This week’s slate of horror, fantasy, and science fiction releases is lead by the home video debut of THE GREEN HORNET, the comedic riff on the old masked crime-fighter tale. Lawrence French, Dan Persons, and Steve Biodrowski provide news, insights and reviews of this and other titles now available on DVD, Blu-ray, and VOD, including old-style horror from Britain, such as FROM DUSK TILL DAWN and a double bill Blu-ray release of THE SKULL and THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH. Also, Dan Persons weighs in on the latest incarnation of DOCTOR WHO, episodes of which recently began reaching our (U.S.) shores.
After laying fallow for a number of years, the rise of independent comics and specialized comic book stores in the 1980s helped bring The Green Hornet back to the 4-color press.
In 1989, NOW Comics, a Chicago-based publisher that dealt mostly in licensed properties, submitted a proposal to The Green Hornet Incorporated. Writer Ron Fortier had done a great deal of research into the character, and had figured out a timeline that incorporated all of the various eras in which the character had played an active role. Reportedly, Marvel and DC Comics had also expressed interest in licensing the Hornet, but it was Now’s approach that met with approval. The first issue of The Green Hornet featured a cover by comic book artist Jim Steranko, also known for his beautifully in-period paperback covers for reprints of The Shadow novels. Written by Ron Fortier and illustrated by Jeff Butler, the series began with the last case of the first Green Hornet and Kato team, Britt Reid and “Ikano Kato”.
The decision was made to depict Kato as Japanese, with the explanation that Reid passed his Asian friend off as Filipino, determined to protect him from possible internment in World War II. The first Hornet, wearing a mask that called to mind the Universal movie serials, operates from the mid-1930’s to 1945, choosing to ignore the radio series’ survival into the 50’s.
The story referenced without explicitly naming The Lone Ranger as Britt’s ancestor. It also would change the identity of Britt Reid’s secretary to Ruth Hopkins, who he eventually marries.
Radio/TV characters Lenore Case and Mike Axford were not forgotten, they were saved to appear with Britt Reid II, the nephew of the original Hornet. His crime-fighting partner would be Hayashi Kato, son of Ikano. (In actual practice, this should read Kato Hayashi, as the Japanese put the surname first.)
Britt II and Hayashi operate in the 1960’s -70’s, retiring from the field after Britt develops heart trouble. Reid continues as a crusading newspaper publisher and marries ‘Casey’ Case, while Hayashi goes on to became a star in martial arts movies, ala Bruce Lee (also drawn to resemble the actor, though ignoring his Chinese heritage).
Hayashi Kato would later become romantically linked with Diana Reid, daughter of the original Britt, and she becomes the District Attorney of the still-unnamed city after the retirement of Frank Scanlon, maintaining the sub-rosa connection between official crime fighting and the Hornet’s covert vigilante crusade. Helping to cement the tie of this iteration of the character to the 20th Century Fox TV show, series star Van Williams would write the stories for two issues of a spin-off comic Tales of The Green Hornet.
Bringing things up to then-contemporary times, Britt Reid’s nephew Alan Reid briefly becomes the Green Hornet, but is killed on his first case. His younger brother, Paul Reid, reluctantly steps away from his intended career as a concert pianist, and assumes the role of Hornet, using a Mardi Gras mask that covers more of the face.
Initially similar to the molded mask of the Republic serial hero THE MASKED MARVEL, it eventually becomes more similar to the one worn by Kane Richmond in the Monogram Shadow movies. The Hornet”s use of a trenchcoat made the resemblence even greater. At first, Paul Reid’s crime-fighting partner is Mishi Kato; Hayashi’s younger sister, driving around town in a high-tech coupe apparently inspired by the Pontiac Banshee concept car.
After Green Hornet Inc. head George Trendle Jr. read the first seven issues, he insisted that Mishi be replaced with a traditional male Kato, so she was written out, with Hayashi Kato returning to the team.
The “sports car” Black Beauty would be replaced with a heavier sedan, and by the end of the NOW series, a fourth aide, Kono Kato—grandson of Ikano Kato, arrived to take on the duties.
Mishi Kato would return as a character called The Crimson Wasp, a murderous vigilante that Paul and Hayashi have to try to stop or at least control. There were signs that she and Paul were developing romantic ties, possibly born out by one of the mini-series.
