Zorro's Fighting Legion (1939)
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In 1824 the President of the newly formed Republic of Mexico Benito Juarez (Carleton Young) is trying to put his new country on a solid financial footing. To that end, he has arranged to have rich gold shipments forwarded to the capitol from the local San Mendolita mine.
Members of the local council plot to steal the shipments on behalf of Don-del-Oro a gold armored god, who with the aid of the local Yaqui tribe, hopes to install himself as the ruler of Mexico. Opposing him is Don Francisco (Guy D'Ennery) who forms a legion of locals to aid Juarez. When Don Franciso is murdered by Don-del-Oro's men, a stranger, the fopish Don Diego (Reed Hadley) arrives in town. Diego aka Zorro takes over the legion with the help of his friends Ramon (William Corson) and Juan (Budd Buster). The token heroine of the piece is Ramon's sister Volita (Sheila D'Arcy).
Both Diego and Ramon hold seats on the local ruling Counsil. It soon becomes apparent that some of the other members of the Council are in league with Don-del-Oro. First there is the Chairman of the Council (Leander de Cordova), the head of the militia Manuel (John Merton), Chief Justice Pablo (C. Montague Shaw) and Gonzolez (Edmund Cobb). Zorro suspects that one of these men is Don-del-Oro, but which one?
What follows are several hair raising escapes by Zorro and his confederates from the followers of Don-del-Oro. We have the ever present collapsing rope bridge, the deep chasm between two cliffs over which only Zorro can jump to safety, and the usual assortment of explosions, fires and coaches and wagons crashing or going over the cliff. Hats off here to Republic's fine team of stunt men lead by the legendary Yakima Canutt and the Yrigoyens, Bill and Joe. Canutt performs his signature stunt jumping on a team of runaway horses and then falling beneath the coach which he repeated in other films including John Ford's "Stagecoach" the same year.
Anyway, Zorro finally unmasks the false god Don-del-Oro and restores peace to the valley before riding off into the sunset in Chapter 12.
Others in the cast include Jim Pierce, Curley Dresden and Charlie King as Don-del-Oro's hence men and if you look closely you may spot bits by future serial star and Lone Ranger Clayton Moore and stuntman Canutt in bits. "Big" Jim Pierce by the way, may be best remembered for playing Tarzan in 1927's "Tarzan and the Golden Liom" (1927) and for his marriage to Joan Burroughs the daughter of Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs.
I love that Reed Hadley plays Zorro! He is funny, smart and brave! Mark: 6.
This Serial is one of my own personal favourites, and as previously stated,it is one of the Top 5 Sound Serials. Oddly enough, this is one production that came out in that water shed year of 1939.* By the time of this production in '39, Zorro was really well known as a (Pulp) literary and movie character. The film opens up with a little foot note about the History of the Mexico's struggle for freedom from rule by a European Monarchy, namely Spain. The story invites comparison with the American Revolutionary War.
The story concentrates its attention to the mythical Province of San Mendelito and its 'Council'. It is being addressed by Benito Juarez**on their gold mine's relation to the new Republic of Mexico. Gold shipments must get thru to Mexico City.
Don Francisco Uncle to Diego Vega, states that he has organized a group of patriots to act as a protective force for the gold convoys.A thug from the Don del Oro mob, stages an 'insult' to himself and challenges Don Francisco to a duel with swords, Don Frasncisco getting run through.
Suddenly the dark clad masked swordsman appears to sword fight and after carving the trademark 'Z' on the face of the bad guy, he dispatches him to the hereafter. Don Francisco declares with his dying breath to his ward Ramon (William Corson) that Zorro is his nephew from the city of Los Angeles. He also attempts to tell of the true identity of Don del Oro, but expires before completing statement.
There is a big reception for Diego at Don Francisco's Hacienda, where Diego disappoints Ramon'sister (also ward of Don Francisco) with his timid act. "A FOP!!", she declares.
Later,Diego and Ramon slip away to join up with a meeting of the volunteers. When they ask, "who will lead us with Don Francisco now dead?", Ramon declares "Zorro, we are Zorro's Fighting Legion!" Well there is a big battle with the Legion, now all clad on gray, with masks and capes, protecting the Gold Train. Then Zorro seems trapped at a man-made avalanche intended for the convoy, when, well, you know cliffhanger end of Chapter One.
