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The character of The Green Hornet first appeared on WXYZ radio,
Detroit, Michigan on January 31, 1936, and was created by station
program manager/co-owner George W. Trendle (who also created The Lone
Ranger) and, was like that station's Lone Ranger, primarily written by
Fran Striker, at least in the early years of both programs. And
Trendle's creation from the word go, but Striker was the one who came
up with the gas gun and "Black Beauty."
Trendle created Britt Reid/The Green Hornet as the son of Dan Reid, the boy who called The Lone Ranger uncle. (Actually, Dan Reid was a Junior as his father was Dan Reid the first, a Texas Ranger Captain who was killed in the ambush at Bryant's Gap, by the Butch Cavendish gang, along with the rest of his Texas Ranger troop, with the sole exception of his younger brother John Reid, who became The Lone Ranger. Dang right, The Lone Ranger had a name.)
The Green Hornet, like his predecessor kinsman, fought crime wearing a mask; he carried a gas gun while Uncle Lone had a six-shooter and silver bullets; he drove the fastest car on radio, "Black Beauty", while his great-uncle rode Silver, the fastest (and whitest) horse on radio. The latter had Tonto, a native-American (and Indian on the radio) who had saved his life when his band of Texas Rangers were ambushed...while the Hornet's sidekick was Kato, a Filipino who doubled as his valet, and was a college graduate who knew all the secrets of Oriental in-fighting, a master chemist and he could drive "Black Beauty" anywhere, anytime at any speed. (One of the great non-true urban myths has it that Kato was introduced on the program as being Japanese, and had to change his country-of-origin in 1941 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Not so. Kato was Filipino from day one in 1936 on the radio program. But it has been told so much---it started as an WWII joke with comedians---that only those who were there in 1936 or take the time to research the radio program and its scripts know it isn't true. Surprised somebody hasn't posted that myth on the IMDb site, somewhere.)
And, while The Lone Ranger had the "William Tell Overture" as the opening-and-closing theme music, the Green Hornet opened (and roared through his crime-fighting duties)with "Flight of the Bumble Bee" as the main piece of music. And over the Lone Ranger theme music, a voice intoned: "A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty Hi-Yo Silver! The Lone Ranger rides again!" And over "The Flight of the Bumble Bee" a voice said: "With his faithful valet Kato, Britt Reid, daring young publisher, matches wits with the underworld, risking his life that criminals and racketeers within the law may feel its weight by the sting of The Green Hornet." Granted, a bit wordy but it served the purpose. And, the follow-up intro to The Lone Ranger was more than a bit wordy as Fred Foy would add: "With his faithful Indian companion Tonto, the daring and resourceful masked rider of the plains.......37 more words....followed by.. From out of the past come the thundering hoofbeats of the great horse Silver! The Lone Ranger rides again.!
For their 1940-41 serial schedule, Universal Pictures Corporation announced to their exhibitors that their four serials would include..."The Lone Ranger -The greatest serial property in show business history!" (They sure did---in trade ads and on the inside front cover of the press book of "The Phantom Creeps" You can look it up. We don't have to...it's on our desk) Well, the description blurb was true---Republic had already cleaned up on The Lone Ranger in 1938 and 1939---but WXYZ, Trendle and Universal couldn't agree on the terms. meaning Trendle wanted more money than Universal wanted to pay. Pity. A Universal Lone Ranger serial would have made an interesting companion to Republic's two offerings. And don't knock Universal for promising something they couldn't deliver; in the same 1940-41 schedule Republic announced a Superman serial. That fell through, also, but Republic made up for that, in spades, with "The Adventures of Captain Marvel" in 1941. (Republic used the intended Superman script, anyway...as "The Mysterious Dr. Satan" with "The Copperhead" character filling in for old Supe.)
But Universal did acquire the rights to make two serials based on Trendle's "Green Hornet" character and, relative to serials---which should only be judged by other serials and not every genre and budget that comes down the pike---both are easily in our top-third.
This one was Universal's 45th sound-era serial and they slipped it in between "The Phantom Creeps" and "Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe."
Edit: Despite what the cowardly "reviewer", who will not respond to e-mails, says in his snarly, mad-dog attack review, in which he put my name in the subject line I stand by every comment I made. But his attack is typical of the snit-fits he tosses out on the Contributor's Help Board. Edit: It appears the attacker has just corrected his incorrect assertion, with a slithering and cheap "for what it's worth" squirm. Now, take my name out of your slanderous subject line.
