A female version of Zorro existed since the 1940s, Zorro’s Black Whip. It’s nothing new. So technically reimagining the zorro persona as female already happened.
There have been female versions of the Zorro character over the years in books and other media. I’m not sure why they are being ignored and I can’t figure out whether it’s on purpose or just complete ignorance. Of course, there is room for more new stories but ignoring the past is not the best approach to making new content for the Zorro brand. There are lessons to be learned. Rather than copying the story of Don Diego, original characters were created with their own identity since the 1940s.
Even back then writers knew not to name her Zorra or have a copy of Don Diego as female. It’s the laziest choice that would do very little to elevate women during times when they tried to make the argument that women were also capable of getting stuff done using their intelligence and the weapons they could handle.
It is true that very few know of their existence in general. On visual media I just recently discovered Zorro’s Black Whip through a Zorro documentary and Queen of Swords was recommended by an acquaintance. Both are female-lead serials based on adaptations inspired by the zorro persona and both have interesting stories to tell.
The serial versions, clearly inspired by the original Zorro, have their own defined characters. However, I have not seen any reference to them in the initial promotion for the new CW female Zorro series, as if they never existed. In this publication, we will pay attention to Zorro’s the Black Whip from 1944.
Zorro’s Black Whip is a Western Action-Adventure Republic Pictures 12-chapter serial. This was one of two 12-chapter serials released in theaters in 1944. It had been the Republic’s standard pattern to produce multiple chapter serials during the period of 1937 to 1945. At that time everything was released in theaters which is why often people confuse it with being an actual film.
The series has been compiled into a single 3-hour film in modern times, but its original format is a 12-episode series. So technically by today’s standards, it can be considered the first female adaptation of the zorro persona on screen.
Despite the title, Zorro does not feature in this serial, but a female who behaves like Don Diego in Idaho fights a cabal of corrupt politicians as “The Black Whip” after her brother, the original Black Whip, is killed.
Linda Sterling has the main role of Barbara Meredith, The Black Whip, and the owner of the newspaper Cresent City Herald. Even though she is the star of the film her name does not come first in the credits. George J. Lewis plays Vic Gordon, a US government agent allied with the Black Whip.
In a related role, Lewis later portrayed Don Alejandro de la Vega, Don Diego de la Vega’s father, in the Walt Disney television series Zorro which I love. Lucien Littlefield stars as “Tenpoint” Jackson, the comedic relief newspaper typesetter working with Barbara Meredith. Francis McDonald plays Dan Hammond, villainous owner of the town’s Stagecoach company. Hal Taliaferro has the role of Baxter, one of Hammond’s henchmen. John Merton is Ed Harris, one of Hammond’s henchmen, and Stanley Price plays as Hedges, Hammond’s Clerk-Henchman.
The serial is set in pre-statehood Idaho in 1889 and involves a fight to prevent and ensure statehood by the villains and heroes respectively. Law-abiding citizens are called for a vote the bring their territory into the union. But sinister forces, opposed to the coming of law and order, instigated a reign of terror against the lives and property of all who favored statehood.
Undercover Federal Agent Vic Gordon comes to discover just who is behind the gangs opposing statehood. There he finds local help from the mysterious vigilante known as the Black Whip.
Bang! Bang! The story starts strong. Gets your attention right off the bat. Hammond, the owner of the town’s stagecoach line and a leading citizen on the council, is secretly opposed to Idaho becoming a state because government protection would destroy the system and organization he has constructed and conducts raids against citizens and settlers alike to prevent order while keeping his own identity as the organization’s leader secret.
The town marshal is meanwhile powerless to act outside his jurisdiction beyond the town boundary. Randolph Meredith, owner of the town’s newspaper, as the Black Whip, opposes this scheme to defeat statehood. We see how clever the Black Whip is, clever like a fox.
Unfortunately, one day he dies by a mortal gunshot after preventing yet another coup. His sister Barbara, an expert with a bullwhip, pistol, and great at horse riding takes over Randolph’s black costume and mask and becomes “The Black Whip” in her brother’s place. The courage of the Woman! She manages to stop Hammond and his gang each time they perform some heinous act in their efforts to keep the town, and their power over it, unchanged.
THE FIGHT AGAINST TYRANNY
Aided by recently arrived undercover US government agent Vic Gordon, Barbara as The Black Whip is quite obviously female but, the villains do not realize they aren’t fighting a man. Some reference is made to this, however, when the villains are trying to determine who the Black Whip’s secret identity could be they are almost convinced that the Back Whip is a man since he’s recently outshot, outrode, outfought, and stopped them at every turn.
