SON OF ZORRO
Unlike the Lone Ranger, who we only know had a brother who was murdered in an outlaw ambush, an act which set in motion the events that would ultimately lead to his wounded sibling taking up the mantle of the legendary masked man, and a young nephew named Dan Reid who occasionally helped out the Ranger and Tonto, both on radio and later on TV, Zorro turned out to be quite an active family man. Although the chronology of these descendents can be rather confusing to chart due to inconsistencies in historical time and place, it’s obvious the senior Zorro bequeathed to his offspring his legendary prowess as a righter of wrongs, many of whom opted to take up his heroic role and do something about injustices in their own times.
Republic, the best home cliffhangers ever had, produced two legitimate Zorro efforts, the feature film “The Bold Caballero”starring Robert Livingston in ‘36 and the superior serial “Zorro’s Fighting Legion” (‘39) featuring Reed Hadley. Aside from these two outings, however, it was Zorro’s relations who filled the screens with chapterplays of thrills and adventure. John Carroll was Zorro’s great grandson in ‘37’s “Zorro Rides Again”, an exciting cliffhanger set in (then) modern times. Clayton Moore, in his pre-Lone Ranger days, became Ken Mason, Zorro’s grandson in “Ghost of Zorro” (‘49), an adventure set in the old west. There was also “Zorro’s Black Whip” produced in ‘44 and starring Linda Stirling as Barbara Meredith, aka The Black Whip (an identity inherited from her murdered brother Randy) which has no other connection with Zorro save the name as referenced in the title and the mask and costume. Whether there was some distant relationship between Zorro and the Black Whip, perhaps competing cousins of some sort bent on establishing their own heroic identities (but using the same mail order costume company), has yet to be established.
All this aside, we come to “Son of Zorro”, produced in ‘47 starring George Turner (right) as Jeff Stewart who only mentions in passing that Zorro was an “ancestor on my mother’s side.” Where the “son” business comes from is anyone’s guess.
Despite the traditional western outfits and weapons (Colt peacemakers and such) this serial is actually set just following the Civil War and involves Stewart returning home only to discover his community has been taken over by a band of crooked politicians bent on destroying the locals with a crippling toll tax levied on their roads. Since normal resistance meets with no success in such a corrupt environment, Jeff elects to get out the old Zorro duds and do something about it, which he does for 13 relatively entertaining chapters.
Most of the later Zorro serials follow fairly established formulas, even more so than other serials. For instance, all of them seem to have a chapter where Zorro is apparently unmasked until it’s revealed (in the subsequent chapter) that someone else—usually his servant—has conveniently borrowed the masked man’s outfit to protect his identity. Because the costumes stay the same from one serial to another—with a few slight sartorial differences—lots of old footage is incorporated into each new installment of Zorro’s career.
The cast is a mixed bag but okay. George Turner, who had few other credits to his name, has a certain boyish charm but is very slight of frame and does not appear particularly formidable as Zorro. Peggy Stewart, a stable in both serials and B-westerns, is attractive and always appealing, but Stanley Price, generally featured in cliffhanger roles on the villainous side of the fence, is woefully miscast here as the masked man’s Mexican assistant Pancho. Otherwise the cast is filled with a host of familiar faces including Roy Barcroft (Republic’s villain of all seasons), Ernie Adams, Edward Cassidy (as one of the most blatantly corrupt lawmen you will find this side of Washington D.C.), Edmund Cobb, Ken Terrell, Tom London, actors/stuntmen Eddie Parker, Dale Van Sickel and Tom Steele, Si Jenks and Jack Kirk.
The directorial team of Spencer Bennet and Fred Brannon are no William Witney and John English, but they keep things moving at a satisfying pace even if everything is pretty predictable, even by serial standards. The cliffhangers are the usual western sort, no room in the old west for the sort of wild scientific stuff that was part and parcel of serials set in modern times. Therefore you get a lot of wagons over cliffs, dynamited buildings and dwellings set afire.
