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Zorro all set to win new audiences

By Arthur J Pais
October 30, 2009 13:17 IST
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Out of the night, when the full moon is bright, audiences were reminded over 50 yeas ago, comes the horseman named Zorro. The masked stranger was a familiar guest in millions of homes not only in America but also in countries that had television sets.

You may wonder how a TV series that was a rage in many countries five decades ago can appeal to a new generation grown up watching big budget, adrenaline-pumping films enhanced by computer graphics?

That was my thought too when I came across Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment's Zorro, the fully restored and complete first and second season episodes. All 78  episodes including the rarely seen Zorro: El Bandido and Zorro: Adios El Cuchillo are offered on two new six-disc sets.

For someone like me, the series with Guy Williams in the dual role of Zorro and the mild manner Don Diego offered a nostalgic trip and made me wonder why we don't see low keyed but enjoyable adventure movies like it either in theatres or on TV.

The series, many film historians believe, are the most popular of its kind ever seen on American TV.

It was quite a different reaction when I invited five of my neighbours' kids, who love the comics and the movies based on them, to watch both the sets in four sittings. There was plenty of popcorn to go around but ten minutes into the first film in the series, hardly anyone touched the popcorn. During the subsequent viewings, popcorn and cookies were eaten only after the screening ended

At least three of them -- all teenagers -- fell in love with the series, while the other two gave a not-bad verdict.

"This was surely made more than 50 years ago," asked one. "Man, it is thrilling. Can't believe it was so old. You know it is older than my father."

The three who loved the adventure series said they were going to ask their parents get them the DVD sets. In America, the DVDs issued as Walt Disney Treasures Sets are sold in attractive tin sets with a few gifts including a Zorro pin.

The sets also have lively comments by film historian and critic Leonard Maltin.

'It was an immediate success, and it wasn't hard to see why,' muses Maltin, a veteran writer on movies. 'A gallant defender of the oppressed, Zorro is a very appealing figure. Walt Disney hired writer-director Norman Foster to develop the character and set the tone of the series, as he had so successfully with Davy Crockett just a few years earlier.'

Together they chose 'the perfect actor to play Zorro in this action-packed but lighthearted show:Guy Williams,' he adds.

'Everything about the series reflected Disney's philosophy of family entertainment and his commitment to quality,' he muses further. 'An elaborate, permanent set was built on the Disney studios lot. Williams was surrounded by a colourful and talented supporting cast.'

Most fans agree that the main attraction of the series was 'the dazzling smile and winning personality of its star, Guy Williams,' Maltin argues. 'He not only filled the dual role of Don Diego and his alter-ego to perfection, he also performed all of his own swordfights.'

Riding astride his stunning black stallion Tornado to defend the poor and oppressed in the series is Don Diego's alter ego, El Zorro ("The Fox") who uses his muscles, whip and brain to fight the evil. Arguably he was the first caped crusader who has been most influential in Hollywood, inspiring several generations of secretive super heroes.

Maltin and other film historians believe that the series which ran for two years starting in 1957 helped transform the literary character Don Diego de la Vega into the 'ultimate iconic, beloved swashbuckling masked hero of the time.'

The series also gained from the performances of its other artists, prominently Henry Calvin, and Gene Sheldon.

The adventures of Zorro and his trusty steed Tornado have captivated audiences since their inception, gaining new audiences when it was re-aired on the Disney Channel in 1983 and re-colorising the episodes in the 1990s, Disney press release says .

After the series conclusion, the Zorro adventures lived on from 1960 to 1961 on Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color in the form of a four-episode anthology series of hour-long Zorro specials, all of which are also included in the restored Walt Disney Treasures.

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Arthur J Pais in New York