Film Serial Review: Zorro’s Black Whip (1944)

Release Date: November 16th, 1944 (first chapter)
Directed by: Spencer Gordon Bennet, Wallace Grissel
Written by: Basil Dickey, Jesse Duffy, Grant Nelson, Joseph Poland, Johnston McxCulley (original Zorro novel)
Cast: Linda Stirling, George J. Lewis, Lucien Littlefield, Francis McDonald

Republic Pictures, 182 Minutes (total over 12 chapters)

Review:

Zorro’s Black Whip is pretty unusual, as Republic Pictures didn’t have the rights to use the Zorro character in a film but they could still use the name. So with that, they created this serial where the Zorro-esque hero is named The Black Whip and is, in fact, a dame!

The story also takes place in Idaho, a far departure from southern California, even though that’s where this would’ve been filmed.

I like the heroine and thought that Linda Stirling did a pretty decent job as a female version of Zorro with a different name. 

The rest of the cast was about as good as film serial casts go. No one really stood out other than the lead.

The story was a bit all over the place and I thought that the chapter cliffhangers were fairly weak and mundane. Honestly, in a lot of ways, the writing and the situations were incredibly derivative for the genre style.

Still, this did have some spirit for something that was a gender-swapped generic ripoff of a popular hero.

In the end, this is very far from being the best representation of “Zorro” but it’s also not dreadful. I doubt I’ll ever watch it again, though.

Rating: 4.5/10

Film Review: The Mark of Zorro (1920)

Release Date: November 27th, 1920 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Fred Niblo
Written by: Johnston McCulley, Eugene Miller, Douglas Fairbanks
Based on: The Curse of Capistrano by Johnston McCulley
Music by: Mortimer Wilson
Cast: Douglas Fairbanks, Marguerite De La Motte, Noah Beery, Robert McKim, Milton Berle (uncredited)

Douglas Fairbanks Pictures, 90 Minutes (1970 cut), 107 Minutes (DVD cut), 97 Minutes (Academy Archive Print)

Review:

“We never let business interfere with drinking!” – Undetermined Role

My mother used to love this film a lot and I saw it multiple times, as a kid, because of that. Granted, her favorite Zorro film was the one with Tyrone Power but it was my mum’s love of Zorro movies and swashbuckling in general that made me appreciate these whimsical adventure movies too.

I wanted to go way back and revisit this one, though, as it actually set the stage for what Zorro would evolve into over the years. This generated the tone and style for the franchise from a visual standpoint and with this picture, specifically, you can see how this character and his world inspired the main character and world of the Batman comic book series.

Douglas Fairbanks, working with the original Zorro creator, made a pretty action packed, energetic and jovial motion picture, especially for its time, as this is a silent picture and had to rely more on the physical performances and athleticism of its cast.

This has a good, straightforward story and it created a template that wasn’t just reused in the dozens of Zorro films, serials and television shows that followed but also in other intellectual properties.

The Mark of Zorro is quite fantastic for its era. While it isn’t my favorite version of Zorro, it made it possible for those other versions to exist, as well as so many pulp heroes and stories from Batman, The Shadow, The Phantom and countless others.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other Zorro pictures and film serials, as well as other Douglas Fairbanks movies.

Comic Review: Django/Zorro

Published: November 11th, 2015
Written by: Quentin Tarantino, Matt Wagner
Art by: Esteve Polls
Based on: Django Unchained by Quentin Tarantino, Zorro by Johnston McCulley

Dynamite Entertainment, 306 Pages

Review:

Not gonna lie, I was really curious to see how this crossover would play out, especially since it was branded as “The official sequel to Django Unchained.” I’m sure this will be water under the bridge if Quentin Tarantino actually ever does a proper cinematic sequel but for now, I guess Jamie Foxx’s incarnation of Django exists in the same world as the legendary Zorro.

And that’s fine… in fact, it’s really fucking cool. Granted, I would’ve rather seen Zorro team-up with the original Franco Nero Django but I still really like Foxx’s version of the character even if I wasn’t in love with the film he was featured in.

Anyway, I thought the story was just okay. It’s not bad and this was entertaining, accomplishing what it set out to do. However, it still just feels like one of a gajillion comic book IP crossovers just made to cash-in on combining multiple franchises. But at least this one sort of fits together well unlike Transformers and Star Trek or Ghostbusters and Ninja Turtles.

Additionally, I also liked the art and overall style of the book. It felt like an homage to old school western comics while still being modern.

Overall, this was a neat experiment and an amusing read. However, it’s still kind of forgettable and will most likely slip down the memory hole fairly quickly.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other recent western comics from Dynamite Entertainment.

Film Serial Review: Zorro Rides Again (1937)

Release Date: November 20th, 1937 (first chapter)
Directed by: William Witney, John English
Written by: Franklin Adreon, Morgan Cox, Ronald Davidson, John Rathmell, Barry Shipman
Based on: Zorro by Johnston McCulley
Music by: Alberto Colombo, Walter Hirsch, Eddie Maxwell, Lou Handman
Cast: John Carroll, Helen Christian, Reed Howes, Duncan Renaldo, Noah Beery Sr., Richard Alexander

Republic Pictures, 212 Minutes total (12 episodes), 68 Minutes (film), 26 Minutes (6 TV episodes)

Review:

Zorro Rides Again has a few notable things worth mentioning. It was the first film collaboration for directors William Whitney and John English. Also, it was the eighth of Republic Pictures’ 66 serials. It was also just the third western themed serial that Republic did. Additionally, this was the first of five Zorro serials produced by Republic Pictures.

This Zorro serial was influenced by the singing cowboy trend of the time, so there are some musical numbers. I’ve never been a fan of that particular genre so what could have been a great serial adventure for a great and iconic hero suffered from its musical hokiness.

The casting was mediocre and no one really stands out or has a strong presence. Zorro, as a character, always stands out but he just seemed stripped of his coolness. He just didn’t feel like the Old West Mexican Batman that he normally is.

This serial doesn’t have much to boast about, unfortunately. Being a Zorro fan, I wanted to love Zorro Rides Again but I was mostly bored throughout it. Visually, it is average. The direction is fine for a serial but Witney and English hadn’t yet found their rhythm.

In any event, it did spawn four sequels and I’m hoping that they improve upon this weak initial outing.

Rating: 4/10