“Out of the night when the full moon is bright comes a horseman known as Zorro. This bold renegade carves a “Z” with his blade, a “Z” that stands for Zorro. The fox so cunning and free, Zorro who makes the sign of the “Z”. “
Zorro first appeared in pulp magazines in 1919 written by Johnston McCulley. He told the story of a talented swordsman who masqueraded as a dull, inept, and spoiled young rich man. But, when he put on his trademark black cloak and mask he took to the countryside of Spanish California in 1820, fighting for the peasants and anyone treated unjustly. He was a regular Robin Hood. While he did not steal, he was considered an outlaw and had to spend much of his time fighting off the law. He was known for using his sword to cut a “Z” on anything from trees to the clothes of his enemies. He lived by a strong code of honor and morals. He never killed, unless it was absolutely necessary, which it seldom was. It didn’t take long for this inspiring character to reach the silver screen. In just a year from his publishing debut, Zorro was a movie staring Douglas Fairbanks as the heroic vigilante. But it didn’t end there. McCulley kept writing books, and the character became one of the most famous characters of the age. Republic created serials and the films kept coming. From 1920 through 1990 there wasn’t a decade that did not feature a live action version of the hero. Comics would follow.
“Beware my sword is a flame to right every wrong, so heed well my name…Zorro.”
Diego (Williams) was a student. His father was a powerful landowner in Spanish controlled Los Angeles in 1820. His father was busy fighting incredible corruption in the local government officials and massive abuse of the poor population of the area. But Diego wasn’t interested in politics or the problems facing his home, at least so it would appear. When his father calls him home to address some of these grievances, Diego agrees. Once home his father becomes increasingly disappointed in his son’s perceived cowardly ways. But Diego has a secret that only his faithful man servant Bernardo shares. Diego was in secret the masked vigilante Zorro who rode his black horse Tornado and fought these very injustices with a swift sword. Bernardo would be more than his helper. He pretended to be deaf and dumb so that he could easily gather intelligence for Diego/Zorro. A simple man, he took great delight in Zorro’s adventures.
Among the number of fans Zorro cultivated all over the country, one of them was Walt Disney. Walt was looking for a property to get Disney into the realm of scripted television. He believed that the same methods he used in filmmaking could be brought to the new medium of television. When he bought the rights to Zorro, at first he couldn’t get any one of the three networks to take on the project. After a year of finagling, he convinced ABC to take a chance on the show. Disney himself took on a producer role for the show and insisted that the crew cut no corners. It amounted to the most expensive series ever made up until that time. In 1957 each half hour of Zorro cost close to $80,000. It seemed like a gamble, but like so many of Walt’s gambles before, it paid off huge. The show pulled in 40% of the television watching audience, a record since the dawn of the 3 network system. As a trivia aside, the show was narrated by Dick Tufeld, the narrator for Guy Williams’ other famous series Lost In Space, and of course, the robot.
Along with those expensive movie production values, Uncle Walt carefully selected a very good cast. Guy Williams would later be much more famous as the Dad on Lost In Space. But he was already a skilled fencing athlete. He had a strong presence that Walt often remarked was as good as any movie leading man. Williams had the skill to carry off the duel personality with ease. His smile made him so identifiable even under the Zorro mask. He and Walt became quite good friends. The rest of the cast was selected with equally great care. Gene Sheldon played Bernardo without ever saying a word. He had expressive facial gestures that allowed us to read him like a book. He provided some of the show’s plentiful comedic moments. His enthusiasm for Zorro was contagious. The two shared remarkable chemistry. The real comic character, however, came in the form of Sergeant Garcia as played by Henry Calvin. Garcia was a man who had a good heart but often worked for commanding officers with no scruples. Anyone who has seen Hogan’s Heroes can’t help but believe that Garcia was the inspiration for Schultz. Garcia was rotund and simple minded. He followed orders the best he could but never quite got it right. He also had a warm heart and really sympathized with his leader’s enemies and couldn’t bring himself to actually hurt anyone. He was blinded by ambition and always hoped for that elusive promotion. While he might not have liked his commanders, he did really want their respect. Even his “My Commandant” response to orders brings flashes of Schultz. I simply don’t believe that Garcia was not in some way a model for the Hogan character.
