Disney // 1958 // 975 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Christopher Kulik (Retired) // November 23rd, 2009
"At your service, Commandante!" -- Zorro
In 1957, Walt Disney and CBS introduced Zorro, a weekly television series based on the famous character created by Johnston McCulley. It was a massive success with kids, who imitated the title character by scrawling Z's on school desks all over the country. They were taken away by the Spanish Fox's exploits of derring-do, as he thwarted a number of enemies with whip and sword. Indeed, the Zorro phenomenon of the late '50s rivaled the craze of going to the theater in the '40s and watching 12-chapter serials. Today, the show may seem old-fashioned, but it remains pure Disney -- lively, robust, and thoroughly engaging.
The newest addition to the Walt Disney Treasures library, the first two seasons of Zorro have been released in limited-edition black tins. I loved the First Season so much I was afraid the Second Season wouldn't match it. After all, the show was cancelled shortly afterward. It wasn't due to a drop in quality, but rather a huge financial and legal battle over the show's rights. Public interest had supposedly waned to the point where a third season seemed impractical, after the issues were resolved. I don't buy this at all, particularly when four Zorro specials were later broadcast on Walt Disney Presents and boosted ratings considerably. This is clear proof Zorro ended prematurely, and it's perplexing why Disney opted not to continue.
The Second Season managed to maintain the series infectious spirit and sense of fun, despite several significant changes. The season opens up in the California capital of Monterey rather than the pueblo of Los Angeles. Don Diego de la Vega (the irreplaceable Guy Williams) travels there with a large sum of money, making him a target for thieves. Luckily, he brings along his Zorro costume, as well as his faithful servant Bernardo (Gene Sheldon) to spy when necessary. The first 13 episodes showcase Zorro's adventures in Monterey, including romancing the lovely Ana Maria Verdugo (Jolene Brand) and dealing with the competition -- an irreverent jokester named Ricardo del Amo (Richard Anderson, Forbidden Planet). Oh, yes, there is also a corrupt government official, who continually feeds lies to the Governor of California.
Another change is Diego's increased feelings in retiring the Fox and leading a normal life. A number of beautiful Senoritas (potential love interests) influence him, raising the romantic factor considerably. This element was all but absent in the first season. Plus, while this season is again comprised of continuing story arcs, many of the stories here last for a handful of episodes rather than thirteen (a third of the whole season). The biggest development was the revelation revealed at the end of Episode 13 ("Amnesty For Zorro"): Diego's father, Don Alejandro (George J. Lewis, Zorro's Black Whip), knows son's secret and stops Diego from giving up his identity. This increases the interaction between Diego, his father, and Bernardo, with very amusing results.
Some of the more memorable stories in the Second Season happen after Diego returns to Los Angeles. In episode 16 ("The Gay Caballero"), we meet Diego's uncle Esteban de la Cruz, played by the legendary Latin lover Cesar Romero, best known as the marvelous Joker in the mid-'60s Batman series. Esteban has come to California seeking his fortune, focusing his eyes on a lovely young woman and her vast wealth. While his charms may have cast a spell on his prey, he doesn't count on Zorro compromising the union.
Another great story has a young girl named Anita Cabrillo (Annette Funicello, The Shaggy Dog) coming to Los Angeles from Spain on a search for her father. Nobody in town has ever heard of her father, let alone met him. Distressed and upset, Anita is taken in by Diego, as an investigation is conducted by Sgt. Garcia (Henry Calvin), who is still acting as the local Commandante. What follows is an intriguing three-episode mystery, originally released on VHS as Volume 3. Darling Annette is enchanting as usual. Interestingly enough, her role was a 16th birthday present from Walt himself; she had a major crush on Guy Williams at the time. She later got to kiss him in "The Postponed Wedding," the third Zorro special featured on Walt Disney Presents.
As with the first season, all 39 episodes are spread over five discs. Once again, Disney presents these original B&W prints, re-mastered and restored. The quality is on par with the First Season, with hardly any grain or defects, and exceptionally clean audio tracks. Closed captioning is also provided. Extras begin with another introduction by critic Leonard Maltin, who later hooks up with Guy Williams, Jr. for a fascinating trip into the Disney archives. Among other things, they present authentic costumes, weapons, and other accessories, including a generous sampling of original Zorro merchandise. Somewhat disappointing is a bio piece on Guy Williams, which runs only eight minutes. Finally, we have the "The Postponed Wedding," and "Auld Acquaintance," the final two Zorro specials. The latter episode is noteworthy for having the late Ricardo Montalban (Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Kahn) in a key supporting role.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
* English (CC)
Running Time: 975 Minutes
Release Year: 1958
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Bonus Episodes