It should not have been surprising to the World that the dynamic, young
Publisher of The Daily Sentinel, Mr. Britt Reid, would become that
double-agent of crime fighting, The Green Hornet. You see, Britt Reid
had a Great, great, great Uncle, John Reed. Uncle John had been a Texas
Ranger and the only one to survive as a group of those Lawmen were
ambushed by the gang of cut-throats and their leader, Butch Cavendish.
Do you give up? Of course you don't, for everybody in 3 or 4 generations knows of the exploits of "the masked rider of the Plains" and his Indian companion, Tonto. This is just too easy, so there's no prize! I bet ya'll knowed it was the Lone Ranger all along! So being that there's those "Champion of the People" gene in his lineage it followed that in the mid-Twentieth Century, when the Nation was being plagued with Organized Crime and free-lancing Bank Robbers & Stick-up men that somebody in the family would assume an identity of a Masked Man to strike back at the Underworld in an extra-legal manner.
"THE GREEN HORNET" was born on the Radio. It was in the fertile Studios of WXYZ Radio in Detroit that Mr. Britt Reed and alter-ego, The Green Hornet, first HEARD the light of day. (Remember, this is Radio and only the mind can see!) Soon, the whole Green Hornet ensemble was present and prepared for action. There was Kato, Valet to Mr. Reed but secretly the Hornet's partner in crime-fighting, expert driver of the super-auto, the Black Beauty. Kato is as well, a great inventor and scientist-innovator in that he is responsible for the powerful sedan's make-up underneath the hood, as well as its futuristic design.
Kato was also responsible for the "Hornet's Sting" a sort of stun gun-type weapon. But Kato could and did deliver a stun of his own; via his mastery of the Martial Arts, being Jiu-jitsu, Judo, Karate, Aikido and other related disciplines.
So, let's imagine. This is 1940 and Universal Pictures, one of the 3 Hollywood Studios that regularly turned out the Serials as a part of their films, was looking for new properties suitable for adaptation to a Screen Chapter-play. And from out of the airwaves, presto! There's The Green Hornet, already known and quite popular! It has made its theme music, Rimsky-Korsakov's "The Flight of the Bumble Bee" into a well known household tune.
Universal wasted no time in putting the project on their production schedule. For the leads they cast a slender and youthful Gordon Jones as Britt Reed/The Green Hornet, Keye Luke portrayed his partner Kato, Anne Nagel as his Secretary and Confidant Miss Lenore Case (just "Casey" for short), Wade Boteler as retired Cop turned Reporter Mike Axford, Selmer Jackson as the District Attorney, Stanley Andrews as the Police Commissioner; also Cy Kendall, Joseph Crehan, Walter McGrail, Gene Rizzi, John Kelly and a cast of thousands! (Well a lot more anywho!) They did one more thing with the cast. As the sound of voice was the story telling medium on the Radio, a popular leading character's voice was as well known as the face of a Movie Star. So the Universal production team decided to give us the "real" voice of The Green Hornet from the Radio. Actor Al Hodge* dubbed in his voice to speak any of the lines that Gordon Jones spoke when he was decked out in the Hornet's garb. It was a very neat and effective dramatic device.
As for the story and plot of THE GREEN HORNET serial, the usual subjects of international espionage agents and Renegade Super Scientists were jettisoned away from the first Hornet Screen appearance. Instead The Green Hornet, Kato and company concentrated on Organized Crime and their involvement with rackets in the building of sub-standard buildings, collapsing public works, intimidation and extortion. All of these are real-life type problems being dealt with then, now and as long as Man walks the face of our home, Planet Earth.
NOTE: * Actor Al Hodge not only got to be well known as the Radio Voice of the Green Hornet/Britt Reed; but also during the period of 1949-55, he was famous World-Wide as Television's CAPTAIN VIDEO.
Addendum: 1/07/2008. Oh, by the way, we did forget to mention that a condensed feature version of this Universal Serial was released to TV and to video in 1990. There still may be some of those VHS Casettes floating around out there.