Unfortunately, NOW Comics had a lot of internal and cash-flow problems, leading to creative staff leaving and being replaced. Between 1989 and 1995 the company managed to put out 54 issues of The Green Hornet in two distinct “Volumes”. In addition to the above mentioned Tales of The Green Hornet, mini-series entitled The Green Hornet: Solitary Sentinel, the WII-set Sting of The Green Hornet, and a future-set The Green Hornet: Dark Tomorrow, which featured a criminal Green Hornet and a heroic Kato.
Kato also had a solo mini-series.
Many of these titles came out in a sporadic manner, with volumes sometimes being separated by gaps of a year or longer. Writers such as the award-winning Mike Baron (Nexus, Marvel’s The Punisher) and pop culture historian James Van Hise contributed to the books.
Eventually, NOW Comics, after years of financial troubles, ceased to exist as a publishing house. The Green Hornet retreated back into the shadows, though his next comic book resurgence would come sooner than the previous hiatus.
The Green Hornet didn’t become a TV series until 1966, thirty years after its radio debut. It was the success of the ABC/20th Century Fox BATMAN TV show that lead to the greenlight for the Hornet.
Producer William Dozier had been chosen to produce the Batman series, and after looking at the source comics he had decided that the only way he could make it work would be to go in the direction of “camp” comedy; a straight-faced satire that coyly played up the absurdities. To be fair, the Batman comics that Dozier had to look at did not depict the character in the best light, as the books had become increasingly juvenile, due in part to censorship worries. This approach turned out to work spectacularly well for the ABC series, giving William Dozier a certain amount of freedom for his next project.
While Batman might not have been his cup of tea, Dozier apparently remembered the comparatively down-to-earth Green Hornet radio show in a more favorable light.
William Dozier had seen American born martial artist and former Hong Kong child actor Bruce Lee (Lee Jun Fan) demonstrate what he called Gung Fu. He was quite taken with Lee, and wanted to cast him in a TV series to be called NUMBER ONE SON, an update on the Charlie Chan stories, to feature the son of the popular detective character. ABC had passed on the idea of show starring an Asian leading man. However, The Green Hornet’s Kato was a secondary part that could be ideal for showcasing Lee’s talents. So THE GREEN HORNET could be a way of killing two birds with one stone.
While unknowns Michael Lipton and Jay Murray tested for THE GREEN HORNET with Bruce Lee, the lead role went to Van (Zandt) Williams, who had starred in the ABC TV series BOURBON STREET BEAT and SURFSIDE SIX (as the same character, Kenny Madison).
Van Williams and Bruce Lee took their characters seriously, and for the most part, so did the writers and production staff. Still busy with the demands of the BATMAN series, Dozier and Fox put Richard H. Bluel (THE GALLANT MEN, GOLIATH AWAITS) in overall charge as producer.
Wende Wangner (DESTINATION INNER SPACE) played Lenore ‘Casey’ Case, now privy to Britt Reid’s alternate identity from the beginning.
Lloyd Gough (THE OUTER LIMITS) played a somewhat younger, more serious Michael Axford, still determined to capture the Hornet. Although the radio series had introduced Commissoner Higgins as the Green Hornet’s contact, Dozier and company decided to avoid any comparisons with BATMAN’s Commissioner Gordon, and created the new character District Attorney Frank P. Scanlon, played by Walter Brooke (THE CONQUEST OF SPACE).
Since George W. Trendle (now insisting on being credited as sole creator of the character) had sold off THE LONE RANGER characters to Jack Wrather, apparently (though perhaps not definitely) including Dan Reid, the Ranger’s nephew and Britt Reid’s father, a new back story and motivation for the Green Hornet’s crusade was created. Although only mentioned fleetingly on the air, the screen tests made it clear that Britt’s father Henry Reid had been framed for a crime by powerful political and criminal interests. The shame of this miscarriage of justice had driven him to an early grave. Britt was determined to fight this kind of corruption, and hopefully uncover the proof of his father’s innocence in the matter.
The dynamic of how The Green Hornet and Kato operated changed. While the Hornet remained the mastermind and a capable fighter, now Kato provided much of the implicit and often explicit physical threat towards the villains. Van Williams’ Hornet was more like a masked, sinister Jim Phelps (ala MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE) playing mind games with criminals to set them up. Kato was the quietly menacing enforcer. To many fans, Kato was more memorable, as nothing like the action moves Bruce Lee could provide had ever been seen on American television before.
