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 can still be entertaining even half a century since the last first run serial illuminated movie screens. Case in point: The Green Hornet a 1940 serial from 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 restoration and 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
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 father would publish pointing out corruption in the city, Britt's happy to print a 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 loyal 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 beyond the law. The Hornet is armed only with a gas gun that shoots pellets that explode on impact and temporarily knocking out his target. He also has Kato, a master at martial arts who comes in very handy in a fight (though he sometimes forgets that fact and allows himself to be easily overcome when the plot calls for 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 speeds by. (This can be turned off when the Hornet and Kato need to sneak up on somebody however. Which begs the question: Why turn it on?)
As this serial starts Kato has just put the finishing touches on the Black Beauty (he's a mechanical genius too) and Britt takes up 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 running rackets in the town. The Hornet sets out to tracking down and capturing the 13 men who make up the group, but he runs into a snag. After the first criminal dies soon after Reid interrogates him, the police assume that the Green Hornet 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 Boteler) 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 reward 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 revealing who the head of the organization is. It's a nice plot device, though the faceless crooks soon run together the serial does have a lot of action with plenty of car chases and fist fights along with 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 papers 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 would read full) and send the newbie up. After he invariably crashed and died, they'd collect on the secret insurance policy 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 that's part of the fun.
The acting was fine. Gordon Jones was a little wooden at times but did an otherwise fine job as the Green Hornet. Keye Luke is definitely no Bruce Lee... his fighting isn't very convincing, but he's also fine as Reid's 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 never 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 the 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 the Hornet's 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 files, so you have to listen to them through your TV. Including extra MP3 files would add a lot of value as you could then 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 on the serial.
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 chapters did tend to blend together, as they often do, and there weren't many stand-out 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 recommendation.
1) Though the insert and the disc itself gives Trendel credit as the creators of both The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet, this is a debated point and I think writer Fran Striker should be given that honor. It wasn't until 1934, a couple of years after The Lone Ranger debuted that Trendel forced Striker to sign away the rights to the character. It's pretty clear that Trendel wanted to create a Western radio show, but that Striker came up with the Tonto, the silver bullets, his horse Silver, and the 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 that are still fondly remembered today.
2) In the radio series Kato was from the