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Category:    Home > Reviews > Superhero > Action > Gangster > Serials > The Green Hornet (1940) + The Green Hornet Strikes Again! (1941/VCI DVD Sets)

The Green Hornet (1940) + The Green Hornet Strikes Again! (1941/VCI DVD Sets)


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: B-     Serials: B-



When an action hero is created, most crash and burn, a few endure in ways in which they are in the mainstream of pop culture all the time (James Bond, Batman, etc) and then there are some who may not seem as visible, but there are also some characters who become iconic and landmark, but you do not always hear about them.  Along with The Shadow, The Spirit, The Phantom, Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon, who only surface occasionally in new projects but have a strong fan base, you have The Green Hornet and he is on the comeback trail.  VCI is releasing Universal’s hit Green Hornet serials for their 70th Anniversary on DVD as a new big budget film is due in 2010.


Even without a new film, it is amazing how the character and (here’s that word) franchise has endured, an early Superhero detective type whose main adversary was always gangsters and corrupt officials.  That was also a concern of The Lone Ranger, but he had nameable villains.  It is amazing how consistent the stories have been over the years and how well this serial holds up.  While the radio dramas (beginning in the 1940s, four are included as bonuses here) hold up and the 1966-67 series may have been campy and had a short run, Bruce Lee as Kato and its cult following have kept the show alive, if under the radar.  Collectibles for that show, the radio series and these serials have some of the highest values in the whole collectible’s market.  That also includes these serials.


Part of the reason is the care and creative control of George W. Trendle, who made sure the radio show, was the primary outlet for the character.  Comic book tie-ins (also very pricey these days) had to have approval and so did these serials.  Trendle cut a deal with Universal Pictures, who (along with Columbia and Republic) were the main producers of sound-era chapter plays.  Though George Jones played the title character and his “true identity” Britt Reid, Trendle had Hornet radio voice actor Al Hodge.  A smart move that paid off, though some moments are odd as Kato is still a sort-of servant.


The Green Hornet (1940) has Reid just inheriting his father’s newspaper empire, which comes with built-in enemies and secrets, but he and his Korean (not Japanese or Filipino) sidekick, partner, best-friend Kato turns out to be the inventor of the stun gun that shoots gas pellets, The Black Beauty supercar that can go faster than anything on the road (complete with hornet buzz) and is also a martial arts expert!  That was a call way ahead of its time and the great Keye Luke (#1 son from the early Fox Charlie Chan films and the mentor on TV’s original Kung-Fu) is really good in the role.


I appreciate that the writers did not dwell on any origins and cared about the action and fun quotients enough, making this and its sequel two of the best serials the studio ever made up there with their Flash Gordon trilogy.  Sure, some parts have dated a bit, but there are also plenty of unintentionally funny moments and the leads have chemistry you can believe.  That is why I was puzzled as to why Jones was replaced by Warren Hull, who is also good as the lead, but The Green Hornet Strikes Again! (1941) is another winner as they get an arch-enemy in Grogan who is up to no good while Reid is on vacation.


All in all, they are must-see serials and these may be the best versions of them yet.



The 1.33 X 1 image is from 35mm restorations and Universal actually helped out on the first set and it shows.  Having seen just about every serial VCI has issued to date, the prints may have some expected flaws, but these are the richest and most consistent chapters we have see VCI or any other company issue of one of these serials.  Video Black is good and the prints are not image-challenged as you might expect.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono is also on the smooth side in both releases, though they still show their age, it is cleaner and clearer than you might expect.


Extras on both sets are nice, including two radio episodes per set, stills, restoration comparisons and pullouts with liner notes by Martin Grams Jr., while the first serials adds a text bio on Trendle and Clifford Weimer’s audio piece “I Am… The Green Hornet”.  The sequel set adds a text bio on Luke and a facts/trivia section that is short, but not bad.  Before the 2010 film arrives, see them both in their entirety.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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