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Image Entertainment presents
Zorro's Black Whip / The Bold Caballero (1944)

"The Black Whip's got to be a man. He's out-shot us, out-rode us and out-fought us. Stopped us at every turn."
- Baxter (Hal Taliaferro)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: August 02, 2004

Stars: George Jenkins, Linda Stirling
Other Stars: Lucien Littlefield, Francis McDonald, Hal Taliaferro, John Merton
Director: Spencer Bennet, Wallace Grissell

Manufacturer: Deluxe
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence)
Run Time: 03h:02m:03s
Release Date: August 03, 2004
UPC: 014381946222
Genre: adventure


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B BC+C- B+

DVD Review

In the attempt to breathe new life into the Zorro mythos, in 1937 Republic Pictures tried a modern version that worked reasonably well. When it came time to try again in 1944, the time setting was moved back to 1889, but shunted up to the northwest. But even stranger than that, not only did the script change Zorro into a female, but it didn't even use the character name once, referring to the character only as the Black Whip.

In Idaho on the verge of statehood, there are forces that would just as soon keep the territory lawless and prevent a vote for statehood. Randy Meredith (Jay Kirby) and his sister Barbara (Linda Stirling) are publishers of the Century City Herald, a newspaper advocating statehood. Randy also doubles as the Black Whip (Zorro in everytning but name) until he's killed halfway through the first episode. Barbara decides to carry on not only the newspaper crusade, but his role as the Black Whip. Aided by typesetter Tenpoint Johnson (silent star Lucien Littlefield) and undercover federal agent Vic Gordon (George J. Lewis), the Whip fights the nefarious plans of Dan Hammond (Francis McDonald), the stage coach operator and his henchmen.

Weird as the concept sounds, it actually works pretty well. The female Zorro is identifiable as such mainly by her eyebrows when they peek above her mask, but Stirling's costume hides her figure well enough that she's plausibly masquerading as a man. But what really propels this twelve-chapter serial is hectic pacing that relentlessly pushes the story forward and really makes one want to check out the next episode. Even better, for the most part Republic plays fair on this entry, not completely rewriting the ending of the last episode with the beginning of the new one. There's plenty of brawling and fistfights, plus numerous gunfights, keeping the action quotient very high. Yakima Canutt as second unit director contributes some dandy stunt work involving leaping onto and off of horses and wagons. There is an unfortunate tendency to repeat footage, indicating a lower-than-usual budget.

The cast is reasonably good for the genre. George J. Lewis starred in hundreds of films and ironically would go on to play Guy Williams' father in the television version of Zorro. He's reasonably good with a gun and a horse, and his raucous and seemingly endless fistfights have a high entertainment value. Stirling oozes sincerity and whoever's in the costume is pretty handy with a whip too. McDonald makes for a decent villain, pretending to be an honorable citizen while at the same time subverting law and order for his own (unspecified) ends.

It's somewhat mystifying why the Zorro character isn't referred to by that name; Republic clearly had rights to the character, and creator Johnston McCulley is prominently credited in every episode. Perhaps they filmed it as a generic Zorro ripoff and then actually got the rights (or remembered that they had bought them in 1937) after it was too late to do anything but slap it into the title? But since it's not set in the Southwest, the name Zorro isn't quite appropriate anyway. While this entry doesn't have a character by the name of Zorro, it certainly carries much of the spirit, including an altruistic motivation and much fretting over the secret identity. I wasn't expecting this to be better than its companion serial, but it is by a long whiplash.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: The full-frame transfer is mediocre for the most part. The picture's pretty soft and lacking in fine detail. Greyscales look decent, however, and there's some shadow detail. The source elements are in very nice condition, with speckling being the only serious defect. There's some brief warpage in the final chapter and mild flicker is visible in the outdoor sequences.

Image Transfer Grade: C+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishno


Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 mono suffers from significant hiss and noise throughout. Music is tinny and somewhat distorted. Dialogue, however, is clear enough although the volume is quite low, requiring the viewer to crank it up to above reference.

Audio Transfer Grade: C-

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Bonus feature The Bold Caballero
Extras Review: Johnston McCulley brought his character back to the screen in early 1937 with this bonus feature, shot in the Magnacolor two-strip (red/green) color technique. Apparently the green strip no longer survives, so the film is represented only in black and white, from the red strip. This adventure, directed by Wells Root, starts off with Zorro a captive of Commandante Sebastian Golle (Sig Ruman), but the sudden arrival of the new governor (Robert Warwick) permits Zorro's escape. Don Diego Vega (Robert Livingston) is of course up to his old tricks. While he romances the governor's daughter Isabella (Heather Angel), someone masquerading as Zorro murders her father. Assuming the governorship, Isabella swears revenge against her father's killer, leaving Zorro to try to evade the gallows as Don Diego both romances Isabella and attempts to locate the real killer.

After seeing several mutations of the Zorro character and story, it's certainly nice to get back to its roots with the original Don Diego Vega under the mask. Livingston's no Fairbanks, of course, but he nonetheless gives this short (1h:08m:26s) film an undeniable verve and athleticism. Sig Ruman, frequent foil for the Marx Brothers, gets off some good comic bits as the Commandante, while Angel is certainly appealing as the female lead and imperious when the moment calls for it. This is a fun little picture that stands up well. The transfer again is on the soft side but it's quite acceptable.

Although the keepcase indicates that there are also supposed to be trailers on the disc, I found none.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

A surprisingly involving serial, with the bonus of another Zorro feature, makes this an intriguing disc. The transfer's not quite all it could be, but considering how cheaply made these things were, it looks acceptable. Four hours of adventure is hard to pass up for the price.

 


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