Zorro's Fighting Legion (1939)

Own it!

review by Scott Hamilton and Chris Holland
See also:

Zorro's Black Whip

Zorrita, Passion's Avenger

Golden Voyage of Sinbad

The Phantom

Zorro's Fighting Legion

Lava LampLava LampLava Lamp

Our rating: three LAVA® motion lamps.

"Man! That Kirk guy is getting
his ass kicked by that giant lizard!"
Finally, a movie with Zorro! After reviewing Zorro's Black Whip and Zorrita, neither of which bothered to feature Don Diego, we were beginning to wonder if the True Z would ever make an appearance in the Month of Z. But here he is, in all his masked and black-caped glory. And while Zorro's Black Whip changed the setting to take advantage of all the mystery and excitement that was pre-statehood Idaho, Zorro's Fighting Legion features Don Diego in the right time and more or less the right place.

This 12-part serial from Republic moves Don Diego (Reed Hadley) south of the border, where he must help the Mexican council of San Mendolito figure out why their town has an Italian name. Once there Diego disguises his abilities as Zorro with an effete manner, causing his beautiful cousin to dismiss him as "a fop!" With suspicion averted, Zorro is free to involve himself in the conflict between the fledgling independent Mexican state and the Yaqui natives. The natives are prodded to revolt against their Mexican neighbors by Don del Oro, a man posing as a native god by dressing in a full suit of armor and a silly gold mask. Diego works the council, looking for the traitor within (there are actually four), while his alter ego Zorro rides all over the place fighting Yaqui and trying to undo the damage Don del Oro inflicts upon Mexico.

"I'd like to call this meeting of the
Silly Hat and Mask Society to order."
Zorro may be many things: a peerless swordsman, a matchless horseman, an obvious S&M fantasy. But one thing he isn't is a recruiter -- at least not one who can find competent sidekicks. What sets Zorro's Fighting Legion apart from other Zorro serials is that Zorro has his own masked fan club following him around, allegedly fighting the same battle for Truth, Justice and the Hispanic-American Way that he is. Unfortunately the Fighting Legion is about as effective as all those nameless goons who work for comic book super villains. Zorro would just be better off to ditch the masked losers and take on the baddies himself. The best Zorro can hope for is that the Legion will get themselves into trouble and he will have to save them. At worst, they actively (if unintentionally) work to kill Zorro.

Here's and example of each. In Chapter 2 - The Flaming "Z" (a title that beats Zorro, The Gay Blade to the punch line by 42 years) Don del Oro's men, having observed that Zorro's Legions show up whenever Zorro sets a fire, set a fire of their own, leading the Legion into a trap. It's true: encryption and authentication are the biggest problems with your average fire-based communication network. Zorro sees the fire and shows up to save his followers.

We can't make this stuff up, folks.
That's the best-case scenario. In Chapter 3 - Descending Doom (a title rumored to be in the final running for the sixth Star Wars film) Don Diego is trapped in silver mine by the bad guys. As the bad guys ascend to the surface in a hand operated elevator Zorro climbs up the shaft behind them. Just then the Fighting Legions show up and scare away the people pulling the elevator up, causing it to fall down the shaft right on top of Zorro. With friends like these . . . .

This is not to imply, however, that Zorro himself will win any prizes in the brain department. If there were an official Zorro motto, it would probably be something along the lines of "choose enemies who are dumber than you are." Granted, he seems to have the ideal opponents. No matter how wrongly Zorro anticipates his enemy's next move, he always comes out on top. If only his followers could claim the same! At one point Zorro asks his faithful manservant Manuel to impersonate a wounded enemy general under cover of facial bandages. When the opposing forces come to rescue their general from his prison, Manuel will be able to act as a spy within their ranks, or so says Zorro. Unfortunately for Manuel, however, the enemy has decided that their general is now a liability, and they set fire to the jail!

Sure, he's rich, but it all goes
up his nose.
If you're the kind of person who walks out of James Bond movies complaining about holes in the plot, you should probably steer clear of the Zorro series; the action is driven mostly by coincidence and dumb luck. Secrets are maintained by means of an arrow in the back more than once, to the point that a truly smart hero would learn to shield his captives' backsides when he interrogates them, lest the snitch-detecting golden arrow of Don del Oro ruin his fact-finding mission yet again. (Yes, there is even an episode called "The Golden Arrow.") True to form, Zorro himself rarely does actual harm to his enemies, preferring to shoot the firearms from their hands (sharpshooting is the one area in which he shows proficiency) and knock them unconscious with a well-placed roundhouse punch.

"This year, the Halloween candy
will be mine! MIIIIIINE!"
Serials like this one were shown before the features in movie houses as an incentive to return each week. In order to see the whole story, you had to come to the theater regardless of your interest in the feature film. To keep from alienating customers who arrived in the middle of a serial, however, the opening scenes of each installment recap the story thus far. As a result, much of the footage in Zorro's Fighting Legion is repeated in each following episode and elsewhere. To our dismay, this includes the money-saving, industry-standard "clip show," in which characters discuss the story thus far, in particular some plot point that can be proved or disproved by previous action sequences. Over the course of twelve episodes we get twelve fist-fights, twelve sword fights, twelve close escapes (one of which is quite clever), and about 40,512 shots of people riding galloping horses on the same stretch of “Mexican” countryside which must be the shortest way to get everywhere. We also get twelve renditions of the rousing Zorro’s Fighting Legion song:

Meet the "Mexican" council members.
We ride with the wind over hill over dale
With the spirit that cannot fail
Men of Zorro are we

We ride with the wind as we go side by side
With a song ranging far and wide
Men of Zorro are we

Sure, it’s all a little silly (check out the Mel Brooks moment when one character exclaims that he is "steady as a rock"), and more than a little homoerotic. But damn if it isn’t fun. These old serials deliver nearly non-stop action, punctuated by characters stopping to catch their breath and explain what little plot there is. It’s action filmmaking stripped to the bare essentials, just the way we like it.

Review date: 10/21/2003

This review is © copyright 2003 Chris Holland & Scott Hamilton. Blah blah blah. Please don't claim that it's yours blah blah, but feel free to e-mail it to friends, or better yet, send them the URL. To reproduce this review in another form, please contact us at guys@stomptokyo.com. Blah blah blah blah. LAVA® , LAVA LITE® and the motion lamp configuration are registered trademarks of Haggerty Enterprises, Inc., Chicago, IL