'The Green Hornet' is, overall, a pretty good serial. Certainly it is a
darn sight better than the superhero movies made since about, say,
2005, when suddenly Batman was willing to confess his true identity to
a deputy DA just because he has the hots for her, or since 2006, when
we learned that Superman was a dead-beat dad and a stalker (and don't
get me started on the Fantastic Four or 'Spider-Man 3': blech!). 'The
Green Hornet' features a hero unencumbered by ridiculous modern angst
and subplots, who is good in a fight, yet is only able to perform feats
that actual human beings could conceivably perform.
This serial has a good plot, or rather a series of good plots, that are much more grounded in reality than most other serials. It does not involve super-powers, magic, outer space, or super-villains. It's about crime. I myself enjoy the demented hallucinations of 'Flash Gordon' or 'Atom Man Vs. Superman' as much as the next person, but I like crime stories too.
This serial has decent fight scenes, not dazzling like 'Spy Smasher,' but nothing like the painfully ridiculous fights in Columbia's two horrible Batman serials. The cliff hangers are generally good, with the average amount of 'cheating' to resolve some of them. There is a good sequence with the Hornet jumping from his car onto a moving train, and who doesn't like that? To predict if you are going to like this serial, a lot depends on if you like the Green Hornet as a hero. This serial is very faithful to the original radio show, even to the extent that whenever actor Gordon Jones puts on the Green Hornet mask, his voice is dubbed in by Al Hodge, who played the Hornet on radio and later went on to be the best Captain Video on TV.
I like the Green Hornet because he has a super cool gas gun to knock out crooks (the special effect for this action works well here) and has a super cool souped-up car to chase crooks. Also, instead of wearing tights, he wears a suit and a hat, which looks a lot classier and certainly less sissy than superhero tights.
But now a word about Kato: in this version of Green Hornet, Kato is the one who invents the super cool gas gun and high powered engine that powers the super cool car. In real life, a guy that smart would have patented those things and gotten rich from them. Or if he got into the crime fighting business, he might have kept the gas gun and super motor secret so as to avoid them falling into the wrong hands, but certainly he would have invented other things and gotten rich from them.
Also, besides being a scientific genius, Kato is the one who knows martial arts. The Green Hornet is pretty good in a fight, but a Judo expert would outfight him every time.
What I am getting at is that Kato should have been the main hero, and the Hornet should have been his sidekick. My guess as to why the Hornet was dominant is that is something to do with the fact that Kato was not a Caucasian and Hollywood has been known to, from time to time, exhibit a little institutional racism.
To the credit of the writers, however, at least Kato was portrayed as smart, tough and valiant, rather than being a subhuman idiot or a satanic sadist (many non-Caucasians were represented thusly by Hollywood at the time). There are several instances in this serial when Kato saves the Hornet's butt.
Keye Luke, who played Kato in this and the 2nd Green Hornet serial, was a good actor who, while he never became a household name, worked steadily on a multitude of roles for about 50 years. He played Number One Son in many Charlie Chan movies, and had small to medium-sized roles in scores of other films. He was a constant guest star in TV shows of the 1960's, ranging from 'My Three Sons' to 'Star Trek.' But my favorite role of Keye Luke's was his excellent portrayal of Master Po, the all-seeing yet blind teacher from TV's 'Kung Fu.' IMO, he was the coolest person on the show. Strangely, the original concept for 'Kung Fu' would have had Bruce Lee playing the hero. Unfortunately some twit in Hollywood decided to hire David Carradine, who was pretty good, but still Lee would have been cooler. Bruce Lee, of course, besides being a martial arts movie superstar, played Kato in the underrated TV version of the Green Hornet.
"It's gone... like a spook! I've never seen a car move so fast." The
two police officers who are constantly chasing the Green Hornet's car
say that in almost every episode. Britt Reid (the Green Hornet) is a
rich guy who like Bruce Wayne (Batman) and Lamont Cranston (The Shadow)
has a secret identity that he uses to fight crime.
This serial is a lot of fun and like most serials ends each episode with an exciting cliff hanger. It suffers from the defects typical of serials of this era but also has the charm that is also typical of them.
Those of us who remember the Abbott and Costello Show will enjoy seeing Gordon Jones as Britt Reid/The Green Hornet. He was Officer Mike. Although Keye Luke (Kato) is no Bruce Lee he plays the part well. Those who enjoyed David Carradine as Caine in Kung Fu will enjoy seeing how Master Po (the blind monk who called Caine "grasshopper") looked as a young man.