Wow! That was a lot of writing for one Chapter, but like most other Serials, the opening one is longer and has a lot of ground to be laid to set up the story line. Let's just let it suffice to say that there are 11 more good, well made, action filled Chapters following.
ZORRO's FIGHTING LEGION has all of the elements that made for top cliffhanger action. We have an unknown evil leader who is fomenting trouble between different groups. There is a number of suspects as to who was really behind of the mask of 'Don del Oro'. We had soldiers, renegade Whites, hostile Indians and the Legion.
In short, it's safe to say that there is everything one could want, and then some, in this Serial. And, incidentally, they wisely choose to not have the actors affect any Mexican accents.
As to just what is there here that makes ZFL stand out from the rest? What makes it different or unique? Well........
First of all, it has a much more elaborate and exciting musical score playing and underlining the drama and action on the screen. The opening theme even appears in a flamenco guitar rendition at the Cantina in Chapter One. This is probably the only time that such a highly specialized innovation appears in serial sound track.
And yet there is one more feature that really sets the Fighting Legion saga out in front from all others. That is, the film not only has a heroic musical theme, but it also sports Lyrics, yes, the Legionairres sing! We hear them singing in the opening credits and in several Chapters! It really works well and adds to the feelings we get from the viewing.
When the Serial was first shown on our local television (circa 1955), all of the gang immediately recognized the voice of Reed Hadley as belonging to 'Captain Braddock from RACKET SQUAD, the TV Series. Mr. Hadley had a very distinctive, deep voice.*** He also handled the role very well. His costume and especially the elongated mask looked very good and was probably very functional.
There is a small slip up. A sort of minor anachronism occurs by having Benito Juarez(Carleton Young)addressing the San Mendelito Council, as Juarez was about 18 years old at this time (1824) and, though he was later perhaps the greatest single figure in Mexico's History, he surely hadn't achieved such prominence yet. His inclusion in story probably was to cash in on the release of Warner Brothers' JUAREZ that year, which starred Paul Muni in the title role.
This is not only my pick as a top 5 sound serial, but also my favourite Zorro film.
* We are reminded of the great crop of top flight movies that year, what with GONE WITH THE WIND, MR.SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON, THE CITADEL, JUAREZ, THE WIZARD OF OZ, OF MICE AND MEN, ONE MILLION B.C.,ZENOBIA, WE WANT OUR MUMMY all counted among the output that year.
** Once again, Juarez did not ascend to any national importance until around 1850, about 25 years later. Also, the political sub-divisions are referred to as 'Provinces' in the story. In actuality, they are called 'States'. Just as we are called the United States of America, so too,South of the Border they call their Repubhlic the United States of Mexico.
*** Reed Hadley was prominent in some very 'A' pictures in which his richly toned voice is exploited to good effect. Watch & listen for his narration in THE HOUSE ON 92nd STREET (1945) and GUADALCANAL DIARY (1945).
***STUNT SPOILERS FOLLOW ***
You can see the influence this film had on Lucas and Spielberg -- Zorro gets caught in the original version of the Star Wars trash compactor in one chapter, trapped on a rope bridge a'la Temple of Doom in another, does a Raiders horse-to-coach transfer and even flees through a tunnel while the baddies knock over a huge water tank and flood the tunnel behind him, exactly as Mola Ram does to Indy in Temple of Doom. In addition to all this, the whip action is great as Zorro disarms villains, swings to safety, etc. with his trusty lash. Most of the sword work is fair to lame, except for chapter one, which features a terrific sword brawl in a cantina choreographed by sword/stunt legend Ralph Faulkner, who makes a rare screen appearance as the evil Rodriguez. This was the first serial I ever saw, on Matinée at the Bijou when I was a kid and I have been hooked on them ever since.
Zorro's Fighting Legion delivers "Z" goods!
But in Reed Hadley`s "Zorro`s Fighting Legion" (serial 1939) the mask fills his whole face making it a real mystery as to who Zorro really is.
