The big con
From The Spaghetti Western Database
The Big Con: Rafael Romero Marchent’s E continuavano a chiamarlo figlio di... (1972)
It’s hard not to feel sorry for E continuavano a chiamarlo figlio di.../ The Avenger Zorro, the 1972 spaghetti western from genre mainstay Rafael Marchent. It not only arrives way too late to the party – missing the zeitgeist by a good few years – but it also arrives having misread the invite, and thus turns up wearing fancy dress to a black-tie event. Out of time, wholly unfashionable and overdressed – like I said, it’s hard not to feel sorry for this little seen Euro-western. But instead of withering in a mortified state of embarrassment and slinking off into the night, hoping few witnessed its folly, The Avenger Zorro takes an unexpectedly admirable stance. ‘The hell with it,’ the film says, masked head held defiantly high, flashing a holstered belligerence. ‘I’m already here, so I might as well have some goddamn fun, right? Who’s with me?’
Well, I was, for the most part, once I’d gotten over the realization I’d been duped, Marchent’s film having played me like a Stradivarius. Bear with me for a moment and I’ll try to contextualize my having become an easy mark for Marchent’s hybrid western. Back in April, I’d put together a metre-high stack of Euro-westerns to keep me company through the unprecedented Covid lockdown here in the UK. Said tower was constructed from the usual myriad components, i.e. spaghetti westerns on every format and of varying quality (from legitimate and lovingly restored HD prints, to suspect bootlegs of third-generation VHS rips of dubious quality, along with bona fide DVD releases procured from European countries which have sterling PQ but no English sub or dub tracks, and even a Japanese laserdisc or two – all familiar avenues of experience to the spaghetti faithful, no doubt), but thematically unified via the fact that each film was a third or fourth tier title to which I had limited previous exposure or only the vaguest recollection.
And so, it came time for Marchent’s The Avenger Zorro to reach the top of the pile, and here is where I feel the swindle began proper. The DVD on which I’m basing this article on is from 01 Distribution (a subsidiary arm of RAI), the Italian company responsible for releasing many a welcome SW on home video. The title on the DVD cover reads E continuavano a chiamarlo figlio di..., whilst the artwork shows the classic image of a cowboy riding tall in the saddle, cradling his beloved carbine rifle. So, this has to be a western, right? No sign of Johnston McCulley’s legendary Gay Blade or his closest Euro approximation – just a cowpoke and his horse. Hell, the dude ain’t even wearing a mask (and I should know; I’ve since spent an inordinate amount of time squinting at the image in order to make damn certain). Ditto the back of the DVD box. Sure, it has lead Fabio Testi grinning smugly with that ridiculous spiv moustache – more on that later – and a photograph of villain Piero Lulli – more on him later – and his thugs on horseback, but again there is no sign of the masked avenger so integral to the film itself. (Interestingly, whilst the original Spanish poster for the film [known in that territory as El Zorro justiciero] commits fully to the Zorro angle, with the black-clad pistolero dominating the advert, the Italian poster is far more reluctant to go the whole avenger route, and instead showcases your standard cowboy-type reloading his colt whilst taking cover behind a wooden cross. Perhaps this was a film made with a specific eye toward the Spanish market, one which the rest of the world could appropriate to its own ends, depending on the specific tastes of the region). Or maybe this was pure ignorance on my part. I’d seen the film before, after all, albeit only once upon procuring the DVD way back when, but I had no clear recollection of Marchent’s picture, Zorro or otherwise. Not that I harbour any ill-will toward the swashbuckling vigilante genre. On the contrary: I very much enjoy the Euro-Zorro filone, at least when played straight. Of course, Rafael’s older brother – and founding father of the Euro-western – Joaquín Luis Romero Marchent had begun his spaghetti tenure back in 1955 with El Coyote, itself an off-shoot of the Zorro legend, based on the fiction writing of prolific Spanish author José Mallorquí y Figuerola. I’ve always found the elder Marchent’s El Coyote adaptation to be a terrific little film. Joaquín obviously liked the idea of the masked folk-hero, as he returned to the (sub)genre with such fare as the 1962 pic La venganza del Zorro. So, between those Fabulous Merchant Boys there exists a certain cinematic lineage at play. Cross-pollination was nothing new in European genre cinema of course, and that held especially true with westerns. On a personal note, I have great affection for Sansone e il tesoro degli Incas/ Lost Treasure of the Incas, Piero Pierotti’s 1964 cowboy/peplum mash-up starring human mountain Alan Steel (aka. Sergio Ciani), so I not only enjoy these swashbuckler/gunfighter bastardizations, but I also consider them legitimate entries in the spaghetti western canon.
