Thursday, January 10, 2013

On DVD: The Green Hornet (1940)

I can honestly say that I now know where Seth Rogen got his inspiration for his loose interpretation of "The Green Hornet" 2 years ago.

In 1940, Universal released "Hornet" as a serial, the first of two with Gordon Jones, better known to baby boomers as Mike The Cop from The Abbott & Costello show in the 50's, in the dual role of newspaper publisher Britt Reid and the Green Hornet, and Keye Luke, formerly Charlie Chan's #1 son, as Kato, who, in the serials, was Korean instead of Japanese. On radio, Kato's nationality was changed again, such that he was hailing from the Philippines, all the more to ensure he was on our side, especially after the attack on Pearl Harbor that launched the US into World War II.

VCI Video released a remastered version, which I have, where they recreated the opening & closing titles and some bumpers themselves, but they also have the "original feature cut" of the movie version of the serial. The feature film edition trims the running time by 15 minutes, making the action seem choppy and rushed, which it shouldn't have been.

Anyway, the Hornet goes into action after a protection racket. Subsequently, said racketeers want The Sentinel (later changed to Daily Sentinel for the 1966 TV series and, most likely, Rogen's version) shut down when they headline the breaking of smaller operations. Britt Reid is presented as a playboy----nothing new in the Golden Age, actually----and when Jones speaks as the Hornet, his voice starts to resemble future TV Lone Ranger Clayton Moore. Hmmmmm. Kato, as always, drives the Black Beauty and his only offense in fights is to drop thugs with karate chops. Bruce Lee would change all that 26 years later. Naturally, the police and the thugs are led to believe Hornet wants in on the action, which was the whole gimmick in the first place, but Hornet has a fan in Reid's secretary, Lenore Case. Oh, if only she knew (and would in the 1966 series).

Baron American uploaded the original opening:

Rogen's "Hornet" wasn't exactly a world beater at the box office, but if the role had been given to someone the viewers could trust, it'd have been a different story. Jones & Lee would return in "The Green Hornet Strikes Again", but that would be it for the Hornet on the big screen until 2011.

Rating: B-.


Samuel Wilson said...

The Hornet voice sounded to me like someone trying to imitate Al Hodge, the radio Hornet at the time, if it wasn't Hodge himself. It was definitely progressive for the serial to have Kato be a technical whiz, though that doesn't come into play very much after the fact is established. Even Luke's limited fighting is more than I've heard Kato do on the radio, so score another point for the serial.

hobbyfan said...

What few Hornet radio CD's I have don't feature Hodge, the future Captain Video, as the Hornet, but another actor in the part. Then again, those CD's are representative of a later period in the radio show's run. Clayton Moore came to mind, largely because of the familial link between the Hornet & Lone Ranger in the storyline, rather than Hodge because I'm not at all familiar with Hodge's work.

I should mention that there were at least two instances in the film where Kato used the phrase, "Excuse, please", which Luke obviously got from his days making the Charlie Chan movies with Warner Oland.