However, the Hornet remained the star— possibly to Lee’s frustration. Nevertheless, he and Van Williams had a great sympatico onscreen, their attitudes when alone or with those privy to the secret suggesting a friendly and mutually respectful partnership rather then a “boss” and a subordinate. Oddly, while Kato’s physical prowess was played up, his inventive genius was not touched on (at least as far as I recall).
To the Hornet’s gas gun, the sonic weapon the Hornet Sting was added, using soundwaves to break locks and cause small explosions and fires. The Black Beauty, a heavily modified Chrysler Imperial was turned into a “rolling arsenal” by car customer Dean Jefferies, complete with rocket launchers and aerial surveilance devices.
An often-repeated sequence featured the Black Beauty rotating into view, hidden under the floor of Reid’s townhouse garage, clamped upside-down until needed. Using a combination of the full size car, and large scale miniatures, the Black Beauty exited the property through a raised wall section, through a courtyard, and out a secret door disguised as a candy mint billboard into a deserted alleyway.
Much to George Trendle’s displeasure, The Green Hornet and Kato would be depicted in eyemasks that covered only the top of the face. 20th Centry Fox had no desire to have to dub their lead character. The production actually had a very difficult time with the masks, which they decided to fit with earpieces, like eyeglasses.
A rather sinister mask for the Hornet was featured in publicity shots and the first episode filmed, Programmed For Death. This outing featured both miniature high-frequency sound generators that impelled animals to attack, and a new formula for “perfect” synthetic diamonds –- as well a plan by a ruthless syndicate to flood the market.
However, this show was held back until the third broadcast, and the more prosaic The Silent Gun was the premiere episode, airing September 9th, 1966.
By now plaster casts had been made of the stars’ faces, so that new masks, more comfortable and with unimpaired vision for the action scenes could be made. These were rather less dramatic, and would go through several minor redesigns throughout the season.
Some standout episodes are The Frog is a Deadly Weapon, which starred former serial Shadow Victory Jory as one of the men who had framed Britt’s father. Alias The Scarf is an eerie entry, guest starring horror star John Carradine as the curator of a wax museum, and featured the return of a serial killer from years before, not content to be replaced in the public’s memory by the Hornet.
Bruce Lee fans would choose as a favorite The Preying Mantis, which brings the Hornet to Chinatown, and sets Kato in a Gung-Fu showdown against a young, arrogant and ruthless Tong leader (played by Japanese actor Mako).
Some of the directors of the series were veterans, such as Preying Mantis’ Norman Foster, (SWORD OF ZORRO, JOURNEY INTO FEAR), George Waggner (THE WOLF MAN) and William Beaudine (THE APE MAN). Director of Photography for the bulk of the series was Carl Guthrie (HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL).
One of the most memorable parts of the show was the exciting jazz themes used for the titles and action sequences. Though often identified as simply a jazzed-up version of The Flight of The Bumble Bee, this is not the case. Composer Billy May took motifs from the classic Rimsky-Korsakov piece (and possibly some inspiration from Harry James’ 1941 Jazz interpretation) and wrote a new, brass-driven work used in the titles and in different arrangements as action themes. The title track, The Green Hornet Theme featured trumpet master Al Hirt’s performance, and a slightly different version Hirt recorded is also referred to sometimes as The Green Bee. Trumpet players and brass ensembles often keep the theme as a showcase number in their repertoires.
Despite the popularity of the new theme, George Trendle was annoyed at the substitution, as were a number of vocal fans, as noted at the time in Larry Ivies’ Monsters and Heroes Magazine. In 1967 Gold Key produced a comic book series based on the TV show. It ran three issues, written by Paul S. Newman (according to Comics.org), who wrote the bulk of the Dell Lone Ranger Comics, and some of the newspaper comic strip continuity. Pencils were by Dan Spiegle, who did many comics for Gold Key, Including Space Family Robinson, the TV-show based Maverick –- even Scooby-Doo, before later moving on to DC and other companies.
There were two paperback tie-in novels, Whitman’s Green Hornet: Case of the Disappearing Doctor, by Brandon Keith, and Dell’s The Green Hornet in The Infernal Light by Ed Friend (former pulp writer Richard Wormser, based in part on the episode The Ray is for Killing.).
Coloring books, Halloween costumes and various toys, including a die-cast Corgi Black Beauty also formed the merchandising. These ancilliary markets would not last long.
