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