And so, the film began. There were two things that hit hard during the opening credit sequence. The first was the Spanish subtitle below the actual Italian title, which read: El Zorro Justiciero. That’s a pretty big tip-off right there. I guess this is a Zorro flick, I remember thinking to myself, genius that I am. So, the film is some thirty seconds into its 82minute run time and, unlike its protagonist, has readily unveiled its true identity. The second thing was actor Piero Lulli’s name in the credits. I had no idea Lulli was in the film. His name wasn’t listed on any of the poster art nor was it featured on the DVD cover, which I find slightly odd (and the picture on the rear isn’t so clear that you’d recognise his distinct visage prior to viewing the film). I count Piero Lulli as one of the all-time heavyweight spaghetti western character actors, and, with regard to personal preference, he might be my favourite. He was one of those supporting actors graced with the look and power to elevate any material he appeared in by mere presence alone. The man had that patented, unshaven, craggy, receding blonde-haired charisma to burn, and I can never quite pull focus from Lulli whenever he’s on screen. By this period, Lulli had made the successful crossover from the moribund peplum genre and had become a dependable presence in Euro-westerns (much like Fernando Sancho or Roberto Camardiel, his name was often prefixed with con or e in the credits, denoting a certain thespian prestige), so I find it odd that his name wasn’t listed on any of the historical poster art. Regardless, Lulli’s involvement was a welcome surprise.
And the film itself? I will say in advance that The Avenger Zorro works more as a collection of well-crafted scenes than as a memorable whole, but Marchent’s film certainly deserves a closer look and ought to be represented here on the SWDB. The plot is negligible, similar to most masked vigilante flicks; in that regard, it’s reminiscent of other notable veiled-identity SWs such as Jim il Primo/ The Last Gun (Sergio Bergonzelli,1964) and Giovanni Grimaldi’s pretty cool Starblack (1966).
Fred Macaslim (Carlos Romero Marchant, keeping it in the family) rides back into town to find his father, Roger Macaslim, dead and buried, and thus making him sole heir to the family land. (Macaslim? What name is this? It feels like a peculiar hybridization of McGregor and Slim, two recognizably western names, the former having particular resonance within the SW genre. Or it could be an in-joke on behalf of Romero and his co-scenarist/screenwriter Nino Stressa – an inversion of the Gaelic MacCaslin, which – at its root translation – means ‘peace’. Either way, it’s a uniquely odd name, and stands out when uttered throughout the film on the grounds of sheer originality alone.) The town’s head honcho, Warner (Andrés Mejuto) is notified of Fred’s return. This is bad news for the grasping Warner, who – knowing that the advancing railroad will soon run through it – covets the Macaslim family ranch. Warner plots with his right-hand man, Buck (Lulli), reasoning that if the new heir should die, there would be no further obstruction in their acquiring the land via a forthcoming auction. It is obvious that Macaslim, Sr. met his fate at the hands of Warner and Buck, and they don’t want to attract lawful attention by killing off two members of the same family, so Warner stages a bank robbery to have poor old Fred framed, blamed and hung. Problem solved.
But these scoundrels didn’t reckon on local dandy and lawyer extraordinaire Don Diego (Testi), who sets out to prove Fred’s innocence, mainly in the guise of his alter ego, the avenger Zorro. But as much as this is a folkloric hero film, Zorro is also blessed with a number of fully dimensional supporting characters, and if anything, the film could be considered an ensemble flick. Caught up in this tangled web are various townsfolk, including an honest but naïve sheriff (Luis Induni – who else?), the town judge (Eduardo Calvo), and local landowner Ian Wanderman (Emilio Rodriguez). Again, we’ve seen this plot play out many times before, but the devil is in the details, so what does Marchent give us by way of distinction? As clichéd as the story might be, Marchent executes his film with a surprising amount of nuance by paying close attention to the minutiae.
Take the kangaroo court scene, which plays out early in the film. The town drunk, somewhat ironically named Pison (well played by Riccardo Garrone, brother of noted SW director Sergio), is called as primary witness. The scene is well-written and genuinely funny. It’s a long scene, arriving some ten minutes into the film, and could have potentially dragged the film down, pace-wise. Such connective tissue was often mere filler for the genre – a necessity to join the action beats, but in Marchent’s film interaction and dialogue between the subsidiary townsfolk proves unexpectedly involving, especially for a film carrying such an overtly silly conceit. After the inebriated Pison is dismissed from the witness stand, the Judge calls forth Wanderman for further testimony. This character recounts an incident in which Fred allegedly attacked his homestead. Marchent cuts to a flashback so as to visually illustrate this alleged occurrence, and it is here that I began to suspect that the film’s dishonesty might run deeper than slyly omitting Zorro from the title and DVD artwork. I have a feeling that much of this flashback sequence is made up of stock footage cribbed from a different film. This is nothing new, of course. Many of the cheaper spaghetti westerns utilized shots or lifted sequences wholesale from other pictures, often to conjure scale or spectacle when their own insufficient budgets could not. So, too, were musical scores tweaked and recycled and reused. Beyond the primo productions of Corbucci, Leone and Sollima, a high proportion of these films were poverty row productions built on a paucity of funds, the genre itself nothing more than a factory line of disposable product designed to saturate the market before the phenomena inevitably ended. It’s no surprise then, that some filmmakers were forced to cut corners in order to get their work into cinemas. In the scene, five or six men lay siege to Wanderman’s ranch, ultimately causing a stampede of horses. But whilst the footage is shot in a matching aspect ratio, the film stock looks completely different – grainier, more filmic and of higher quality. It looks as if Marchent shot close-ups of Wanderman shooting his carbine at the marauding men and then intercut that with the more expansive – expensive – footage from a pre-existing film. At no point does the character of Wanderman share the frame with the attacking men on horseback. One might reasonably assume this to be footage excised from another Marchent production, perhaps (I’m sure a more knowledgeable fan would be able to identify the specific source). The appropriated footage is noticeable, then, if not jarring, although I can’t help but feel slightly disappointed every time I watch a piecemeal Euro-western or recognize a repurposed score. (Ironically, The Avenger Zorro’s composer is Lallo Gori, who would find his music for Demofilo Fidani recycled and reused throughout much of that thrifty director’s western output.)
Stock footage or not, Fred is ultimately condemned to death by hanging on the strength of this testimony, leaving the villains to prosper. Mejuto and Lulli make for a fine pair of bastards. Mejuto is austere and suitably louche, whilst Lulli plays it rough and ready but no brainless thug. Warner and Buck, then, prove a formidable combination and pose a legitimate threat. You believe that this pair are capable of heinous acts, both in planning and execution. This surprisingly detailed approach to character carries throughout the film. One of the nice things about Marchent’s picture is the ambiguity of the characters. We know Fred is innocent, and we know Warner is the arch manipulator behind this travesty of injustice, but beyond that the viewer isn’t quite sure as to who amongst the townsfolk might be aiding and abetting him or complicit in his nefarious plan. The SW is rightly celebrated for its unflinching examination of mass corruption within governing law and localized politics (both social and economic), but in Zorro nothing is signposted by Marchent and Stressa, and so the viewer – much like Fred and Don Diego – is left to tread carefully with regard to chosen allies.
More nice scenes follow. There is a great sequence in which Fred talks with the sheriff from behind bars, reminding him that his duty is based on the tenets of honesty and law, but only when Fred calls him a Judas does the sheriff take great offence. But again – is he truly offended or are Fred’s words accurate in their intimation?