Don't expect a sophisticated plot or deep character development. The dialog is corny but there is plenty of action and lots of fun.
Mr. Watson is correct. Green Hornet radio programs aired up to at least 1938 and earlier which still exist describe Britt Reid's chauffeur as his "Japanese valet." When international tensions subsequently increased, in 1939 or 40, the announcer's line was changed so the phrase became "trusted valet," which Kato remained throughout the majority of the the war years. In wartime programs his nationality was simply not mentioned in the show's opening or anywhere else during the program. After the war, in 1945, the opening was changed again, and announcers begin to refer to Kato as Britt Reid's "Filipino valet," and that is how openings were recorded till the end of the series. So the change didn't happen overnight, but in fact took at least five years, and the "Pearl Harbor" comment is an oversimplification, but the general idea is correct. The idea that this is all an urban legend arises mainly from the posting on urban legend website snopes.com, which is wrong about a lot of other things too and apparently more interested in perpetuating legends than publishing facts. Also, later syndications of Green Hornet radio programs consisted primarily of later broadcasts which would have for the most part included the description of Kato as Filipino. It is also correct that in the movie serials Kato, played by Keye Luke, is identified as Korean, and in the first serial Britt Reid and Kato discuss how they first met -- Britt saved Kato's life in Shanghai. In comic books published by NOW in the 1980s and authorized by the Green Hornet Inc., the situation is rectified and Kato's Japanese heritage fully acknowledged. Perhaps the truth of it all is that Mr. Reid told people his friend was something other than Japanese during the war to protect him from being taken to an interment camp.
Through thirteen chapters in this serial The Green Hornet manages to
discover and eliminate a number of various criminal enterprises that
are plaguing his city. Playing The Green Hornet in this version is a
younger and leaner Gordon Jones who was best known for being Mike the
Cop on the Abbott and Costello show. Keye Luke plays his sidekick and
chauffeur Kato who because of the impending war was changed from
Japanese to Korean for this serial.
Not that this serial is all that much better though it is a cut above most of them, but one of the things that struck me was that each chapter stood more on its own than you would normally have. The premise here is that the various rackets are controlled by a city syndicate of twelve and the Green Hornet as himself and in his real identity of Britt Reid, millionaire publisher of a crusading newspaper the Sentinel, systematically exposes each racket in each chapter and eliminates the head through death or imprisonment.
The obvious comparison is to Batman, but The Green Hornet relies a whole lot less on gadgetry than most superheroes. His car, 'the Black Beauty' is really a souped up hotrod, nothing unique about it in any other way. He's not got the variety of gadgets that Batman or most of his other peers seem to have.
He even has a gas gun that shoots small gas pellets and when they hit the target they merely disable. Fran Striker who created The Green Hornet also created the Lone Ranger and the Ranger's creed was always to shoot to wound. Modern technology has given the Green Hornet a weapon that will do nothing else. In fact The Green Hornet is the grand nephew of The Lone Ranger.
A cut above maybe, but The Green Hornet is as dated as all those other serials that the Saturday afternoon kids used to enjoy.
The preceding commenter wasn't *too* far off, though; while Gordon Jones
gets the official credit for playing The Green Hornet and his alter ego
Britt Reid, the speaking voice of The Green Hornet (who wears a full
mask in this one) was in fact dubbed by the actor who played the Hornet on
the radio show for most of its original run.
Anyway, this is at best an average to below average example of the classic movie serial which kept our parents or grandparents coming back to the movies week after week during the 30's and 40's. The complete running length is, of course, well over 4 hours, but the movie is divided into 13 discrete episodes lasting a bit under 20 minutes apiece, with each episode ending in a classic "cliffhanger" fashion (of course, if you're watching on video tape you can take breaks, which helps a lot; the movie can get to be a bit wearying if it's watched in sequence from beginning to end). All in all, it's pretty lame in production values and effects compared to more modern fare (I think it especially suffers compared to the 1966 Van Williams/Bruce Lee series, but I've always been a strong fan of that one). Recommended primarily for Green Hornet enthusiasts (like me--I have this one and all the episodes of the 1966 show on tape as well as cassettes of selected episodes of the radio show), and for film buffs interested in the serial genre or interested in the career of any of the actors (especially Keye Luke, who became one of the premier Asian actors of his generation).
