Many of my friends (or, shall I say, almost no one) don’t share my passion for older stuff. No, not the retromania, or some vintage nostalgia revival, far from it. I am talking about the love and passion for discovery of artefacts of era long gone.
Although in the Rubber Axe webzine we’re try to talk and review also new releases (along with interviewing artists from the modern era, which only makes sense), I always liken our effort to building a skyscraper. So, getting to the solid foundations first.
OK, there’s no doubt this stuff is not for everyone. Some movies are extremely outdated, some music sounds outwordly to the modern spectators and listeners, and obviously, not everyone is a culture enthusiast or movie critic. And I’d say most of the fanf of extreme genres stick to horror/gore genres, but hey, whatever floats your boat, right?
Really, nothing’s wrong with that. However, today we’re gonna talk about a curious and entertaining feature, almost a staple diet from the beginning of the sound era – cliffhanger serials.
Well, not about all of them, of course, there were too many to squeeze in one article, of course. But let’s start with a serial with the character even the modern viewer can readily recognize – Zorro.
Zorro, as you know it, is something of the legendary Robin Hood to the Mexicans, figthing for the people against bad landlords and Spanish government officials. From pulp stories, comics to the silver screen and video games, Zorro’s character is firmly established as a popular culture icon.
So today, we’re gonna have a look at 1939 cliffhanger serial Zorro’s Fighting Legion. In 12, relatively short, chapters Zorro fights Don Del Oro, the person masquerading as Yaqui Indians’ deity. And what an interesting and entertaining serial it is!
It’s pretty straightforward and although nowadays many prefer difficult relationships and ambiguous characters, this plays according to standard rules. Good guys are good guys, villains are bad, no middle ground.
The setting is the birth of the Mexican Republic with Benito Juarez (who was an actual historical figure) discussing with the official of San Mendelito the need for their gold mine to deliver the gold for establishing a credit for the new republic with the foreign countries and to pay for the armaments. I guess I don’t need to add it doesn’t go as planned, as there is a competition on the horizon in the form of one Don Del Oro, somebody masquerading as Yaqui Indians’ god, pushing those to attack those transports in an effort to undermine the Republic and establish himself as an Emperor of Mexico. What a grand plan!
Luckily for the Mexico, don Francisco, the patriotic old guy, organizes the Fighting Legion to protect those gold transports, but alas, he gets killed. Who’s gonna lead the Legion? Glad you’ve asked, but you should have guessed. Yes, that man.
Bring the good ol Z-man on the screen! Yes, here comes Diego de la Vega, the young, a naive and inept fellow on surface (yes, we know he’s just acting), taking don Francisco’s place in the town council – but those scheming officials working for Don Del Oro don’t know (we do!), that Diego is actually Zorro himself!
From this moment we encounter almost relentless action and entertainment. Fistfights, shootings, pursuits on horses, traps…episodes actually fly by! And, of course, by the end of the final chapter, we unmask the villain and the good guys won again. That’s the way we like it, yup, yup!
This was a Republic Pictures serial, directed by John English and William Witney (both of those gentlemen directed also Zorro Rides Again, a cliffhanger serial from 1937 and quite a few others). As for the actors, for younger generations (and I include myself here as well, for obvious reason) those are absolutely unknown names… can you ask any 20+ years old about Reed Hadley (in the main role of Diego de la Vega/Zorro)? Well, you can, but unless that person is old movies’ lover, all you would get will be a blank stare.
And the same would go for the rest of the actors, but because I am in a very good mood of discovering those cinema gems, you can bet your last piece of currency we’re not done yet and the Rubber Axe will bring the knowledge of those long forgotten actors and movies back where they belong.