Zorro's Black Whip (1944) is a twelve-part Saturday matinee serial with all the usual redundancies & phony cliffhangers of the genre. Age twelve was probably already too mature for this kind of serial even in their day.
This example proves as good as many another wild west serial, with the bonus of a bullwhip wielding six-gun masked heroine known as the Black Whip whom no one has guessed is Barbara Meredith (Linda Stirling).
Despite the title, & although the Black Whip dresses like Zorro, the name of Zorro is never mentioned within the story. We are not in Spanish California, nor is there any swordplay action as should be required of a Zorro-like character.
The Black Whip is much more a standard western figure, active in 1889 as a masked vigilante opposing robbers, arsonists, & killers.
Episode One "The Black Whip" introduces the premise that criminal interests oppose Idaho statehood, for fear that statehood will bring law & order. A young newspaperman, Randy Meredith (Jay Kirby), champions statehood, inducing the criminals to attempt to kidnap his sister Barbara.
Vic (George J. Lewis) & Barbara become federal agents working undercover to assist statehood. Randy was the original Black Whip, but after he is killed, Barbara not only takes over the newspaper, but also the role of the masked vigilante.
There's lots of shootin' & hard ridin' & fisticuffs & standard B-western imagery. Barbara in her Black Whip guise is as skilled as any guy with a six-shooter, although to be frank, nobody in a B-western seems to be all that good a shot, so there can be a smoky buttload of Bang! Bang! without too much in the way of Arrr, you got me.
With bow-whip, however, she's genuinely ultra-skilled, a nice non-murderous way to win a fight in what is essentially a kiddy flick.
In Episode Two, "Tomb of Terror," Hammond (Francis McDonald), a town leader, is secretly one of the bad guys. A ten thousand dollar reward is offered to anyone who can find out who the gangleader is.
Vic needs repeatedly to be saved by the Black Whip in something of a role-reversal, even though nobody knows the whip-fighter is a girl. She's rather similar to Wonder Woman always rescuing her test pilot boyfriend Steve.
Episode Three, "Mob Murder," picks up where the previous episode implied the Black Whip was blown up inside a bank vault. The cliffhanger is rapidly undone, since all cliffhangers are phony in serials.
And so it goes for twelve parts until its abject happy ending. For serial fans this is rather good if not quite exemplar. But for fans of quality westerns & action cinema generally, a stalwart heroic lady is insufficient to save Zorro's Black Whip from tedium.
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