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
THE GREEN HORNET was certainly one of the better radio shows (I've listened to scores of episodes and have yet to be disappointed by a single one), and a television series that I've always felt was ahead of its time; sandwiched in between were two outstanding movie serials (not to mention comic books). The level of control exercised by George Trendle no doubt accounts for much of the artistic success of THE GREEN HORNET: there's a consistency throughout that's sadly missing from the exploits of most other masked heroes (including another favorite, The Shadow, who overshadowed the competition in the pulps, but whose ventures outside the pages of the magazine that gave him life left more than a little to be desired). In terms of craftsmanship, this first serial is topnotch. The attention to detail is nothing less than truly amazing. One interesting aspect of this serial is the way radio star Al Hodges dubbed the voice of on-screen star Gordon Jones (a way, of sorts, to maintain continuity with the radio show). (Which leads to one of only two quibbles I have with the serial: a villain in chapter four, overhearing Britt Reid speak, comments that he recognizes Reid's voice- the voice of The Green Hornet- which is supplied, in this case, by a different actor, and therefore patently impossible.) (The other quibble comes when, at the end of chapter six, the Hornet is apparently shot as he tries to exit a second-storey window and drops FACE FIRST to the pavement far below. He gets to his feet in the next chapter, no worse for wear, and in the very next scene is seated calmly at a desk, taking care of business. No mention is made of the wound. One can only speculate that a bulletproof vest was involved, but such body armor isn't even mentioned.) All things considered, one could do worse than THE GREEN HORNET- but not many were ever done better.
Let me tell ya - In spite of its many-many flaws, its b-grade visual
effects, its laughable dialogue, etc., etc., etc. - This vintage, b&w
serial from 1940 (presented in 13 thrill-packed episodes) was still
definitely about 10 times more entertaining and exciting to watch than
was the likes of (that doofus) Seth Rogen's disgustingly dismal and
completely contemptible feature film adaptation of the Green Hornet
character in 2011.
I really liked Gordon Jones as the Britt Reid/Green Hornet character. It certainly didn't matter to me that this character had no superpowers to speak of. I found that the Hornet's bare-knuckle brawling with the bad guys was satisfactory enough for me.
*Note* - Prior to becoming an actor, Gordon Jones (a real beefy dude) was a promising football player known as "Bull" Jones. Jones was 29 years old when he played the Green Hornet character. He died in 1963, at the age of 52.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
While I consider the 3 Flash Gordon movie serials to be the best
serials ever made, The Green Hornet would fall in line right behind
them. Serials are the episodic precursors to TV shows, but typically
they will carry over a plot line over the course of 12-15 episodes.
This serial kind of follows that format, but instead of having one long
story there are half a dozen or so stories all connecting to the same
criminals in the end. The acting for the most part is top notch and the
characters the actors play are interesting without being unbelievably
eccentric. One unfortunate issue with the portrayal of female
characters in old movies and serials is how they are dismissed by their
male counterparts. However, in this series the woman is 100% correct
and the men who look at the Green Hornet as a criminal are the ones who
The Hornet is a fantastic vigilante character who appeared on the radio in 1936 and clearly was influential to many comic book heroes particularly Batman. Like any serial the first 2 episodes are a bit slower because they have to try to introduce all the characters, but once you make it past them it's non stop action and intrigue. The fights between the real actors can come across as a bit funny, but when the stuntmen do the fighting it's awesome and pretty acrobatic. While not a special effects driven series, the effects for the Green Hornet's iconic gas gun are done quite well. Stock footage is also utilized to perfection to make the serial feel even more big budget than it ever could be. You might think the endless Rimsky Korsakov music would get annoying, but it really doesn't. Just like some 13 year old in the theater in 1940, every time "Flight Of The Bumblebee" would play my adrenaline would spike and I'd want to cheer out loud for our heroes! However despite the appeal to kids, I would definitely call this one of the more intelligent movie serials out there and while at first you'll wonder why Britt or Kato do this or that don't worry...it all comes together in the end. Looking at this more seriously, you also see the Green Hornet grow as a hero. At first he seems a bit gullible and easy to escape from, but as the series progresses we see a stronger hero from who crime can not escape. Whether you're a fan of old movie serials or classic vigilante heroes like the Shadow, Batman or the Green Hornet I'd encourage you to go out and see this masterpiece right now...it doesn't get much better than this!
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