Like Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier
, Disney's Zorro
transcends nostalgia. From the thrilling theme song ("Out of the night / When the full moon is bright / Rides the horseman known as Zorro….") to the lively sword fights and swashbuckling derring-do, this rousing 1957 series has lost none of its entertainment value for old or young. The 39-episode first season, presented in glorious black and white and complete with "be with us next week" teasers, unfolds in three story arcs. The first, Zorro's origin story, is best. The setting is Spanish California in 1820. Don Diego de la Vega (Guy Williams, like Fess Parker, an unknown actor catapulted to icon status) has been urgently summoned from Spain by his father to return home to Pueblo de Los Angeles, where the tyrannical Capitan Monastario has unleashed a reign of terror and injustice. Diego, a man of action, passes himself off as a bookish man of letters and by night dons a cape and mask to become the outlaw Zorro ("the fox"), champion of the oppressed. The other two story arcs concern a conspiracy to rule Southern California led by the shadowy Eagle.
Zorro was Walt Disney's first prime-time half-hour series and it benefits greatly from Disney's keen eye for casting, storytelling genius, and high production values. The cast includes Henry Calvin as the bumbling and rotund Sergeant Garcia and Gene Sheldon as Diego's trusty, mute right-hand man Bernardo (the two actors were later paired as the Laurel & Hardy-esque characters in Disney's Babes in Toyland). Zorro deftly blends action and comedy in its first season, with no mushy romance to slow things down. The dialogue is at once kid-friendly (younger viewers may appreciate it when in one episode Sergeant Garcia reads a Wanted poster aloud), but not condescending. Diego/Zorro possesses a rapier-like wit with which he handily disarms his foes.
This collectible Walt Disney Treasures set contains rarely seen archival goodies and rarities, including a clip from a 1957 anniversary episode of the Disneyland TV series in which Walt regales the Mouseketeers with a preview of Zorro. There is a featurette about the Zorro legend and the enduring character's various incarnations on the page and screen, and a new-to-home video 1960 two-hour two-parter that features Rita Moreno and Gilbert "The Cisco Kid" Roland as a dashing bandit leader. Fans eager to savor "new dangers and new thrills in the adventurous life of Zorro" should proceed directly to The Complete Second Season. --Donald Liebenson