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STUDIO: A&E Home Video
RUNNING TIME: 2024 minutes
- The Mark of Zorro, starring Douglas Fairbanks, the original full-length silent film that defined the swashbuckler genre
- Chapter 1 of the 1939 theatrical serial Zorro s Fighting Legion
- Trailers for the serials Zorro s Fighting Legion, Zorro s Black Whip and Zorro Rides Again
- The original, never-before-released pilot for the New World Zorro
- A photo gallery from the New World Zorro
Revive and retell the story of the mythical Spanish character of Zorro, which was created in 1919 and has spawned various theatrical and non-theatrical takes on the legend itself, as well as inspiring Bob Kane to create Batman.
Duncan Regehr, James Victor, Juan Diego Botto, Patrice Martinez, Henry Darrow, Michael Tylo, Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., J.G. Hertzler
Don Diego de la Vega is called upon from Spain by his father, Don Alejandro de la Vega (Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. (the voice of Alfred in Batman: The Animated Series) in season 1, Henry Darrow from season 2 onward), to battle the will of the Alcalde and help to liberate the people of Los Angeles, which at this time is a tiny pueblo. Little does his father know his true identity, that of the man, the myth, the legend: Zorro. He is aided by his mute assistant Felipe, who is the only one who knows his real identity. He faces off against (and often humiliates) a variety of foes, including the ruthless Alcalde (a sort of town municipal “ruler”) and various outlaws and villains that come across the town. He’ll stop at nothing to slash his trademark “Z” on their chests in poorly done cutaway scenes.
How many of you actually remember this show? And how many are a fan of the character? I have very little, if no knowledge of the character other than the fact that, if you get right down to it, he could probably be considered one of the first “superheroes”. Going in, I had vague recollections of watching the show on The Family Channel, which later turned into FOX Family and now of course these days is ABC Family, with arguably worse original series programming than the channel had back in the day. Zorro was an over-the-top show packed with a few seriously generic characters, which has very little continuity (except for the ongoing crush that Victoria (Patrice Martinez) has on Zorro and the secret Diego keeps regarding his identity) over the course of its 88 episodes and no characters you would consider especially endearing, except for maybe the man himself. They aren’t bad characters, really, just not developed well. But see, there’s no real threat that of anything game-changing present; everything kinda just happens and you never fear for anyone’s life or that the stakes are high. Before writing this I was thinking of breaking things down season-by-season, but the more that I progressed through the series, the more I realized that it just wasn’t necessary. In the same way that a lot of cartoon characters have no recollection of what happened in previous installments, that’s the way the world of Zorro works. That’s what they intended, i’m sure, but it speaks to the disposable nature of a show like this. Fun, but unsatisfying, pulpy type action and with the cheesiest 90s theme song you can imagine and chock full of marginal excitement but nothing that merits serious analysis. Although I can’t help it, and i’ve thought this way my whole life when it comes to any kind of fiction that involves masked heroes: I guess you could say any comic book type property where a hero conceals his identity but parades around as a normal person pretending that he isn’t that hero, and mysteriously disappearing when the hero springs into action. If it were me, and I got up close, i’d be able to tell that this person was the hero. I’d wonder why they weren’t there every time the hero was kicking ass and taking names. But I guess that’d take the fun out of it, having that one jerk who goes “Wait a minute….your mustache and chin are the same as Zorro’s!”.
Duncan Regehr (you probably only know him as Dracula in Monster Squad or from some episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) does a pretty good job as Don Diego de la Vega, or Zorro, and has a pretty sizable amount of charisma and presence. It’s kind of surprising that he never continued acting in a greater capacity after this show ended its run. Whether that was his choice or not, he has chops, and it’s a shame that said chops only got to be spread around on The Family Channel along with the likes of Rin-Tin-Tin: K9 Cop (which was a Canadian transplant anyways), Big Brother Jake (master thespian Jake Steinfeld’s starring sitcom) and, well…I can’t even remember any other original programming. He’s the strongest part of the show, by far. As the lead, that’s always a good thing, and he’s complemented by mostly solid actors who sometimes play things very over the top because that’s what the show called for.
As I mentioned earlier, the Alcalde is a sort of municipal magistrate and is in charge of the tiny pueblo of then-Los Angeles. He barks orders to Mendoza, his second-in-command and very much the comic relief of the show on more than one occasion. There are two Alcaldes in the series: Michael Tylo plays Luis Ramone, Alcalde for seasons 1 and 2, and then J.G. Hertzler for the remainder of the show’s run. The Alcalde ruthlessly dictates to his people and is constantly outdone and made a fool of by Zorro. He classically hates Zorro for no reason other than the fact that he usurps his authority and threatens his dominance and control of the town, and the townspeople. It’s the typical irrational hate that a villain needs to have for the hero. He sometimes works alongside Zorro because he’s forced to for his own ends, but to me the whole agenda of the character is tiring. Nearly every episode it’s the same for him- “I’ll have him hanged!” or something like that. You could probably create a drinking game for every time he yells “After him!”. J.G. Hertzler was not nearly as over-the-top as Michael Tylo was, though. This guy was as one-note as you can get, but it’s the character’s fault, and likely not his. J.G. Hertzler was Ignacio De Soto, still the Alcalde but a different character altogether, and while he had his bumbling moments like Tylo did as Ramone, his Alcalde was a lot more menacing and serious in the actions he took, as well as way more believable and less cartoony.