The series faced a difficult problem, as ABC had insisted that THE GREEN HORNET be a half-hour action show, like BATMAN. However, BATMAN’s episodes were really one-hour shows cut into two parts, which saved money. They expected similar results from the new series, at essentially half the money— and it showed at times.
This was particularly evident from the need to shoot much of the action “Day For Night”; filming on location in normal daytime working hours with a blue filter, and sometimes the camera stopped down a little. Some directors handled this better than others, but in some episodes this artifice was painfully obvious—or simply confusing. To try to save money and show ABC the idea, Dozier & crew made some two-part episodes, such as Beautiful Dreamer and Corpse Of The Year.
Perhaps because THE GREEN HORNET was not the campy fun that audiences might have expected, it did not do as well in the ratings as its predecessor. Trying to attract more viewers, the last two-part episode, Invasion from Outer Space (produced by Stanley Shpetner, rather than Richard Bluel) was much more gaudy and offbeat, with outrageous villain “Dr. Mabuse” behind the science fiction-y shenanigans.
Van Williams and Bruce Lee even guest-starred as their characters on BATMAN in a two-part episode A Piece of the Action/Batman’s Satisfaction, seeming rather uncomfortable. All this last-minute fiddling was to no avail.
However, William Dozier would insist that the series was not cancelled after one season due to ratings. He maintained that he and 20th Century Fox could only find it worthwhile to continue making the show if it was extended into a full hour-long program and presented this fact to ABC. The network was reportedly open to another season of half-hour episodes, but not a hour-long show. So it was (possibly) mutually decided to end the series after 26 episodes.
This decision served to put THE GREEN HORNET in a bad situation when it came to syndication. With only one season’s worth of episodes, the show could not be easily ‘stripped’; shown five days a week, like a comic strip. Fewer stations ordered it, and for many years few people got the chance to see the program in its original form. Even in the video tape and DVD era the show remains elusive as the complicated rights between 20th Century Fox, Dozier’s Greenway Productions, the character owners, and a third-party (and apparently legally defunct) licensing firm have kept both THE GREEN HORNET and BATMAN from authorized video release.
However, the series memory was kept alive by the later success and enduring appreciation of Bruce Lee for his martial arts films, skills, and personal charisma.
To cash in on the star’s popularity, two feature films were cobbled together from several episodes, cutting in extra fight scenes from shows otherwise not featured, in a rather clumsy manner. Nevertheless, THE GREEN HORNET (1974) and FURY OF THE DRAGON (1976) seemed to do fairly well, making the rounds of second run theaters for several years and also remaining popular in Far East markets. The rise of the comic book shop, where younger readers could find back issues also gave the character some minor exposure, as did syndicated repeats of the radio episodes, several of which also turned up on LP and tape.
Thus the short-lived series was kept alive in superhero fan’s minds, becoming almost by accident what’s considered by most the definitive version of the Green Hornet.
The Green Hornet is a natural character for comic books. Several radio characters made that leap, including The Shadow, the Lone Ranger, and Captain Midnight.
Green Hornet comic books first appeared with a cover date of December, 1940 — due to the three months in advance dating policy of most publishers, it probably hit the stands in Spetember of that year. The first series, titled Green Hornet Comics, were published by Helnit/ Holyoke Comics. Unlike most comic book publishers, who were based in New York, they were located in Holyoke, Massachusetts. Stories were credited to Fran Striker, but they were likely freely adapted, possibly directly by the artists from Bert Whitman Associates.
This was one of the many “art shops” put together to supply publishers that did not have full-time comic book staff with product, often churned out in what approached assembly line fashion –- perhaps even sweat-shop conditions under some bosses. Bert Whitman was an editorial and comic strip artist who was also involved in comic books, considered at that time a real step down from newspapers.
Though portrayed with the correct black half-mask on the first issue’s painted cover, the character was soon depicted wearing a green mask with a black hornet on it –- which is much easier to draw and reproduce via rapid printing on cheap newsprint paper.
The Helnit series only lasted six issues, ending in 1942, but was quickly picked up by Harvey Comics. They continued with Helnit’s numbering, their first being #7.
The cover and some of the interior work was by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, creators of Captain America, and veterans of NY art shops, who later started their own shop. On the cover of #7, the Hornet insigna was omitted from the Green Hornet’s mask. This would apparently happen from time to time in the rush to get the work done.
