This movie was on HBO a bunch when I was young, but to be honest, I assumed it was gonna be just awful when I revisited it. It is actually apparently out of print and on no streaming services, almost certainly for obvious reasons.
The movie stars George Hamilton as the titular swashbuckler and his brother... Bunny. But I get ahead of myself.
Don Diego de la Vega is summoned home from Spain to his birthplace of Los Angeles in the 1840s. Upon arrival he learns that his father has died and he has inherited the ancestral lands and home... as well as the family legacy and his destiny. His father was the famous Zorro and his dying wish was that he - or his long-lost brother - take up the mantle of El Zorro and fight for the rights of the pipples. Unfortunately, his childhood friend is now the evil Alcalde whose tyranny knows no bounds and so begins his path into legend - until he is injured showboating and is unable to buckle any swash. While he recovers, the people suffer mightily under the Alcalde, who knows no mercy and has become obsessed with finding Zorro.
Things seem hopeless until one day he receives a surprise visitor: his long-lost twin Ramon. Well, er, Bunny. Bunny Wigglesworth. You see, Ramon actually ran off and joined the British Navy and, while ascending to become an officer, also learned something about himself... Diego urges him that the mantle of Zorro was his legacy as well and he must take up the cape and mask and defend the pipples in Diego's absence. Bunny reluctantly agrees, but under the stipulation that if he is to be Zorro, Zorro is going to need a bit more panache. And so is born Zorro, The Gay Blade.
So now, to answer the question... how was it?
Honestly, it was pretty damn fun. It's a surprisingly good little movie. And by that I mean that it is a small film without a huge budget, but it doesn't require one and is just a helluva lot better than I expected.
For the most part it rides on Hamilton's shoulders and I was left wondering, "Was George Hamilton always this good and if so, why didn't he get more serious work?" (Of course, it turns out he was nominated for a Golden Globe 3 times and at least one BAFTA). Here he plays Diego, a dashing, skilled, yet not-always-the-sharpest, upper-class Spaniard and, obviously, Zorro, the suave swashbuckling hero of the people. He also plays Bunny Wigglesworth, a somewhat flamboyantly (I live in New Orleans so he wasn't that flamboyant to me) homosexual British Naval Officer, who is the smartest person in the movie and quite the swashbuckler himself. But Hamilton also plays Bunny PLAYING ZORRO. For which he does not merely go back to Diego but plays a new version that is trying to mimic Diego but is always just having too much fun to help himself. Bunny also goes in disguise as a woman to a masquerade ball. So you have Hamilton as Diego and Zorro and Bunny and Bunny-playing-Zorro, as well as Bunny playing a ridiculous woman to boot. There is a great scene where Bunny is trying out being Zorro in front of a mirror and has only half of his face/hair made up to look like Diego and the other like himself and he actually does a back and forth dialogue between himself as a female peasant calling for help and Zorro coming to the rescue. It's really surprising.
Yet I guess it shouldn't be since, if I had done my homework I would have known that George Hamilton was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actor for this performance.
He is not the only standout, though. Ron Leibman was, I thought, hilarious as the tyrannical, obsessive Alcalde and Brenda Vaccaro gets her laughs in as well. (Lauren Hutton, sadly, is given very little to do as she quickly goes from Champion of the People, to Lovestruck Fool.)
But all of the performances work because the script is surprisingly sharp. The dialogue really kinda whips (sorry) and while it's really, really silly at times, it almost comes off like a decent Mel Brooks movie, which I would say really was the inspiration for this. You can kinda feel the lineage between Blazing Saddles and this film, not to compare the two in greatness in any way, but there's a shared spirit, especially between how Blazing Saddles features an African-American character who is really the sharpest person in the movie and ultimately the hero, despite facing the usual racist barbs and setbacks and how Zorro: TGB features an openly-flamboyantly-gay character who is really the sharpest person in the movie and ultimately the hero, although there are a lot fewer jokes at his expense compared to BS, beyond a little mocking of his mannerisms. It's especially strong that upon his introduction, when Diego has not seen him for years, he is completely unfazed by Bunny's sexuality and flair and just embraces him as his long-lost brother and sets about scheming with him. In fact, to my amusement, the first time anyone refers to his behavior despairingly, that guy gets punched in the face. Whether they pulled off the same fine line that Saddles did with a sensitive subject, I don't know, but it seemed to me like they tried and it worked more often than not. The script's jokes about Diego's absurdly thick accent may not play so well today however. I don't know if jokes about a Spaniard having a really thick accent are inherently racist (I work with a guy I still can't understand after knowing him for 15 years and even HE jokes about it), but I did read one modern Latin American review that didn't take all that kindly to it. I suspect it doesn't play as well when the actor is not Spanish.
In conclusion, and damn I write way too much in these... write-ups, I will say that Zorro: The Gay Blade is a fun little parody with a fairly witty script, an impressive central performance, some good supporting characters, and a surprising complexity with regard to how people are portrayed on-screen.
"Remember, my people: there is no shame in being poor, only in dressing poorly!"