Cast & Crew
Spencer Gordon Bennet
George J. Lewis
Hammond, owner of the town's stagecoach line and a leading citizen, is opposed to Idaho becoming a state, and kills Randolph Meredith, owner of the town's newspaper, for endorsing it. Meredith's sister Barbara, expert with a bullwhip and pistol, dons a black costume and mask and becomes "The Black Whip", dealing a blow to Hammond and his gang each time they perform some heinous act in their efforts to keep the town, and their power over it, unchanged. Aided by government agent Vic Gordon, Barbara confronts Hammond in a final showdown just as the town votes on whether or not to accept statehood.
George J. Lewis
Dale Van Sickel
Zorro's Black Whip on DVD
The first oddity is the inclusion of Zorro in the title. Zorro, the foppish Mexican aristocrat turned masked outlaw protecting the peons, was invented by Johnston McCulley in his 1919 novel The Curse Of Capistrano and McCulley even receives a screen credit in the serial and on the posters. Despite this, Zorro appears nowhere in any episode! There is a masked vigilante wearing an outfit that somewhat resembles Zorro's usual attire, but this character is always referred to as "the Black Whip." In addition, the setting is Idaho, quite some distance from Zorro's usual Mexican locale. Apparently, Republic paid for the rights to the name and just slapped it on this serial hoping no one would notice.
The second oddity is the identity of the Black Whip. Halfway through Episode 1 (The Masked Avenger), we discover that the Whip is newspaper owner Randolph Meredith. Unfortunately for him, we find this out just as he dies. However, his sister Barbara (Linda Stirling) finds his corpse still in costume and decides to continue the family tradition. For the rest of the serial, the masked western action hero is a woman! The villains do not guess her identity until near the end. Apparently it never occurs to them to wonder why the Black Whip wears so much mascara.
This early touch of Sigourney Weaver-ish female adventure is the only element that lifts this serial above the ordinary. The stunt work should be interesting considering the presence behind the scenes of Yakima Canutt, the man who helped make Stagecoach (1939) so exciting, but he appears to have had an off day. More than one episode ends with a low-angle shot of a wagon going off a cliff and much of the action consists of shot after shot of someone riding fast while shooting at something.
Far better is the supplement on this DVD, the first sound Zorro movie The Bold Caballero (1936). It was one of only two movies directed by long-time screenwriter Wells Root and considering the quality on evidence, it is a pity he did not direct more. The camera set-ups are inventive, the plot moves along snappily and the second-tier actors give lively performances. Especially delightful is villain Sig Ruman, better known as The Marx Brothers' foil in A Night At The Opera (1935) and A Day At The Races (1937), who here gets to play a brutal, sadistic character. Unfortunately, The Bold Caballero, originally shot in Magnacolor, only exists in a black-and-white print garnered from one of its color elements. Characters' faces look sunburned, an effect that would not have been present in the original movie.
The main item on this DVD can be recommended only to the curious, the nostalgic or completists. The quality is almost entirely in the secondary feature, a highly successful example of the kind of excitement that could be achieved at the more poverty-stricken end of the classic Hollywood system.
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by Brian Cady