But anyway Zorro is one of the best character`s in films and to bring it up to date l think Anthony Hopkins in "The Mask of Zorro" (1998) is a delight.
My interest in films is vast, but l have a real liking for the serial`s of the 30s/40s....
Someone watching it for the first time will think it is silly but this is one of the best examples of the "Serials". Don Del Oro will make you laugh (When I was little my nickname for him was Mr Dustbin head) and it was funny upon being shot at he says "Your bullets can't harm me" then he stumbles back, seemingly less than happy. I also like the way he dispenses with Sebastian in the first episode.
I watched this again because I had good memories of it from years back, there are some good stunts and good music, it has the ingredients you expect including water,rockfalls,runaway carts... Apart from the first episode(with Ralph Faulkner)the swordplay wasn't nearly as good as I remembered it, and yes it features the inevitable "flashback" episode! It gets 8 out of 10 because it still suffers from slow pace, padding and the other tricks. If you are interested in these serials I recommend the book by William Witney, "In a Door, Into a Fight, Out a Door, Into a Chase" although there is only a small entry about this series in it.
Ted, one of the greatest of the stunt men, said that every time Zorro put on his mask, he was the one on the screen.
That was a little bit of an exaggeration: There were times that Zorro was obviously Reed Hadley, but in the stunts we can be satisfied it was Ted at work.
And what stunts! "Zorro's Fighting Legion" is, as witness the comments here, one of the greatest of serials. It is exciting and generally very well made.
Reed Hadley was a fine actor, and, as someone else commented, he made a very good fop.
But, admittedly, it is the action that makes this movie so great.
And what else could we expect, with direction by that excellent team, Witney and English, with great music from the amazingly prolific William Lava (the listing here says he was uncredited, but that is incorrect; those other composers listed here were indeed uncredited, and I don't know if they did write any of the music -- it sounds like Lava), and with villainy from, among others, the great Charles King, and with dozens of bit parts?
Also noteworthy was a villain played by the radio Tarzan, Jim Pierce, who was Edgar Rice Burroughs' son-in-law. (I urge you to read his mini-bio.)
There is one chapter that slows things down depressingly, but, heck, it's only a few minutes long (maybe 20) and when you wade through it, well, you're back to the excitement.
Turner Classic Movies deserves a great big THANK YOU for presenting this excellent serial, and we should ask TCM to bring us more.
And we should thank everyone involved that we get to see it as a chapter-play, or serial, and not as a re-cut feature.
Zorro's Fighting Legion is a bit different from other Zorro films. First off, it's a Republic serial in 12 chapters. And this time, Zorro is not played by a top studio star like Douglas Fairbanks, Tyrone Power or Antonio Banderas but instead by workman-like actor Reed Hadley. While Hadley does not cast as strong a presence over the proceedings as those other, he does an adequate job, helped by the fact that he is not the sole hero here; as the title implies, he has a fighting legion to call upon.
Another big difference is that the setting isn't California. The story here take place in central Mexico in 1824 where a man posing as a living god incites the indigenous Indian population and a band of outlaws to aid him in his plan to overthrow the newly established Mexican Republic. Something, Zorro, and a handful of followers plan to do anything they can to stop.
Don't get me wrong, there is at least one incredibly cheesy moment per episode, from corny "twang" bow sound effects to ludicrous acting. But overall, this represents one of the best Republic serials of all time, and probably the best Zorro one.
The plot is stronger than most serials and never becomes incomprehensible or meandering., and there's lots of great action - fans of the Indiana Jones movies will notice MANY bits borrowed from this serial.
The audience would have to return the next week to find out how the hero and heroine would escape and battle the villain once again. Serials were especially popular with children, and for many children in the first half of the 20th century, a typical Saturday at the movies included a chapter of at least one serial, along with animated cartoons, newsreels, and two feature films.
The golden age for serials was 1936-1945. This was one of the best of the era.
Zorro has been seen in many films, but Reed Hadley ("Racket Squad", The Undying Brain) was excellent in the role.
The action is constant, and we are led chapter by chapter to the ultimate end where we find out the identity of the evildoer.
Zorro triumphs, as he always does.