Still the “Son of Zorro” tries his best to be a chip off the old block and do his distant relative proud even if sometimes he just doesn’t seem quite up to the task. But then the original Zorro is a tough act to follow.Or just maybe he was adopted.
In 1966 Republic released a TV package of features edited from complete serials known as the Century 66 package. At best, the situation was unusual in the sense the new feature titles were either so obvious that it was almost insulting (“Spy Smasher Returns”, “Doctor Satan’s Robot”, “Nyoka and the Lost Secrets of Hippocrates”, “Sakima and the Masked Marvel”) or they were so oblique you could only scratch your head in frustration. Some samples of that type: “U-238 and the Witch Doctor”, “Missile Base At Taniak”, “Code 645”, “Jungle Gold”. The original serial titles those features were made from in order are: “Jungle Drums of Africa”, “Canadian Mounties Vs. Atomic Invaders”, “G-Men Never Forget” and “Tiger Woman”.
These serial features had a running time of approximately 100 minutes each. When the film editors tried to condense 15 chapter serials like “G-Men Vs. the Black Dragon” and “Secret Service in Darkest Africa” the result was, not surprisingly, disappointing. Imagine trying to squeeze over four hours of story into a scant 1 hr. 40 min. Anyone who had not viewed the original serial was hard pressed indeed to make a great deal of sense out of these quirky adaptations.
One can only wonder what was going through the mind of the person or persons assigned the job of retitling these serials into feature form. For instance, “G-Men Vs. The Black Dragon” was renamed “Black Dragon of Manzanar”. Since Manzanar was one of the internment camps in which Japanese citizens were held during WWII, the viewer is understandably puzzled as to any connection to the wartime serial. The sequel to this serial, with action star Rod Cameron reprising his role as Rex Bennet, was “Secret Service In Darkest Africa”. The new title was “The Baron’s African War”. Unless you happened to recall the lead villain’s military title was “The Baron”, you have another enigma on your hands.
Another serial feature title considered misleading was “Torpedo of Doom” culled from “Fighting Devil Dogs”. In this serial, the evil villain, the Lightning, usually referred to his weapon of destruction as “The Thunder Bolt.” However, in fairness, the really astute serial fans might well recall the title of Chapter six was indeed, “Torpedo of Doom”.
I can add a bit of personal trivia about this serial. Many years ago I had the pleasure of dining with Barry Shipman, lead writer on “Fighting Devil Dogs”. Shipman also worked on the screenplays of such serial classics as three Dick Tracys, the two Lone Rangers and “Daredevils of the Red Circle”. In addition to many non-serial projects, he wrote for the Durango Kid series at Columbia. During our meal he related about working alone at his office at Republic. It was nighttime and he had a problem. He was having difficulty coming up with a new imaginative criminal for his latest assignment, “Fighting Devil Dogs”. He was so lost in thought he didn’t notice the approach of a major electrical storm. His concentration was interrupted by a spectacular flash of lightning followed by a clap of thunder so loud it shook his office window. It frightened him because he didn’t realize the storm was coming. Then his writer’s mind began working. A short time later one of Republic’s greatest menaces was born—the Lightning.
There were a total of 26 titles in the Century 66 package. It’s interesting to note none of these serial features had a western plotline. It’s believed the studio thought the public had been overexposed to western story themes due to TV series.
Actually, feature versions of Republic serials were released for the first time many years earlier, “Darkest Africa” was released on May 21st, 1936. The last one was issued on June 30, 1959, “Ghost of Zorro”. Please understand this particular selection was done to cash in on the Zorro TV craze and was much shorter in screening time than the 100 minute features. The longest running time was 75 minutes for “Missile Monsters” (“Flying Disc Man From Mars”).