Early on in the series, there was a very low budget feel to things, and it showed not only in costumes but in sets as well. That makes sense, of course, because it wasn’t exactly being broadcast on a highly-rated network. By season 2, though, it appears that the cinematography had improved as well as the scope and scale, although admittedly still not the grandest stage there was. There were wider outdoor shots and better set design, along with more colors than the bland palette you’d notice in season 1. Now, none of this is wildly important since any tv series or movie needs to stand as well on the quality of its writing as it does its look and feel, but with a series like this i’d say it’s important to have a unique look as much as anything else because when you get right down to it, this is a period show, set after the turn of the 18th century, and it needs to reflect that. In that aspect, the later seasons succeed. Not to mention that the show was filmed entirely in Madrid, Spain. While watching I actually felt like a lot of the locales were similar to what you’d see in any number of westerns, which makes sense considering the time period. It’s a wacky, more recent comparison, but some of the environments south of the border in the videogame Red Dead Redemption are perfect representations of the look of this show. So in other words, it’s your standard village and mountainous areas that happen to be very reflective of that era.
There are some definite standout episodes sprinkled in throughout the mostly generic plotlines in the 88 episodes of the show. A really well-done 2-part episode late in Season 2 takes us to present-day Los Angeles around the ruins of the Pueblo, and a clearly aged member of the de la Vega bloodline (the great-great-grandson of Don Diego, I believe) takes his granddaughter to find Zorro’s hideout. From there, he reads her a story about a fortress that Zorro must infiltrate to receive a scroll from, which is the main premise of the 2-parter. It’s one of the better episodes, as well as the Christmas episode from Season 2 titled “It’s a Wonderful Zorro” in which, as you can imagine, Don Diego gets a glimpse at a Los Angeles without Zorro and all the havoc that would cause. One of the other Christmas episodes involves snow, and Santa Claus. And he, of course, feels wildly out of place. But what the hell, right?
One thing that can be said is that there are tons of guest stars, most of them occurring in season 3. Rowdy Roddy Piper, Adam West, Andre the Giant, Daniel Craig, Jesse Ventura, Warwick Davis, Pete Postlethwaite, and the list goes on. Adam West plays a traveling salesman who has all kinds of odd inventions that captivate the town. Jesse Ventura plays a pirate who walks around menacingly and hugs and adopts little boys. Andre the Giant plays a big brute whose brother is wrongfully accused of stealing. The guest spots aren’t bad and some are even for more than just one episode. It’s definitely a time capsule-ish glance at some late 80s/early 90s celebrities. Some were folks who hadn’t yet become huge stars, but also there were those who were already established elsewhere.
I wouldn’t say I have any major problems with Zorro as a show that’s just trying to be something fun and entertaining for kids and their families. It attempts to be humorous very often and perhaps that can be one of the show’s strengths. The biggest gripe with the show, though, is that it’s just kind of boring. There aren’t any earth-shattering storylines or performances to speak of, really, just decent performances. As I said before, Duncan Regehr is actually pretty damn excellent. And I wouldn’t even say there is bad acting anywhere in this show, for the most part. Most of the episodes can be summed up as “Zorro gets into a sword fight and saves the day” or “the Alcalde desperately tries to thwart Zorro and ultimately comes up short, and is laughed at”. It’s a light hearted show that is never terribly interesting or unpredictable but works well enough as early-90s family shows went. If it’s just trying to channel the spirit of the less contemporary versions of the character that lived throughout the earlier part of the 20th century, that would explain the fact that there is little commitment to anything resembling serious character drama. Either way, it’s DECENT, but not memorable. There were way worse basic cable shows in the early-90s (anything with “Degrassi” in the title…sorry, I had to!) and at its worst it at least had some fun moments and episodes. Taken in all at once it’s a bit exhausting, since this is such a dense show. That was surely a casualty of the fact that it ran much like network shows run, as far as September-April/May for 25 episodes and then picking back up in September for another run of 25. That’s something you never see with cable these days, at least not with anything other than cartoons. Watching such a huge show all at once puts its flaws under a microscope, in a way. But if you had caught this show in its original run it would have proved a somewhat worthy, if mostly unexciting way to spend 22 minutes.
The transfer is what you would expect for a show from 1990, and needless to say it’s all in fullscreen. Going into it with low expectations helps soften the blow, but there are times when the transfer is even grainier than normal at times, and can be pretty jarring. Still, it’s all very standard and average for a show this old.
As far as extras, it’s a very solid set. I would have legitimately enjoyed some sort of behind the scenes documentary on the making of the show, but alas there is nothing to be found here. You have trailers for three of the serials, which were released in the late 1930s, which are Zorro’s Fighting Legion, Zorro’s Black Whip, and Zorro Rides Again. Not only that, but Chapter 1 of Zorro’s Fighting Legion is included, and it’s…well, it’s Zorro. It’s not terrible, and at the very least it’s an interesting observation of just how much the costume changed over time, as well as the fact that he rode a white horse as opposed to the black one he rides in the tv series. Also present is the never-before-released pilot for the tv series, when Patrick James (who?) was playing the lead, although it’s easy to see why they decided to scrap it and start over. From what i’ve read about it, their original conceptualization was too violent and not humorous enough, which is a definite trademark of the character. And the main character was not actually Don Diego but his nephew, someone who had been inspired by Zorro when he was growing up, and decided to follow in his footsteps. As far as the violence, you can tell it was a huge issue, driven home by the fact that there are 2 deaths within 5 minutes of the pilot beginning! Death really has no place in the world of Zorro, and quality-wise this horrible pilot makes the actual show look Emmy-worthy. If this was the show I had to watch 88 episodes of, i’d probably have made myself familiar with the business end of a rapier. Of course, the real gem of the special features is the original 1920 silent film The Mark Of Zorro, starring Douglas Fairbanks. Very well done, considering the time period. And considering that I shamefully have not watched many silent films, it at least gets me in the mood to finally track down some gems from that era, and really see what i’ve been missing/neglecting.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars