“Masked woman with a whip? Despite being almost 70 years old, still better than Catwoman.”
This 12-part serial from Republic was a spin-off from the success of Zorro – though despite the title, the Z-word is never mentioned. It moves the legend from Spanish California to Idaho in the 1880’s, just before a vote to decide whether it would become a state. Villainous Dan Hammond (McDonald) begins a violent campaign to prevent this, and is opposed by local newspaper owner Randolph Meredith, who has a secret identity as The Black Whip, a masked vigilante. When he is shot dead, his sister Barbara (Stirling) takes up the cape and whip, along with the help of undercover federal agent, Vic Gordon (Lewis). Together, they foil Hammond’s increasingly-desperate plots as voting day nears, and escape from 11 precarious positions. Well, it is a serial, after all…
Within the harsh limitations of the format, it does its best. In less than 15 minutes per episode, they have to fit in opening credits, a recap, replay the previous cliff-hanger, resolve that, set up the next cliff-hanger and finish with the closing credits. It leaves precious little time for plot or character development, which may explain why all the bad guys wear black hats. Seriously. They could reduce crime by 90% simply by banning the sale of non-white headgear, or so it would appear. Vic does most of the heavy lifting, action-wise, brawling frequently; Barbara generally stands back and uses her whip, which makes sense. Though, to be honest, the villains are remarkably oblivious to the Whip’s feminine curves: they’re blinded by their own sexism, at one point rejecting a suggestion Babs is the masked marauder, saying, “She couldn’t be! The Black Whip’s got to be a man!”
While clunky, sporting a dreadful ending for Hammond, and truly a product of its time (1944), the action is frequent and competent, thanks to the second-unit work of the legendary stuntman Yakima Canutt, who was the inspiration for much of John Wayne’s on-screen persona, and is best-known for staging the chariot-race in Ben Hur. The horse-work here is still outstanding: Babe DeFreest was the double for Stirling, and can be seen riding with her here. You could edit this down into a somewhat hyper feature, which would still be complete nonsense, yet given its age, is far from unwatchable.
Dir: Spencer Bennet and Wallace Grissell
Star: Linda Stirling, George J. Lewis, Francis McDonald, Hal Taliaferro