The film then follows Don Diego proper. We see him casually strolling around his palatial grounds with his butler, Pedro, discussing the flimsy evidence put forth in the courthouse. Is Marchent riffing on Batman here? Of course not, but the similarities are curious. We have a rich, dashing playboy by day doubling as a masked vigilante at night. He lives in a lonely mansion, aided only by his trusted older butler, who is not only aware of his master’s identity but also aides him in his nocturnal pursuits. ‘You know how my father fought for justice? I won’t betray his memory,’ says Don Diego, suggesting his father before him was also a champion of the poor and downtrodden, just like Thomas Wayne abetted the marginalized in Gotham. ‘But I won’t suffer for you as I did your father,’ replies Pedro, suggesting a similar fate might be awaiting the son. The two men then go to their (secret?) underground lair, which is all but the Batcave – a dark, cavernous dungeon full of weapons and explosives to be utilized in the never-ending fight against tyranny and crime. The centrepiece is a huge trunk which contains the Zorro outfit. Don Diego vows that he will exonerate Fred, but not via the often crooked and ineffectual legal system to which he has sworn an oath to uphold. No, he will do so via independent (re)action. Think about this for a moment. This man is not a bounty killer or a bandit or a paid gunman; he is a proponent of the law, of due process and fair trial. Yet he understands the fundamental shortcomings and limitations of such a system, and thus, in exigent circumstances, will redress certain ecumenical imbalance himself. He works to uphold law on a professional level but is happy to execute it on a personal level. Often compared to other folkloric heroes such as Robin Hood, Dick Turpin or William H. Bonney, it seems to me that here Zorro has – cinematically speaking – more in common with the likes of ‘Dirty’ Harry Callahan or Jimmy ‘Popeye’ Doyle in his own tailored revision of the law. This is the same principle Italian audiences would be championing a few years later when the poliziotteschi filone came into vogue: justice by any means necessary via iron-fisted police commissioners who found the confines of established law to be both suffocating and infinitely malleable.
Zorro then springs Fred from prison and sends him to stay with a trusted friend, a rancher named Dominguez. Fred reaches their ranch only to pass out on the doorstep but is nursed back to health by Dominguez and what appears to be a giant panda called Perla. Dominguez is played by the great Spanish character actor Frank Braña, always a welcome presence, complete with a thick, heavily greying beard. On closer inspection, the panda is actually Simone Blondell, albeit wearing enough eyeliner to pass for one of the endangered Chinese bears at first glance. (Blondell’s very presence would insinuate the involvement of her father, genre auteur Demofilo Fidani and, sure enough, the cult auteur is credited on Avenging Zorro as set designer). I initially assumed Braña and Blondell to be husband and wife, but it is quickly established that they are in fact father and daughter (the striking Blondell was incredibly young, deceivingly so, during her SW tenure). Distractingly, in this next scene, Braña’s noticeable beard has been trimmed back into neat silver stubble, highlighting a certain sloppiness with regard to continuity. Of course, Fred will ultimately fall in love with Perla, clearly having a predilection for racoons.
In the next scene, we find Zorro in full vigilante regalia, running around the Spanish desert like a ninja. (I mean that literally – here, Zorro looks [and acts] less like the traditional swashbuckler and more like Franco Nero in the 1981 Golan-Globus VHS-era classic Enter the Ninja). Black clad and moving incognito, Zorro could easily be inferred as some kind of proto-fascist. In many ways, Zorro is paving the way for the modern action hero in this film. He throws his grapple hook and scales mountain face and rock butte, leaping like a gazelle and diving like a swan; swinging and jumping with a preternatural grace as if parkour was a popular practice amongst 17th century aristocrats. Testi’s stunt double should be lauded – he is impressively fearless and agile. The masked face, of course, made it much easier for the stuntman to accomplish what Testi couldn’t (or was prohibited to do; Testi himself was a former stuntman and was no slouch himself when it come to the physical stuff).
