VCI is one of the very few DVD publishers who still release the
old chapter play serials on DVD. It's
too bad that there isn't more interest in these adventures since they
be entertaining even half a century since the last first run serial
movie screens. Case in point:
The Green Hornet a 1940
Universal. This fun, if fairly typical,
chapter play has a lot of adventure, fist fights and comic-hero action. What makes this presentation so special is
that VCI was able to obtain 35mm elements from Universal for
preservation. The result is a very nice
DVD set that is sure to please serial fans.
The Green Hornet started as a
radio show in Michigan
in 1936, and
his adventures were penned by Fran Striker, the same scribe who created
Lone Ranger1. (Little known fact: The
Lone Ranger's real name was John
Reid. His nephew, Dan Reid was a
character on the radio show. The Green
Hornet was Britt Reid, whose father, Dan, owned a big city newspaper. Assuming the two Dan Reids are one and the
same, not a far leap of faith since the same man wrote both shows, The
Hornet is the Lone Ranger's great nephew.)
The show was an instant hit and a little over two years after
Britt Reid (Gordon Jones) is the publisher of a large
metropolitan newspaper. He's a bit of a
playboy and a slacker, shunning the hard-hitting editorials that his
would publish pointing out corruption in the city, Britt's happy to
more sedate paper that doesn't make waves. This
only proves that Britt is not nearly the
man his father was to his secretary Lenore Case (Anne Nagel).
In the evenings however, Reid donned a mask and gas gun and
turned into the Green Hornet! With his
manservant Kato (Keye Luke), a Korean2 who
Reid rescued from certain death in
the Orient, he hunts down the racketeers and organized mobsters who are
the law. The Hornet is armed only with a
gas gun that shoots pellets that explode on impact and temporarily
his target. He also has Kato, a master
at martial arts who comes in very handy in a fight (though he sometimes
that fact and allows himself to be easily overcome when the plot calls
it.) Kato also designed the Green Hornet's
car, the Black Beauty. It's capable of
going 200 miles per hour and makes the sound of an angry bee when it
by. (This can be turned off when the
and Kato need to sneak up on somebody however.
Which begs the question: Why turn
As this serial starts Kato has just put the finishing
touches on the Black Beauty (he's a mechanical genius too) and Britt
the mantel of the Green Hornet for the first time.
(Apparently he's been playing a fop for years
waiting for this moment.) Kato
has finished just in time too, because there's a group of criminals
rackets in the town. The Hornet sets out
to tracking down and capturing the 13 men who make up the group, but he
into a snag. After the first criminal
dies soon after Reid interrogates him, the police assume that the Green
is a criminal too, a racketeer who is out to muscle in on the existing
network. While Britt's secretary doesn't
believe a word of it, his Irish ex-police bodyguard Mike Axford (Wade
is sure that the nocturnal character is a crook. So
that no one will suspect that Reid is
actually the Hornet, Britt goes so far as to have his paper put out a
for the capture of the Green Hornet!
This was a fun, if somewhat average serial. There
wasn't a lot of thought given to the
overall plot. With 13 chapters and 13
criminals, it's easy to see the pattern that the show takes. Each week The Green Hornet investigates a
crime and tracks down another gangster, only to have him die before
who the head of the organization is. It's
a nice plot device, though the faceless crooks soon run together the
does have a lot of action with plenty of car chases and fist fights
plane crashes and a boat chase.
Like many serials, this one had its share of silly elements,
amazing coincidences and virtual impossibilities. In
one scene a safe is rigged to blow up when
opened, but after it does (blowing the steel door off its hinges) the
inside are undamaged. Some of the rackets
that the organization was involved in were a little far fetched too. One such scam was run through a pilot
training school. When a new pilot would
solo, they'd drain all of the fuel (and presumably rig the gauge so it
read full) and send the newbie up. After
he invariably crashed and died, they'd collect on the secret insurance
they took out on the student as well as on the plane.
Apparently they've done that a dozen times
without the FCC or the insurance company checking in on them. Those things aren't too troubling
though. This is a serial after all, and
part of the fun.
The acting was fine.
Gordon Jones was a little wooden at times but did an otherwise
as the Green Hornet. Keye Luke is
no Bruce Lee... his fighting isn't very convincing, but he's also fine as
servant. Wade Boteler looks like he had
a fun time chewing the scenery as the idiotic Axford.
It was a comic relief character and Boteler
did a great job often proclaiming that he would nab the "Haarnet" but
getting close. All in all this was a
fun, if unexceptional series.
This 13-chpater serial is presented on two DVDs housed in a
single width DVD case.
The two channel DD mono soundtrack sounds good for a serial
this old. The dialg is easy to hear and
while there isn't much in the way of dynamic range the audio is fairly
clear, especially for a title this old.
VCI was able to obtain the original 35mm film elements for
this serial from Universal and restored them.
The result is a DVD set that has excellent video quality. The full frame image is very clear with great
contrast and deep blacks. Spots are
scratches are minimal and the black and white image is very, very good. The picture isn't perfect, some details are
lost in dark areas, but I can't see any serial fans complaining about
presentation on this disc.
There is a nice selection of bonus material, all included on
the second disc. It starts off with an
audio presentation of chapter six of "I am the Green Hornet" Britt Reid. This 'autobiography' of the Green Hornet was
penned Clifford Weimer and presents the creation for the serial from
point of view. It's an interesting way
to present a history of the show.
There are also two GH radio shows: The
Parking Lot Racket from 10-31-39 and The
Highway That Graft Wrote from 10-3-40.
Unfortunately none of these audio extras are included as MP3
you have to listen to them through your TV.
Including extra MP3 files would add a lot of value as you could
transfer them easily to a iPod or Zune.
The extras are wrapped up with a photo gallery, a text
biography of Green Hornet (and Lone Ranger) creator George W. Trendle1 , and a
short before-and after demonstration of the restoration that was done
There's also a 4 page printed history of the Green Hornet
and a listing of the cast members on an insert included with the discs.
I really enjoy serials and this one had some solid
entertainment value. While the middle
did tend to blend together, as they often do, and there weren't many
cliffhangers in this one, it is still a very enjoyable series. Longtime fans and novices alike will have a
good time watching this. A strong
1) Though the insert
and the disc itself gives Trendel credit as the creators of both The
Ranger and The Green Hornet, this is a debated point and I think writer
Striker should be given that honor. It
wasn't until 1934, a couple of years after The Lone Ranger debuted that
forced Striker to sign away the rights to the character.
pretty clear that Trendel wanted to create a Western radio show, but
Striker came up with the Tonto, the silver bullets, his horse Silver,
Ranger's iconic shout "Hi-yo Silver!
Away!" He did the same with the
Green Hornet, creating the trappings and the outlook of the character
still fondly remembered today.
2) In the radio
series Kato was from the Philippines.
There is an urban legend that still floats
around stating that Kato was originally from Japan
but that his nationality was
changed after December 7th 1941.
This is totally false. There are
several radio shows that were broadcast before Pearl
Harbor where it's clearly indicated that Kato is Philippine.