The series did not do many standalone episodes. The entire show was very much like an ongoing serial. It contained many of the typical swashbuckling clichés: sliced candles, fencing up the staircase and on narrow passages or planks, jumping down on the horse from a roof or cliff, swinging from chandeliers, and, of course, the clever banter. Keeping with the Disney family theme there was no bloodshed on the series. Rarely did anyone die, and never at Zorro’s hands. He might toss someone from a three story roof, but the bad guy never got seriously hurt. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t plenty of sword play. Also keeping with the Disney traditions, there was a bit of singing from time to time. The show’s theme song reached 20 on the charts and was a Disney music staple. Mouseketeer Annette Funicello was given a 4 episode arc as a 16th birthday present from Uncle Walt where she also sang some. It was also one of the first television shows to feature an original orchestra score for each episode. The first 13 episodes deal with the origin of Zorro and his traditional nemesis the Captain Monastario played by Britt Lomond. After that there would be several multi-episode arcs dealing with various bad guys. The Eagle Feather Band was the most famous.
Collected here are all of the episodes of the series. Even though the show was the most successful series of its time, it was cancelled after two seasons. Walt and ABC had a falling out about various aspects of the show, including Walt’s desire to begin filming in color. The two sides never agreed, and the show met an untimely end. It’s a bit ironic that today Disney owns ABC. I think Walt might have to give up a little smile on that one. There were four one hour episodes produced thereafter and aired as part of the Disneyland series. These episodes are also included here as bonus features.
Each episode of Zorro is presented in its original broadcast full frame format. The series was shot in black and white. The detail is actually pretty nice, and the prints are pretty solid, again allowing for age. Disney appears to do a great job of storing their old material, and these prints are in solid shape. There are moments where the quality suddenly drops, most notably in the opening credits. Some of the f/x shots have a murky underwater look to them. You still have to love how good these look. My only real complaint is that compression artifact at times gives us a lot of image noise that makes black levels rather weak. This could have been avoided by putting less than the 8 episodes on each disc.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 track delivers exactly what you are looking for and nothing more. The dialog is clear, and that’s all you’re going to get out of this minimalist presentation. The musical numbers vary somewhat.
Each release comes in a commemorative tin. Inside you get a Zorro pin, booklet, and picture card. The sets are also limited to 30,000 copies each. You get a numbered Certificate Of Authenticity. I got numbers 05259 for season 1 and 02373 for season 2. There does not seem to have been an advantage in getting advance copies.
Series Intro By Leonard Malton: (5:22) Malton gives us a little history about the show and offers a good setup that allows you to settle into the episodes.
The 4 one hour Zorro episodes are provided. 2 on season one set (El Bandido and El Cuchillo) 2 on season 2 set (The Postponed Wedding and Auld Acquaintance)
The Life And Legend Of Zorro: (12:27) Film historians, participants and Guy Williams, Jr. provide a lot of anecdotes about the character and the series. There’s a lot on the strong production values here.
Excerpt From The Fourth Anniversary Show: (3:17) Uncle Walt sits with his Mouseketeers and tells them about the character.
Behind The Mask: (7:53) This is a nice profile on Guy Williams.
A Trip To The Archives: (10:56) Leonard Maltin and Guy Williams, Jr. look at some of the show’s surviving costumes and then at some of the related products released at the time.
My dad was a huge fan of the show. I’ve seen syndicated cuts over the years, but this was the first time I really got to see the series. It sucks you in. I found myself able to watch several episodes at a time without any trouble at all. The ongoing nature of the show helps with that as well. It was a joy to watch these things in a way that fans haven’t been able to do in 50 years. I can’t help but notice the influence the show and character must have had on so many things that followed. You can’t ignore the similarities to Batman. Zorro even has a cave under the house where he keeps his Zorro stuff and his ride. His alter-ego is very much like Bruce Wayne. He’s the 19th century version of a millionaire playboy. It’s no wonder the series was so popular. It had “all the drama of a storybook, eh?”