Harvey did well with the series, which trumpeted the fact that The Hornet was a star On the Air and In the Movies, and published 40 issues by mid-1949. (Technically, the comic was renamed The Green Hornet Fights Crime with issue #34, and The Green Hornet, Racket Buster with #44 –- although on the covers it actually read: Radio’s Racket Buster: The Green Hornet.)
It’s unclear who who and/or adapted the stories for the printed page, though possibly artists/writers like Arthur Cazeneuve (who also drew the golden age Blue Beetle, a super-powered, chainmail-wearing riff on the Hornet, with his own, short-lived Mutual Network radio show) did the work themselves.
Artwork was by a number of hands, possibly by the freelance shop run by Cazeneuve and his brother Louis. A large portion of the work is by Al Avison, who did a lot of Captain America art and other heroes for Marvel Comics, often emulating the Simon/Kirby style.
The Green Hornet also appeared in other Harvey comics from time to time, and other Harvey heroes and features shared his title. It was during the Harvey run that the comic book Hornet began to dress mostly all in green, possibly a result of being handled by people who were more familiar with conventional costumed superheroes, who tended to wear distinct and seldom varying “uniforms”, rather than simply slipping on street clothes and a mask as disguise.
I should note that the Harvey series fairly consistently depicted Britt Reid as having blond hair, which was how it was described in the radio series.
After the radio show went off the air in 1952, Dell comics published a single issue with the character (Four Color Comics #486) in 1953. The painted cover artwork was by Frank Thorne, who also did Flash Gordon and Jungle Jim comics. In later years, he would do “good girl art” for Marvel’s Red Sonja, inspired by Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories.
Whitman Books put out three ‘Better Little Books’, small hard cover books for children, with many comic book style illustrations enlivening the stories. They were The Green Hornet Strikes (1940), The Green Hornet Returns (1941), and The Green Hornet Cracks Down (1942), all credited to Fran Striker.
The Lone Ranger also had books of these variety published, along with a newspaper comic strip, and his own pulp magazine. Despite seeming a natural choice for the blood and thunder single-character pulps, The Green Hornet never cracked that market.
The Lone Ranger made it to television in 1949, and was eventually joined by WXYZ’s Sergeant Preston of The Yukon. However, for various reasons, The Green Hornet did not generate a 1950’s TV series.
George W. Trendle felt that The Hornet could be a big hit on television. Sponsors, on the other hand, were concerned that the grim, violent, often cynical world that Britt Reid lived in would not be as acceptable to parents as the more wholesome and perhaps as importantly, distanced by history adventures of the masked rider of the plains. The adventures of a vigilante in the old West had a nostalgic, fairy tale-like quality, the Hornet lived in uncomfortably relevant modern times.
This had already become a concern on the radio series, with The Green Hornet being eventually cleared of the murders attributed to him, and becoming an ally of Police Commissioner Higgins, a friend of Britt’s father Dan Reid, both of whom now knew Britt’s secret and noble purpose.
Frustrated by a lack of positive response from potential sponsors, George Trendle actually went to the extent of paying for a TV pilot to be made in Hollywood, out of his own pocket (or the company’s). In 1952, LONE RANGER producer Jack Wrather put together a half-hour film, directed by Paul Landres (THE RETURN OF DRACULA), and starring one of radio’s Sam Spade actors and game show host Steve Dunne as the Hornet.
The pilot did not sell the show to advertisers, likely because the pilot’s budget was someting under $30,000 – an insufficient amount to fund an action-adventure show, and the results probably showed onscreen. Shopped around for several years, this reportedly unimpressive production is said to be lost, with no surviving prints, and even still pictures are elusive. The only photo I’ve ever seen is one of the gas gun made for the production, which is a ringer for the one on the cover of the Dell comic. Could that one-shot also have been a back-door attempt to sell sponsors on a series, or other Green Hornet projects?
At one point Trendle had contacted Universal Studios, inquiring if perhaps episodes of the movie serials could be cut together to form an inexpensive TV series, presumably as a sort of trial run for a new program. This did not come to pass, either.
It would not be until the mid-1960’s that the Green Hornet would make the jump to television. When it did, a new take on an old character would change the balance of the Green Hornet and Kato team—probably forever.
I saw a film today that I had to watch on two levels.
If I were simply a film-goer who had no real idea about who the title character was, I saw an simple action comedy, an affectionate spoof of comic book heroes. It featured good, if ultimately cartoonishly absurd action sequences and a fairly decent 2-D to 3-D conversion. Consistently amusing, but never particularly funny, and pretty much devoid of any real wit or point. An aimless but fun popcorn movie, possibly appealing to an audience who may feel burned out by more serious-minded superhero films.
