Monday, April 22, 2013


This 13-part serial was the first visual representation of the radio crimefighter whose place in the superhero pantheon would be solidified by the short-lived 1960s TV series. Britt Reid (Gordon Jones) has just inherited his late father’s newspaper, the Sentinel. The police miss his father’s habit of running hard-hitting editorials which took on the local rackets, and his secretary Casey (Anne Nagel) doesn’t think much of Britt's playboy-type hours. But soon ace reporter Jasper Jenks (Phillip Trent) is on to a story about a dam being built with inferior materials, and sure enough, the dam fails and kills several people, and Reid does an about-face, deciding to expose shady dealings. The police commissioner tells Reid that the city needs a Robin Hood, not knowing that they're about to get one in the figure of the Green Hornet, a shadowy vigilante who wears a mask and drives around in a car called the Black Beauty that makes a hornet-buzz noise.

Yes, Britt is the Hornet, helped by his Korean manservant Kato (Keye Luke), and for the next 12 chapters, the two of them try to find out who is the chief mastermind behind various city rackets, most of which involve forcing companies (trucking companies, airlines, dry cleaners, zoos) to pay protection money or risk becoming the victims of sabotage. Crime boss Monroe (Cy Kendall) orchestrates the threats and mayhem, guided by a mysterious voice that calls in to Monroe’s office every so often and gives instructions to the gang members. The Hornet and Kato track down the bad guys, using a gas gun that emits a puff of smoke that knocks people out, allowing the Hornet to tie them up and leave them for the cops. But the police (along with the newspapers and the public) aren't sure if the Hornet is a good guy or a bad guy, so Britt and Kato usually wind up being chased by police and crooks alike. In a couple of scenes, even Axford, Britt's tough Irish bodyguard (Wade Boteler), tries to give the Green Hornet an ass-whupping, not realizing it's his boss beneath the mask.

The narrative structure gets a bit monotonous: a company is hit by the bad guys, life-threatening sabotage happens, Green Hornet and Kato come to the rescue, the Sentinel exposes the racket, and the crooks try another angle. But that comes with the territory of the serial genre. Production values here are fairly cheap, with some occasionally effective use of stock footage. Perhaps the most surprising moment comes at the very end when the bad guys wind up shooting each other to death. Gordon Jones (pictured) makes for a good hero, though apparently his voice when he has the Hornet mask on is dubbed in by the actor who played the Hornet on the radio. Luke, in the role that helped make a star of Bruce Lee, doesn't have much to do except drive the Black Beauty and save Reid's neck once in a while (though he does get at least one karate chop in). Poor Anne Nagel has even less to do, just sitting at a typewriter or passing along phone messages. Worth seeing for serials fans. [TCM]

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