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"You got a gun?"
"No. Don't you?"
"Of course not. Respectable people don't carry guns."
Having begun as a radio show in the 1930s, the Green Hornet would become one of the first and most popular serials of its day. In episodes of 20 or so minutes run each week before feature-length films, viewers would see the Hornet fight crime and be trapped in a gripping cliffhanger until the next episode. The Green Hornet Strikes Again! was the second Green Hornet serial released, and while viewers unaccustomed to the traditions and techniques of old black-and-white serials might find this hard to watch at times, for the most part it's an enjoyable yarn that receives a great DVD release.
Facts of the Case
By day Britt Reid (Warren Hull, Mandrake the Magician) is a wealthy and crusading newspaper publisher. By night, he masquerades as the Green Hornet, a masked vigilante who fights organized crime with his faithful manservant Kato (Keye Luke, Kung Fu). As his reporter Lowery (Eddie Acuff) and bodyguard Axford (Wade Boteler, Billy the Kid Returns) uncover increasing stories about a massive crime syndicate led by the sinister Crogan (Pierre Watkin, Superman) both Reid and the Hornet find themselves ensnared in a complex web of rackets and schemes.
Let's get one thing out of the way: The Green Hornet Returns! suffers from many of the same flaws as most classic old serials. The fifteen chapters collected here, except for the last one, all follow the same exact structure: Britt and his reporters uncover some possible scam by Crogan's syndicate in the morning, they're stonewalled by Crogan's cronies at Crogan's request in the afternoon, and then Reid dresses as the Green Hornet and he and Kato bring down the scam that very night. Some of the dialogue, as evidenced above, is unintentionally amusing, the acting ranges from wooden to hammy, and the special effects are primitive even by 1940s standards. Because this serial was intended as a cheaper prelude to bigger-budget feature films, the whole story takes place on a few sets with some occasional scenes set outdoors and some shots, such as the shot of the Green Hornet's car Black Beauty rushing into action, are reused repeatedly. Of course, if you were watching one chapter per week, as they were originally shown, you could probably overlook these flaws, but watching them all at once, as you can on this DVD set, you'll find the shortcomings much more obvious.
Nonetheless, for all the serial's defects, the Green Hornet remains an irresistible pop culture icon. Say what you will about how choppy and sometimes laughable this serial is, but once Britt puts on his Green Hornet mask and wields his gas gun at a miscreant, it's hard not to feel a thrill. In making the transition from radio to film, the Hornet was lucky to have these producers, who came up with a design for his costume that was simple but elegant (and far better than the design used for the short-lived Hornet TV series in the 1960s). Also, the decision to make the Hornet not universally admired—Is he really serving the public good or is he, as many believe, just another criminal?—adds a level of complexity that makes him even more fascinating. Of course such later masked vigilantes as Batman and Spider-Man would also be written that way, but the Green Hornet predates both by many years. Seeing this dilemma depicted just taps into that rock-star edge that makes comic-book antiheroes so appealing.
There are other good points to this serial. The action scenes are all well-shot and choreographed. They're easy to follow but actually pretty good for the '40s. Not all of the actors are solid, but Hull is a fine choice for the lead. He carries enough force as the Hornet to make him a real menace, but also makes Reid a reasonably appealing protagonist. The plot, apart from a few silly diversions, is actually decent. It's not exactly groundbreaking and the resolution is, as you might expect, way too pat, but the last episode actually does hold a few surprises. No, it's not the best serial ever made, but there's plenty here to make this worth your while.
Restored Serials has done a nice job presenting this serial. The 1:37:1 transfer looks sharp and crisp, with only minor damage and artefacting in a few shots. The Dolby mono mix is equally impressive, quite loud in a few spots and well-balanced and clear. The extras are all DVD-ROM based, consisting of PDF files that reprint the original promotional materials for the series, including photos and the pressbook. It's all fun to look at, especially if you're interested in classic movie memorabilia.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Don't expect Kato to be this serial's secret weapon, because you'll be sadly disappointed. The role of Kato in the '60s TV series was played by martial arts titan Bruce Lee, allowing him to show off his martial arts prowess. In this incarnation, Kato isn't really given much to do, reduced to being little more than the Hornet's chauffeur and manservant. Fans hoping to see Luke show off some martial arts moves would be better served tracking down some of his episodes of Kung Fu instead.
If you've ever been curious about the Green Hornet, this is actually not a bad place to start. This is certainly the best DVD issue of this serial you're likely to find, and the serial itself actually does lay out the whole Hornet story in an entertaining manner. The flaws are indeed present but are not so glaring that they ruin the whole experience and as introduction to serials, you'd be hard-pressed to do better. Restored Serials deserves credit for this release.
Not guilty, at least until next week.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Restored Serials
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