As an actual fan of the 75-year-old character of radio, comics, TV and film, I’m pretty much appalled. While it’s obvious the writers, star Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg know or researched a lot about The Green Hornet, this just doesn’t seem to be a Green Hornet movie. The premise seems more like: “How do we write a movie in which Seth Rogen plays a masked crime fighter?” Every choice in the film gives the appearance of servicing that concept.
Rogen’s Britt Reid isn’t a smooth playboy or thrill-seeking daredevil, he’s a kind of sad, petulant man-child trying to extend his frat-boy years into a continuing lifestyle, thanks to being the son of a rich newspaper publisher. Well, even that could be acceptable, if he finally becomes inspired to do something positive, if extreme with his life. The idea is toyed with, but you never really buy it, because he remains the same jackass and flop he always was throughout the film, only now with a literally unbelievably talented sidekick. And although Jay Chou does a good, if oddly tentative-feeling job as Kato, and every effort is made to show that he is a full partner—in fact the vital part of the team—Kato remains a sidekick. Despite his fighting prowess and technical expertise in just about everything, he also comes off as being a bit of a jerk sometimes.
That’s no insult, because everybody in the film is pretty much a jerk, no matter how smart or scary they’re supposed to be. Britt’s dad James Reid (Tom Wilkinson) is a charmless, insensitive agressive Type-A personality-hole. The villain Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz) is an insecure, hypersensitive, charismaless schmuck, despite being a murderous sociopath who has somehow managed to become the major crime boss of L.A.
Lenore Case (Cameron Diaz), who becomes Britt Reid’s secretary/researcher, supposedly with a degree in criminology, comes off as a little clueless. The D.A. Frank Scanlon (David Harbour) turns out to be a screw-up (and more). James Franco makes a cameo as a rival drug lord, who is also an loud-mouthed idiot.
The only character does not seem to be a major dip is Mike Axford, normally the comic relief in the Green Hornet universe. That’s probably because Edward James Olmos plays Axford (now the editor in chief of the Daily Sentinel) in a very low-key and bland style in the few scenes he’s actually in the film.
Michel Gondry does give the film a little visual flair, which helps give the movie some life. The 3-D works alright, though in the theater I attended some scenes and the end titles were noticably cut off on the sides, to the extent that some action, and certainly credits, were not completely visble on-screen.
The action is nicely staged, and works well at first, but the situations the heroes are placed in reach truly PINK-PANTHER levels of ludicrousness at times by the end of the film — without, I must repeat, ever actually managing to be laugh-out-loud funny. Maybe you’ll smile and snicker a bit.
The Black Beauty survives things that even a tank couldn’t bear up under. It’s used as a wall-crushing battering ram repeatedly. That is presented as The Hornet and Kato’s standard tactic in dealing with drug labs. It gets cut in half and is still drive-able. Seriously. If the word serious can be ascribed to anything the film.
The Green Hornet and Kato actually kill people in this film, accidentally and intentionally, which is very much against the original conception of the character. Makes the gas gun pretty much pointless. I’m surprised the Trendle family—still the owners—let that get by. Maybe the ups and downs of trying to get a movie made since at least the 1990’s wore them out.
All that aside, it’s hard to hate THE GREEN HORNET. It’s kind of like that guy at the party who’s trying really hard to be likeable and amusing, but winds up being loud and a little tiresome by the end of the night.
Like I said, I didn’t hate it. It’s passably amusing, and I don’t regret seeing it, even though I might really wish it hadn’t been made in this way. I sure don’t think it’s a good Green Hornet film. If Seth Rogen had played the Blue Wombat, I might have thought it was decent slacker/stoner action comedy.
If you don’t feel nostalgic about the character, and are looking for a little undemanding fun amongst the winter doldrums, you might well enjoy the movie.
THE GREEN HORNET (2011) Columbia Pictures
Starring Seth Rogen, Jay Chou, Christoph Waltz, Cameron Diaz, Edward James Olmos, and David Harbor.
Directed by Michel Gondry, Produced by Neal H. Moritz , Written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. Based on The Green Hornet by
George W. Trendle and Fran Striker.
Music by James Newton Howard, Cinematography by John Schwartzman Editing by Michael Tronick.