As has already been stated, the film is more rewarding as a succession of interesting scenes as opposed to a knock-out whole, but it’s surprising just how many solid scenes there are. There is a good sequence in which Braña gives a bedside speech to Fred, after the convalescing man enquires as to the real identity of Zorro. Dominguez explains that, as with any mythical figure or angel of mercy, Zorro represents different things to many men: liberator, bandit, righter of wrongs, criminal et al. Such an allegorical figure will inevitably cease to exist as a flesh and blood mortal, and ultimately become more representative of the projected perspective or ideal of the individual, be that scourge or saviour. It’s a trite scene, but it’s a nice one. The film has an impressively literate screenplay. The dialogue is often clever and precise, as opposed to being built of stock phrases and loose, generic responses, and it’s almost frustrating that such a literate script should have been applied to such a lightweight piece of escapism. Regardless, this is a juicy, substantial role for Braña, too-often relegated to anonymous henchmen roles or third bandit from-the-left appearances.
In another scene, Buck and his men set out to rob a train. Or, should I say, Buck and his men sit on horseback watching as a train is robbed. Here, again, one gets the feeling Marchant is poaching scenes from another film and splicing them into his own. We have wide shots of expansive Spanish scrub, countless bandits on horseback, and – most suspicious of all – a beautiful, full-length steam train. But none of it has anything to do with this film. It’s as if Buck and his men are watching the other film play out, as if they happened to ride past a drive-in theatre in some alternative reality. I could be wrong, but this all feels like visual padding to me. The train siege looks like expensively staged action, again captured on varying film stock. Lulli and company are very much in the same position as the viewer – mere onlooker. Again, this is not only baffling but slightly disappointing. Are we watching a patchwork film here? Constructed from more than one source with an eye to budget and time? It’s a little disheartening to think so, as Marchent seems above that, coming from (SW) filmmaking royalty, and his little hybrid film was doing so very well on its own merit. As if to highlight that, this seemingly re-appropriated scene is followed by another courthouse sequence, and – like the first – it’s terrific, full of great dialogue and impressive legal flexing. The scene then turns into a full-on bidding war for Macaslim’s land. It comes down to a two-hand battle between Don Diego and Warner. It’s tense and well done, barring frequent close-ups of Testi’s ridiculous spiv moustache, waxed to a finer point than the tip of Zorro’s rapier. He looks more like a British spitfire pilot from WWII than a Spanish nobleman, more David Niven than Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.
What is unique about all these civic scenes is that – Mejuto and Lulli aside – the town feels like an idyllic place, populated by decent people. The founding fathers all feel like honest, amiable men. That’s rare for this genre, wherein most towns more closely approximate The Unhappy Place from Questi’s Se sei vivo spara/ Django Kill! (1967). So, as I mentioned earlier, not only is the viewer uncertain as to their complicity with Warner, but you don’t want them to be, so disarmingly ingratiating do they appear, even when condemning an innocent man or selling his stolen land. It’s a nice subversion of expectations – we are so inured to the political infrastructure of a town being crooked or susceptible to easy corruption.
There follows more genial nonsense in which Zorro deploys his customary acrobatics to get around town, sneaking into buildings and emptying various vaults and safes. Much of it is visually ludicrous, but again, Testi demonstrates the wiry dexterity of, say, Gemma and Hill, and so such shenanigans never become distractingly unbelievable. Hilariously, he even leaves a Fuck You note in Warner’s stronghold after relieving it of all contents. What a scoundrel. But by this point in the film a very specific rhythm has been established, and for every plus there is a minus. And so, we get another passive sequence for Lulli and company. Like the railway robbery sequence before it, the group watch as a Union wagon and its guards ride past. They shoot at the envoy and then give chase after the wagon. Once more, I am deeply cynical toward the origination of this footage. At no time do Lulli or any of the cast interact with the envoy or the wagon, nor do they even occupy the same frame. The stock looks suspiciously ill-matched. Although filmed in long shot, the mob pursuing the wagon look more like Mexican bandits, with at least two wearing definite sombreros. Was the script written to accommodate this borrowed footage? Cobbled together around a number of licensed scenes? True, your average cinemagoer in 1969 wasn’t necessarily going to recognize such blatant deceit, but any hardcore loyalist of the genre will, at some point, recognize that they’ve been unwittingly sold a second-hand car.
