Pirate (1926), were all of one type: reliable mixes of drama, action, romance and laughs that you could count upon to entertain you when handing over your cash.
This makes them predictable, but not necessarily good. I’ve often found Fairbanks’ work hokey and formulaic; his stock character, while charmingly upbeat, is so many steps ahead of his enemies that he rarely seems imperiled. No peril, no drama. Joie de vivre gives way to mere silliness, and I begin to feel overtaxed, since his films aren’t particularly short, either.
Don Q, Son of Zorro has these same flaws, but I liked it alright. Maybe because it maintains a balance some of the others don’t—allowing a talented supporting cast to carry more of the relevant screen time. Or maybe because it feels more… brisk? Sure. Don Q is brisk, and Fairbanks’ eponymous character moves through it briskly. How Don Q moves is, I think, the thing I want focus on most.