Sunday, November 8, 2009

DVD Review: Walt Disney Treasures: Zorro The Complete First and Second Seasons

Walt Disney Treasures: Zorro The Complete First and Second Seasons.

(Released November 03, 2009) A typically long DVD Review by Joe Torcivia.

Out of the niiiight, when the full moon is briiiight,
Comes the horseman known as Zorro

And, out of the latest wave of Walt Disney Treasures DVDs come two amazing sets – ZORRO: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON 1957-1958 and ZORRO: THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON 1958-1959!

As is usual with the Walt Disney Treasures sets, there are introductions and much background information courtesy of film historian Leonard Maltin and loads of extras and special features. There is even a “postcard-size lithograph” and collector pin – a different pair packaged in each of the two season sets.

But, the true “Treasures” here are the shows themselves and the actors’ performances therein – particularly that of series star Guy Williams!

Relegated mostly to The Disney Channel in recent decades, ZORRO was neither a large part of my childhood, nor did it ever enter into my adulthood. The last time I can actually remember seeing it was in early evening local syndication in 1965. The same year that Guy Williams would move on to the role I will forever associate him with – Professor John Robinson, of LOST IN SPACE (1965-1968)

In LIS, he was the ultimate father figure… the one I wish I had. He was everything famous TV dads Ward Cleaver and Jim Anderson were, but with a laser rifle and spaceship. He’d “teach you life’s lessons” while “saving your life” at the same time. …And he was always there for dinner conversation and needed moments of consolation.

As Zorro, I’m learning that he was even more amazing! (I guess he’s STILL teaching me things!) His warmth and charm, that only peeked out from time to time (…as he was continually upstaged by kids, robots, “special guest stars”, pyrotechnics, aliens, and monsters on LOST IN SPACE), is on complete display in ZORRO.

And, was any television star of the time better at sweeping (dare I employ the term “swashbuckling”?) action than Guy Williams? I’d say not! He ran, jumped, rode, and fenced his way into our hearts, our collective consciousness, and television history.

But Williams was far more than a mere action hero. As Zorro’s alter-ego Don Diego De La Vega, he adopts the personality and mannerisms of a foppish dandy and a man of letters to throw off any suspicion that he is secretly Zorro. He smiles cheerfully at everything, makes pleasant but innocuous small talk (though, often with a deliberate and purposeful undertone) and moves about in a somewhat lithely – but, nonetheless, manly – fashion! Yes, it IS possible to do this, if you are as skilled as Guy Williams.

Diego’s busying himself with scholarly books, poetry, and song, while eschewing any inclination towards “the active life”, fools both his concerned father and scoundrels alike. In one superb moment, he DEMANDS that he be allowed to try on a “black mask and cape”, that the local tyrant is forcing upon a line-up of men in order to identify one of them as Zorro.

De La Vega’s request to don the outfit is dismissed, as the tyrant cannot fathom it possible that one such as he might be Zorro. That’s an indication of the depth of duality that Williams brings to the role of Deigo and Zorro. So effective is this deception, that no one considers that both Deigo and Zorro sport the same moustache!

Great as Guy Williams was, the supporting cast was just as large a part of the show’s success.

Gene Sheldon, as Diego’s mute manservant Bernardo, offers repeated moments of inspired pantomime. Bernardo CAN hear (and quite well) but, as Diego poses as an idler, so Bernardo feigns DEAFNESS, and acts as Zorro’s eyes AND ears.

Henry Calvin is a cartoon-come-to-life as Sgt. Garcia. He is the living embodiment of every large, bulky, dull-witted sidekick ever seen in animation. He’s one of those characters you feel for, because he’d like to “do right”, but must remain loyal to his commandant. His comedic talents and hangdog delivery, combined with a surprising ability (for one so large – think Oliver Hardy as a mustachioed Spaniard) to pull off unexpected amounts of slapstick humor, never fail to generate laughs.

Britt Lomand completes the cast of the first arc (…more on that to follow) as the evil Captain Monastario. He sneers, preens, snarls, and schemes just like all the “Spanish Oppressor” parody villains that animation writer Michael Maltese would create to throw at “El Kabong” – a Zorro-type send-up “masked avenger identity” created for TV’s Quick Draw McGraw.

Episode Three (“Zorro Rides to the Mission”) begins with a hilarious exchange between Garcia and Monastario, in which the former is soundly berated by the latter for his (what will become repeated) failure to capture Zorro. These two actors settle quickly and superbly into their roles of good-natured bumbler and frustrated superior and, when together, they generate much of the show's humor.

Oh, yes“Arcs”. One very unique thing about ZORRO is that it apparently unfolds in ARCS, not unlike many modern TV series. Highly unusual for the late 1950s!

While each episode has a nominal “ending”, Zorro does not “wrap up a case or mission” and begin an entirely new one next week. Instead, there is an overall story that carries over a number of episodes.

The first of these concerns Don Diego De La Vega returning from his studies in Spain to find Captain Monastario ruling Los Angeles of Spanish California with an iron (and unjust) hand. To keep his father safe, as the neighboring rancher has been branded treasonous by Monastario in a play to seize his land and wealth, Diego adopts both his foppish pose and the identity of “The Fox” – El Zorro – to vanquish the tyrant. This arc is said to run 13 episodes, before moving on to a new story.

Sampling Volume Two, we also see the beginning of the tale of Zorro’s adventures in Monterey. Though we reach an initially satisfying conclusion in that “first episode”, here too, things are not fully resolved – leading into the next show and likely several more.

Setting up the anticipation for each episode to come is Dick Tufeld, narrating the (miraculously included) “Next Week Scene Previews” with gusto. Tufeld would later work with Guy Williams on LOST IN SPACE as the voice of the Robot – and in the series’ third season would also narrate “Next Week” promos in the same fashion as he does here for ZORRO!

Music scores are by William Lava – later of F-TROOP and 1960s LOONEY TUNES fame.

Guest stars to come include Ricardo Montalban, Caesar Romero, Ross Martin (The Wild Wild West), and future LOST IN SPACE co-star Jonathan Harris!

Special features include a look at the life of Guy Williams, with Leonard Maltin and Guy Williams Jr. and, in a separate feature, the pair host a tour of ZORRO costumes and memorabilia (including a run of DELL COMIC BOOKS!) at the Walt Disney archives.

There’s a segment of Walt Disney introducing Zorro to the Mousekteers. In it, Guy Williams makes a appearance in costume and wonderfully handles the subject of whether Zorro is “real” or “legend”! Another feature, “The Life and Legend of Zorro”, traces the character from his 1919 serialized magazine debut thru the TV series.

There are also several longer ZORRO programs that aired on the Walt Disney television show, after the ZORRO series was canceled.

Every Walt Disney Treasures set has many things to recommend, but this one is particularly special as it offers the expected quality and features but also presents a series – in its ENTIRETY – that deserves to be preserved and enjoyed. And, I’m looking forward to continued enjoyment of Guy Williams as Zorro!


Mark Arnold said...

"Zorro" is great. I used to watch it on a local station (Channel 20) in the 80s, and thought it was very well done. It's a shame it only went two seasons, but there were some issues with ABC and Disney that led to its cancellation and Disney jumping to NBC.

Joe Torcivia said...


Oddly, there are certain shows that I have never seen as an adult – and, thus, could never truly evaluate them beyond dim childhood memories. ZORRO is one of them. THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. is another.

Thankfully, via DVD, I’ve been able to see and enjoy both. Neither one disappoints. And ZORRO, so far through 12 episodes, exceeds my expectations!