Sorry Antonio Banderas, Guy Williams is still the best Zorro!

James Plath's picture

Out of the night
when the full moon is bright,
comes the horseman known as Zorro.
This bold renegade
Carves a Z with his blade . . .
A Z that stands for Zorro.

Zorro (Zorro), the fox so cunning and free,
Zorro (Zorro), who makes the sign of the Z.

Zorro (Zorro), Zorro (Zorro), Zorro (Zorro), ZORRO

George Bruns, who wrote that famous theme song, worked his whole life as a composer for Disney. And he was certainly kept busy by this series, Disney's first TV series other than "The Mickey Mouse Club" and "Disneyland." Each of the 78 episodes from the show's two seasons had an original score, with orchestra. Classical Spanish guitar was well used, too, as an sonic echo of the accurate period set design and costuming. Each episode cost $78,000 to produce, and this was back in 1957-59, when it was unheard of to spend money on a TV show and the great Ted Williams made what everyone thought was an astronomical amount of money ($125,000) to play baseball.

But Disney believed in his concepts, he believed in television, and he believed in the future of color productions. Ironically, that last belief was what led to a conflict between ABC and Disney, with the popular "Zorro" series victimized by the legal tug-o'-war. Kids were traumatized by the cancellation of a show that drew close to 17 million viewers, and Disney knew it . . . which is why he devoted time on the air trying to explain to Mousketeer Moochie that "Zorro" wouldn't be in next season's line-up. That's how popular this show was, and while "Zorro" was aimed at children, television was still so new that families watched together. Kids watched "The Lawrence Welk Show" and other variety shows with their parents, and parents watched shows like "Zorro" and "Gene Autry" and "Roy Rodgers" with their children. Grandparents watched too, many of them living in the same household.

Maybe it was that uniquely broad audience for television that help shape Disney's something-for-everyone philosophy, because "Zorro" is a perfect example of how Disney combined action-adventure, drama, comedy, music, and subtle history lessons into a single package.

"Zorro" was a runaway hit its first season, and the second season it cruised along with new storylines and characters. Of course, Zorro himself--Guy Williams ("Lost in Space")--returned, as did the other popular characters that were tied to the show's structure: Gene Sheldon as the deaf-and-mute Bernardo, and Henry Calvin as the portly Sergeant Garcia. But Disney added a more serious love interest for Zorro in Season 2 with Ana Maria Verdugo (Jolene Brand), who was the daughter of a businessman trying to import goods to California and wanting to engage Don Diego's family as investors. Naturally, Señor Verdugo (Eduard Franz) is presented with some suspicion, and it doesn't help that everything Don Diego says to him seems to be heard by bandits led by a half-breed named Pablo (Ken Lynch). To add further interest, Don Diego has a little competition for the hand of the lovely Maria (Richard Anderson as Ricardo del Amo).

The setting shifts to Monterrey, with Don Diego and Bernardo riding ahead while Sergeant Garcia was to bring the money that the ranchers of the Los Angeles Pueblo were to invest. And where there's money, there are bandits and crooked administrators. It turns out that the Monterrey governor (John Litel) isn't paying much attention to what his underlings are doing, and it falls to Zorro to intercede again. Good thing Bernardo brought the Zorro costume with them!

For the second season, Disney found room for an appearance by the most popular Mouseketeer, Annette Funicello, who's involved in a three-episode mystery involving a man who may or may not exist, and popular Hispanic actors Gilbert Roland, Rita Moreno, and Cesar Romero also appear. Even Jeff York, whom Disney fans know as Mike Fink from the Davy Crockett series, makes an appearance.

Disney brought action-adventure director William Witney onboard, and that in part is why the second season feels a little closer to standard westerns. Zorro rides another horse this season (Phantom), and there's a lot more horse-wrangling going on with that big white stallion than we saw with Tornado. Fight choreographer Fred Cavens, who worked with Errol Flynn and all the great swashbucklers, coaches Williams again this season, and it's significant that while Williams had a stunt double for some of the acrobatics, the blade work was his own. Even with a new director, though, "Zorro" seemed to lose a little of its edge the second time around. The villains aren't quite as enthralling (Lynch is no Jack Elam), and the mysteries and tight situations don't quite measure up to a stellar first season. The series is still a good one, but there's a slight drop-off from Season 1.

As with Season 1, all 39 episodes are included here, packed in a black tin box and accompanied by a numbered certificate identifying it as a limited edition. Expect this one and the first season to sell out quickly.

Aside from the rough title sequence that evolved over the course of the season, the episodes themselves are pleasantly sharp, with good black-and-white contrast. "Zorro" is presented in 1.33:1 aspect ratio, though inexplicably Maltin's intros are widescreen, so you may have to change the aspect if your TV doesn't handle it automatically. But "Zorro" is digitally mastered, and the production values should please fans and draw new ones. It's a clean-looking picture with practically no visible flaws.

The audio is a plain Dolby Digital Mono that's also free of distortion. There's not much more to say.

As with the Season 1 set, this one comes with a color booklet with an intro by film historian Leonard Maltin and a roster of the episodes and their air dates, with a listing of what disc they're on. The episodes are contained on five single-sided discs, with a sixth disc reserved for bonus features. As with Season 1, the DVDs fit the standard size keep case just fine, but if you try to stuff too many of the ancillary materials in the box, it won't stay closed. That's not a problem, of course, if you store or shelve your discs inside the tin box.

Also included is a publicity still from "Zorro" (pictured) and a collectible pin that's okay in its design, but nothing too striking. The real bonus features, as far as I'm concerned, are "Zorro: The Postponed Wedding" and "Zorro: Auld Acquaintance," both of which aired in 1961 on "Walt Disney Presents." Rounding out the bonus features is a "Behind the Mask" look behind the scenes and "A Trip to the Archives," which is a walk down nostalgia lane to see some of the merchandising that "Zorro" spawned.

Bottom Line:
While "Zorro: The Complete Second Season" isn't as striking as the first, it's still a solid show that holds up well, despite its age. That's because of Disney's formula: action, adventure, pathos, humor, and music. And sorry, Antonio Banderas, Guy Williams is still the best Zorro!


Film Value