Meanwhile, Frank and Perla the panda continue to fall in love, their great seduction playing out whilst Perla collects freshy laid eggs in a barn full of chickens. Braña joins them, his beard having miraculously grown back to full density. It’s absolutely ludicrous. Scenes like this should be tedious; you can imagine the southern, proletariat audiences of the day leaving at this point to grab a beer or a smoke or strike up a conversation with the person next to them about football. This is the exact kind of scene Leone sought to eradicate at the birth of the genre proper; cut loose the superfluous love scenes which lessened many an American oater. But, like the court scenes, Marchent somehow makes them work. The Avenger Zorro might be one of the very few films where the action gets in the way of the exposition.
As with any lone avenger, Zorro’s lone weakness is friends or family, and so it is that Warner learns of Diego and his panda, Perla. In a scene of patented SW misogyny, Buck ties Perla to a post and slaps the shit out of her in an attempt to have her divulge Zorro’s true identity. Buck can’t be all bad, however; he stops short of shoving a glowing, heated fire-poker through her eye. The big softie.
Buck and his men lay siege to Dominguez’s cabin. I was glad to see Braña survive this set piece, as I fully expected his secondary character to be unceremoniously clipped. Luckily, he, Fred and Zorro all walk away, with Zorro leaving to rescue the kidnapped Perla, drawing the bandits away in the process. This leads to a hilarious chase sequence, where Buck and his men give pursuit on horseback, and Zorro takes the opportunity to show off with some seriously silly saddle play. Our masked hero swings from steed and generally defies gravity for what feels like a good half-hour; he dips, jumps, turns, pivots and – at one point – appears to disappear completely into thin air, as if pulling a Claude Rains. It’s utterly superfluous and paints Zorro as nothing more than an insecure narcissist (probably not far from the truth). One can only assume our hero is attempting to make himself a more difficult target for his pursuers’ bullets, but it all seems so unnecessary. As a viewer, I was beginning to hope one of the bullets might hit him, if only to deflate his ego. But with regard to physical prowess, Zorro is only just warming up. Not to be outdone, our stealth ninja then climbs between two mountain buttes on rope before fighting a bandit with what looks to be some form of rudimentary jujitsu. It’s both simultaneously daft and glorious. He then spins down a cliff face on a rope with all the dexterity of a seasoned Filipino pole-dancer. You have to hand it to Zorro/Don Diego – the man knows his stuff. There follows more cliff scaling and jumping, to the point where you begin to wonder if this might be the first post-modern action film. This suspicion is confirmed when Testi/ his stunt double jumps off a cliff and crashes through the roof of a burning log cabin. It looks fantastic – a truly impressive physical feat; oddly redolent of the modern, jaw-dropping stunt work coming out of Indonesian action cinema. Normally, the physical acrobatics incorporated into late-era spaghettis are as big a turn off than the slapstick, but here they achieve an almost comedic state of grace a la Lloyd or Keaton. By this point in the film, Zorro appears to have lost the ability to merely walk; he jumps and rolls, dives and pirouettes when it seems to me simply running would be just fine. Talk about value for money.
Meanwhile, Fred returns to town with Dominguez and proves his innocence to the sheriff, who, we are pleased to learn, isn’t in cahoots with Warner and Buck. Ditto the judge and the rest of likeable town fathers. At last – a localized political infrastructure in a SW built on solid foundations! With their plan rumbled, Warner and Buck go at the townsfolk with guns a-blazing. It may have taken well over an hour, but at last the film delivers on some proper western action. The villains shoot up the saloon (wherein our heroes have barricaded themselves) and overturn Conestoga wagons in the street, using them as cover. What follows is an incredibly noisy five minutes of gunplay. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many shots fired in a single scene, and I say that sans hyperbole. The two factions exchange bullets for what feels like an eternity, although I only counted one death in all that time, which speaks volumes for both factions’ (in)competency as gunmen. It’s a great scene nonetheless, almost hypnotic in its casual approach to violence without consequence.
