So, Zorro's Fighting Legion. As previously mentioned, this is a movie serial. It was created in 1939 by Republic Pictures. Republic produced many fine serials, of which Ozymandias is not the villain. Most serials had a low budget, so were in black and white, used a lot of Stock Footage, and reused a lot of plot elements. The studio system was also in full effect at the time, so Hey Its That Guy happens a lot.
Chapter One: "The Golden God"
First chapters of serials are generally double-length to introduce the characters and concepts, so this entry will go long itself.
We open with the series title, and a bunch of men on horseback riding towards the camera while singing their theme song. Then we have some establishing shots of the cast. Zorro himself is played by Reed Hadley. The love interest is Sheila Darcy, competent sidekick is William Corson. Two of the baddies are Leander de Cordoba (Spanish name!) and Edmund Cobb. Two more baddies are John Merton and C. Montague Shaw. And then a large list of "with."
Our story begins with stock battle footage representing the Mexican Revolution of 1810. Exoect Hollywood History and South of the Border to be in full effect. We skip ahead to 1824, and the formation of the United States of Mexico. The map focuses in on the province of San Mendolito.
The Governor's Council is meeting, and they have a special guest, real-life historical personage Benito Juarez. Senor Juarez explains that while Mexico has freedom now, the country is still weak. It has internal enemies (and here the camera pans over the Governor and three of the council members who we saw in the credits.) "We need loyal men." (And the camera switches to two other council members, the sidekick and a distinguished-looking older gentleman), "...and we need gold."
The gold is needed to establish foreign credit (i.e., bribe other countries not to invade) and as it happens, San Mendolito has the richest government-owned gold mine in Mexico. The governor assures Senor Juarez that Mexico's future is in good hands. Which would be more comforting if he didn't have both Bald of Evil and Beard of Evil.
Chief Justice Pablo says he'll do what he can, but the new laws may be too lenient on wrongdoers. Gonzalez, the manager of the gold mine, promises regular gold shipments. And Commandante Manuel (who rocks his own Beard of Evil) says the next gold train is leaving within the hour.
Reassured, Juarez picks the distinguished-looking gentleman, Francisco, to see him to his coach.
Outside, Francisco warns Juarez about possible trouble from the Yaqui, a tribe of natives. Apparently they have an idol representing the god of gold, Don del Oro. Said idol is said to be speaking against the current government. Having the Yaqui on the warpath would be disastrous, but Francisco has organized a secretive group of patriots to deal with any problems of the sort.
Inside, Governor Felipe and his three henchmen plot and toast the success of Don del Oro.
As the councilors leave, there's a mariachi player strumming his guitar. Coins are tossed in his hat, one of which conceals a message. "The Golden Arrow strikes tonight!"
Sure enough, as Manuel and his troops escort the mule train carrying the gold, a peculiar arrow is shot into a tree nearby. Then, the Yaqui attack! Manuel orders the train to cover, and a battle rages. Notably, Manuel, out of sight of his troops, does not participate. In fact, he bails in mid-battle to bring the arrow back to the council and report the loss of the gold.
Gonzalez suggests destroying the idol, but Manuel nixes the idea on the grounds that such an offense would inflame all the Indians in Mexico. Felipe claims that no more gold shipments can be made due to a shortage of troops to guard them. Francisco volunteers his private force to supplement the guards and get the shipment through.
The governor accepts this offer; there will be another gold train in the morning. Francisco turns to the sidekick, now named as Ramon, and invites him to the cantina.
At the Cantina del Camino, Francisco and Ramon are enjoying their drinks when a small knot of tough-looking hombres sidle in, having the named characters pointed out to them by the mariachi. One of the toughs, a sleazy-looking type, steals Francisco's drink and offers to join the gentleman's private peacekeepers. The sleazeball, Rodriguez, implies that Francisco is recruiting an army for his own ambitions. Francisco replies that he's not hiring right now.
Rodriguez pretends to be insulted, and challenges Francisco to a duel, while the other toughs hustle Ramon out of the way. Francisco puts up a valiant battle, but it's clear that he's past his prime, and Rodriguez soon disarms him. And then Gory Discretion Shot.
Ramon breaks free, and attempts to avenge the older man. One of the other toughs draws a knife, planning to backstab Ramon while the young man is concentrating on Rodriguez. He doesn't have any luck with that, but a bottle to the head works.
But before the toughs can finish Ramon off, a whip attacks from nowhere. It's Zorro! One Chandelier Swing later, Zorro's forcing back the toughs. He's clearing the floor for his own duel with Rodriguez.
A thick-moustached tough draws a gun, but Zorro whips it out of his hand.
Francisco turns out to be Not Quite Dead and revives enough to see the Flynning battle. Zorro inflicts his Zorro Mark on Rodriguez' forehead, letting the rest of the characters realize who this mysterious masked man is. Rodriguez pulls out a concealed pistol, but Francisco has his own gun out, and shoots first. The remaining toughs flee.