During this time, the poor Tenpoint is almost getting a nervous breakdown every time something happens to make Barbara ride into danger. He takes his tonics to prevent the jitters. He is always preoccupied as he knows that Barbara is the Black Whip. One of Tenpoint’s memorable quotes: “Trouble for you. Worry for me”.
Initially, Hammond and his men are convinced that Barbara at least knows who the Black Whip is and make an unsuccessful attempt at kidnapping her. Later on, Hammond is convinced that she is the Black Whip and orders her taken again. Why does she live alone is my question at this point? It seems like everyone can enter her house at any time. Luckily for her, Gordon discovers Barbara’s secret and removes her from suspicion by appearing in her costume and finding her captors.
He insists that he should take over as the Black Whip as the typical male hero, but Barbara reminds him that he will be very occupied with his job. There is still more work for her to do as the Black Whip. Eventually, I see them become more like partners that will become the Black Whip when necessary.
THE FINAL VOTE
She holds her own in successive violent confrontations with Hammond’s henchmen, and more than once saves Gordon’s life. After the town has finally voted on whether to accept statehood or not, most of Hammond’s gang are gunned down while attempting to steal the ballot boxes. Hammond escapes, and secretly trails and confronts Barbara in her cave when she removes her mask. He takes aim but is struck down by the Black Whip’s stallion. The reign of terror has ended. Gordon remains with Barbara and the Marshall to help maintain peace in the territory.
THE SERIAL’S STRUCTURE
The serial consists of 12 episodes, or chapters as they are referred to, with an average of 15 minutes of duration per episode:
- The Masked Avenger (23min 23s)
- Tomb of Terror (14min 27s)
- Mob Murder (14min 27s)
- Detour to Death (14min 27s)
- Take Off That Mask! (14min 26s)
- Fatal Gold (14min 26s)
- Wolf Pack (14min 26s)
- The Invisible Victim (14min 26s)
- Avalanche (14min 27s)
- Fangs of Doom (14min 27s)
- Flaming Juggernaut (14min 27s)
- Trial of Tyranny (14min 26s)
The serial has been released on DVD, but the video file has not been remastered. The video file is of very good quality for its age but is over 75 years old. It’s not HD quality so it doesn’t look that great on flat-screen TV but if you can ignore that part it’s still watchable. The DVD is still available for sale to this day.
The serial entered the public domain on January 1, 1971, and the black and white version is available to watch for free on archive.org. A colorized 3 hours compiled version of the series is available on YouTube.
THE ZORRO SERIALS FROM REPUBLIC PICTURES
The Black Whip is the third in the series of five Zorro serials from the 1930 and the 1940s: Zorro Rides Again (1937), Zorro’s Fighting Legion (1939), Zorro’s Black Whip (1944), Son of Zorro (1947), and Ghost of Zorro (1949). After the Zorro series, the Republic Pictures would only produce two more 15-chapter serials, Manhunt of Mystery Island and The Purple Monster Strikes, both in 1945 and both starring Linda Stirling.
The Black Whip was made after the 1940 20th Century-Fox remake of The Mark of Zorro to capitalize on it. Republic Pictures was not able to use the character of Zorro himself, however, and despite the title, the heroine is called The Black Whip throughout the series with no mention of the word “Zorro”.
The Black Whip is absolutely engaging from the beginning. The story runs smoothly and if you like the old Westerns you will be properly entertained. The story structure is so cleverly put that it’s not difficult to believe that Barbara is skilled seeing how her brother is. It’s not difficult to imagine that she would be trained by him for example.
We don’t know anything about her past so at the start, we have no idea of what she is capable of and why. As the Black Whip, an iteration of Zorro, Barbara proved to be a more capable rider, gunfighter, and fist-fighter than most men. She is also a master with the bullwhip, which she wields along with her six-shooter.
My Rating: 7/10
IMDb Zorro’s Black Whip – Last accessed January 12, 2022
Black Whip (II) – Last accessed February 2, 2022
Zorro’s Black Whip – Last accessed February 2, 2022
Republic Pictures – Last accessed February 8, 2022
Republic Studios backlot (historic site) – Last accessed February 8, 2022
Zorro’s Black Whip Serial Black and White version – Last accessed February 6, 2022
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All images and videos in this publication belong to the original creators and are used as references under fair use.