Buck and his men set fire to the saloon, trapping our heroes. By this point, Zorro has already ridden off to summon reinforcements, who duly arrive and help the townsfolk escape. He calls on many men; for a clandestine avenger he sure has a lot of friends. Night turns to dawn during this climax, suggesting that their battle goes on for many hours. It certainly feels like it. (Where do they get their ammunition from? I doubt there were this many shots fired during the Battle of Fort Sumter.) By this point in the film, I have lost all faith in Marchent’s picture as an original whole, and so – as before – I have the nagging suspicion that much of the ensuing battle footage is again cribbed from other works. The whole endeavour is starting to feel uncomfortably redolent of a Fidani cut-and-paste venture. There is now snow visible on the ground in some shots. Snow? The entire picture has thus far unfolded in a hot, dry climate, yet we suddenly have snow and mud in our on-screen environ. Stuntmen fall from buildings which do not exist within the hitherto established town. (Those distinct red rooftops seem especially incongruous). The inserted footage is incorporated reasonably well, I suppose, but Marchent should have trusted his film to work of its own accord. It didn’t need beefing up in order to belay its meagre budget. The original footage is fine; if anything, the recycled shots feels a little like overkill, an unnecessary interference. It’s one of those stock finales where the subjugated town finally wake from their apathy and fight back.
And so, the film blasts its way toward a happy ending. Dominguez takes Buck out (again, as much as I adore Lulli, it’s good to see Braña get his big moment). Fred kills Warner. Blondell – at this point looking more like a ring-tailed lemur than a woman, such is the amount of eyeliner on display – is reunited with her father and would-be lover. I’m not sure how integral Zorro himself is to this final reckoning. He seems somewhat marginalized, although this doesn’t seem to bother Don Diego one bit. He appears in the film’s final scene, in which the sheriff hints that he is now fully aware of Diego’s secret identity. Testi plays it like he doesn’t give a damn. What other reaction could a smug, devil-may-care fop have?
All things considered, E continuavano a chiamarlo figlio di.../ The Avenger Zorro should be an utter train wreck of a film, an unmitigated disaster, but somehow Marchent manages to keep everything on track. The film entertains for the duration of its running time, and that is not something that can be said for many more high-profile spaghetti westerns. It elicits zero emotional investment from the viewer, has no interest in politics or social commentary, but it does impress via its technical skill, a high-wire physicality, and the afore-mentioned, surprisingly cogent script. Marchent himself would return to the masked swashbuckler sub-genre as late as 1981, with the one-two punch of El lobo negro/ The Black Wolf and Duelo a muerte/ Revenge of the Black Wolf, and so clearly had a genuine affection for this kind of fare.
There seems to be a slight discrepancy with regard to the film’s date. Some online sources list the film as being a 1972 release (February in Spain, June in Italy), whilst others specify a June 1969 release date. It's proven difficult to find a definitive answer. In terms of production, I would tend to go with the earlier date. Testi had been toiling away in bit-parts throughout 1968 (being a periphery presence during the Keenan Wynn auction scene in C'era una volta il West/ Once Upon a Time in the West), but only achieved a certain professional credibility in 1970 after appearing in De Sica’s prestige adaptation of Il giardino dei Finzi Contini/ The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, based on the novel by Giorgio Bassani. By 1972 Testi was a bona-fide European star, having snagged the lead in Massimo Dallamano’s brilliant thriller Cosa avete fatto a Solange?/ What Have You Done to Solange? It seems unlikely, then, that he would have then diverted into low-budget Zorro territory whilst his star was on the ascent (and I say that not to denigrate Marchent’s film). I will leave the listed date as 1972 for this piece, however, if only to correlate with the film's entry page here on the SWDB.
Most spaghetti purists will no doubt balk or remain sceptical, stubbornly resistant to the film’s more maladroit charms, but The Avenger Zorro proves itself to be a pretty decent time filler for genre completists. It’s not a pantheon entry, no way, but it has a certain visual élan, and deserves a voice here on the site. It occurs to me that these forgotten, lower-rung spaghettis are akin to the poor and destitute peons in the tortilla SWs we love so much. Who will come to their rescue and champion them if not us?