Although some serial titles were left alone (“Dick Tracy”, “Zorro Rides Again” and “Drums of Fu Manchu”) can you figure out what serials these titles came from: “Yukon Patrol” and “Satan’s Satellites”? No need to keep you in suspense. The first retitle is from “King of the Royal Mounted”. The serial was released on Sept. 20th, 1940; the feature came out April 30th, 1942. The second retitle was adapted from “Zombies of the Stratosphere”. This serial was first released on July 16th, 1952. The feature was issued on March 28th, 1958.
Serial fans had little difficulty identifying the new title “Hi-Yo Silver” as coming from “The Lone Ranger” which was released February 12th, 1938. The feature version came out a little over two years later on April 10, 1940, with a running time of 69 minutes. A few minutes of additional footage was added to this feature with veteran actor Raymond Hatton telling the story of the Lone Ranger and his horse, Silver, to child star Dickie Jones who appeared in five serials and was also was the voice of “Pinocchio” in the ‘40 Disney animated movie. As a young adult he starred in two popular TV shows, “Buffalo Bill Jr.” in ‘55 and “Range Rider” (‘51-‘53) with popular serial star Jock Mahoney.
There were features made from other studio’s serials as well: “Desert Command” from “Three Musketeers” (Mascot); “Radio Ranch” and “Men With Steel Faces” from “Phantom Empire” (Mascot); “Chandu On the Magic Island” and “Return of Chandu” from “Return of Chandu” (Principal); Tarzan and the Green Goddess” and “New Adventures of Tarzan” from “New Adventures of Tarzan” (Burroughs); “Black Ghost” from RKO’s “Last Frontier” and “City of Lost Men” from the abominable “Lost City”; as well as “Blake of Scotland Yard” (Victory), “Clutching Hand” (Stage & Screen), “Custer’s Last Stand” (Stage & Screen), “Shadow Of Chinatown” (Victory), “Tarzan the Fearless” (Principal), “Queen of the Jungle” (Screen Attractions), “Hurricane Express” (Mascot), all of which had feature versions by the same title. Surprisingly, Universal, with the largest output of serials ( 69 titles), only released a handful of features: “Rocketship” and
A real puzzle are Columbia’s 57 serials. Although I’ve seen some feature versions made from odd chapters by fans, I have never seen or known of any official Columbia distributed releases, save the feature version of “Superman” of which your editor and I are unsure of the original distribution. If readers of this article have any information about features from serials, I am sure this website would like to hear from you.
Turhan Bey. The name conjures up memories of 1940s Technicolored Arabian Nights adventures, usually with Maria Montez and Jon Hall.
Born March 30, 1920, in Vienna, Austria, he is the son of an Austrian mother and a Turkish diplomat father. “In the late ‘30s, my mother and I fled the Nazis and came to the United States.”
It wasn’t long before he made his feature film debut, and after a two year apprentice “playing despicable Arabs and oriental villains” he became a leading man, and many-a-young woman’s ideal fantasy.
Bey returned to Austria in the early ‘50s, but began commuting back and forth to America in the early ‘80s. Although very wealthy, with much property in Austria (“I needed more credits to get my Screen Actors’ Guild Pension.”), he’s appeared in a few TV shows and made-for-video flicks to earn that pension.
While in the U.S., he often escorts Audrey Totter to various functions. “Audrey and I go back over 50 years. My mother wanted us to marry, but I had to explain we were not in love, just good friends.”
As for serials, “I did two—the first was ‘Junior G-Men of the Air’ with the Dead End Kids…(pause)… no comment… and the great, great Lionel Atwill. I remember the second one, ‘Adventures of Smilin’ Jack’ much better. Tom Brown was Smilin’ Jack. He was marvelous. Marjorie Lord was the leading lady—a very pretty, dark-haired girl. Working with Rose Hobart in that one was a pleasure. We were the villains. I loved playing villains. That was when I was at my best! We shot the serials very fast—one chapter after another. There were never any accidents—even when the Japanese bombed us! (Laughs).”