We learn that Francisco is Zorro's uncle, which allows Ramon to realize that Zorro is really Diego Vega. Francisco urges Diego to take his place on the council, because some of them are the enemy. In particular, "Don del Oro is..is—" Francisco dies, so Zorro and Ramon remove his body from the cantina.
The mariachi strolls the streets, his playing having not improved at all. In a dingy room nearby, some of the toughs relax with knife throwing. They hear the strumming and realize is't Don del Oro's signal. They rush out to "the usual place," the last one pausing to throw his dagger and score a bullseye.
Nearby, more toughs are playing cards when they hear the signal. Two jump up immediately, but the most flashily-dressed one passes. He's tired of being Don del Oro's patsy. His next card is the Ace of Spades, "the Death Ace!" As his fellows scurry out, the card is skewered by a golden arrow.
The scene shifts to carved stone doors. They open to reveal a cave filled with Yaqui warriors, a fire pit, and the gambler from the last scene, now tied up and terrified.
We get our first look at Don del Oro seated on his skull-decorated throne. Don del Oro is pretty obviously some guy in gilded armor with an oversized helmet. He has a (obviously disguised) deep, resonant voice.
Don del Oro orders the gambler tossed into the fire pit as a "sacrifice to Yaqui victory." The camera angle changes, and we see that the toughs are hiding in a side tunnel, presumably to avoid most of the Yaqui catching on to their presence.
After the sacrifice, Don del Oro orates that before the white man came, all Mexico was rightfully Yaqui land, and all gold Yaqui gold. And now that Don del Oro is leading them, these things will be theirs again. Another "theft" of gold is scheduled for the morning, so "be ready."
The stone door is closed, and Don del Oro turns to his white thugs. The gambler Sebastian's fate should be a lesson to them all. No one can stop Don del Oro's plan!
That plan, by the way, is to bankrupt the Republic by causing a gold shortage, then overthrow the government to make himself Emperor.
Turns out that the baddies already had a mole inside Francisco's organization, Martinez. Martinez reports that since its founder's death a few days ago, they've been paralyzed. Don del Oro reveals that he is going to Francisco's hacienda, to meet the dead man's nephew, due to arrive tonight.
At the hacienda, Don Felipe is speaking to Maria, Francisco's widow (who I must say is bearing up very well), and Ramon's sister Bolita. The latter is anxiousto meet Diego neither she nor Senora Maria have ever seen him. The other three conspirators are there as well.
Ramon arrives to announce Diego's entrance. Diego, foppishly dressed, collides in the doorway with his own servant, Juan, who is loaded down with books. He gently chides Juan for forgetting his place. Diego is introduced to Bolita, who is suddenly less interested. Ramon and Bolita are Maria's "wards", though Ramon is now considered a man on his own recognition.
Diego's apparent empty-headedness and gullibility fool the conspirators, who decide to give him a seat on the council as an Useful Idiot. The ladies are also fooled, but less favorably. Diego "reluctantly" accepts his council appointment, and learns that the next gold train is at dawn.
Ramon and Diego chuckle over the latter's ability to pass as a Rich Idiot with No Day Job while suiting up. Ramon goes off to summon "the others" to the old mission.
Francisco's men gather in their uniforms and a masked Ramon informs them they'll now be led by Zorro. They will be "Zorro's Fighting Legion!" Zorro appears on a white horse, rallies the troops and has them reswear the Legion Oath.
"I solemnly swear to protect the Republic of Mexico with my sword and with my life. I will be loyal (closeup of Martinez here) and in all ways strive to be a worthy member of the Fighting Legion."
The next morning, Martinez slips away from the other Legionnaires discards his Legion garb, and rides to meet his confederates.
As the Legion rides, singing their theme song, more and more members show up to swell their ranks.
Martinez warns his confederates of Zorro and the Legion, and they decide to go to the pass beyond the ambush site to set up a second ambush.
This time, the golden arrow finds its way into a soldier's chest, and Commandante Manuel prepares to do the same as last time. Put the Fighting Legion show up to drive off tghe Yaqui. Manuel orders his men to not interfere for the moment.
Once the Yaqui are driven off, Manuel leaves the train to his sergeant while he reports back to the council. Meanwhile, Zorro orders his troops to shadow the train in case of more trouble, while he follows the Yaqui back to their lair.
Zorro overhears one of the toughs telling a Yaqui not to worry about the failure of the ambush because of the second ambush plan. He rushes off.
The thugs have set up boulders and felled trees to block the road, plus blasting powder in the surrounding cliffs. Zorro arrives just in time to see the thugs trying to light the powder trail with a torch. His intervention stalls this, but eventually the dropped torch's flame reaches the fuse.
Zorro shouts a warning to the gold train, still stuck at the blockade. The blasting powder sets off a rockslide on both sides of the pass, dooming both Zorro and the hapless soldiers!
Tune in next week for: "The Flaming 'Z'"