A Studio Original Film, distributed by Columbia Pictures.
In 1938, Universal Pictures was one of the lesser major film studios in Hollywood. In the sound era, only Universal, Columbia, and Republic Pictures made serials, with a few independents turning out a handful. Unlike the early silent films, wherein chapterplays (a series of short films about the same story and characters) like the PERILS OF PAULINE appealed to a wide audience, by the 1930’s cliffhangers were aimed at the kid’s matinee market. Universal had a big hit with 1936’s FLASH GORDON, and began to look to comics and radio for material likely to be popular with youngsters.
Republic Pictures had made two serials based on the Lone Ranger, THE LONE RANGER, and THE LONE RANGER RIDES AGAIN. Though successful, George Trendle had been less than entirely pleased with the productions, specifically the liberties the studio had taken with the character, including showing the Ranger unmasked. Thus he and his legal advisor Raymond Meurer determined to take a direct and personal interest in seeing that the Green Hornet was translated to the screen in a manner that would be true to the radio show.
The Green Hornet, Inc. insisted on actor approval, both via pictures of the players and voice recordings. Gordon Jones, a likable young actor, was chosen to play Britt Reid. In later years, Jones would specialize in comedy roles, and is perhaps best known for his role as the blustery Mike the Cop on THE ABBOTT & COSTELLO SHOW. For the role of Kato, Chinese-born artist-turned-actor Keye Luke was selected. Luke had a long career in Hollywood, appearing in the Charlie Chan series as Number One Son, and playing Master Po on the TV series KUNG FU. Universal, also leery about a heroic Japanese character at a time of growing hostilities, decided to have Kato declare himself Korean in Chapter One. Anne Nagel (MAN MADE MONSTER) was cast as Lenore Case. In addition to being an attractive woman with striking eyes, Nagel had a pleasant, cultured speaking voice, which surely was a plus in getting the role. Veteran character actor Wade Boteler was chosen as Mike Axford, and in most scenes wore a derby, just as in publicity artwork for the radio series. Philip Trent played Jasper Jenks, one of the various Daily Sentinel reporters that appeared on the radio show. Joe Whitehead played Gunnigan, the often harassed and irascible Editor of the paper, while Myrtis Crinley played Clicker Binnie, wise-cracking lady photographer.
Leading the villains was Cy Kendall as Munroe. Kendall had been the crime boss in Grand National’s THE SHADOW STRIKES in 1937. He put his henchmen through their paces in schemes that relied both on radio scripts by Fran Striker provided by Green Hornet, Inc. and the stock footage that Universal had on hand from other films, serials and real-life newsreels. Collapsing tunnels from shoddy construction material, as well as train wrecks, fires due to arson, and flight school insurance-murder rackets would appear. Future star Alan Ladd played played young Gilpin, an aspiring pilot who nearly falls victim to the deadly scheme.
The thirteen-episode chapterplay began filming on September 7th, 1939 under director Ford Beebe (THE INVISIBLE MAN’S REVENGE, 1944). Within a week, Ray Taylor (DICK TRACY, 1937) was brought in to alternate with Beebe –- it was not at all unusual for serials, with their break-neck pace to be handled by two directors. With only 26 days allotted for filming, it became a necessity.
THE GREEN HORNET was filmed on the Universal back lot’s New York street, and all over the studio. Some familiar edifices, such as the mansion seen in a number of horror films such as SON OF DRACULA, and the steep inclined rail tracks from THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS can be glimpsed. Locations nearby the studio, such as Mulholland Drive and a cliff-side stretch of road familiar to movie fans helped open up the film.
Though Gordon Jones was quite good as Britt Reid, to insure that The Hornet sounded right to the audience, radio actor Al Hodge made a trip to Hollywood to dub in the masked man’s dialog. This was simple, as the Green Hornet of the serials wore a mask that covered the entire face— usually.
There seems to have been at least three different masks used in the serial, one made of cloth for the stunt work, and two fairly rigid ones, possibly made from leather, varnished cloth, or papier-mache. One of these two, seen in some of the early chapters, revealed Jones’ mouth and jaw from some angles, and was likely replaced for that reason. One plus is that it also allowed the Hornet to be a brilliant mimic, by simply dubbing the actor he was impersonating over the footage. In the serial, kids got to see the Hornet’s gas gun, vaguely described as looking like a “foreign automatic” on the radio show. Universal’s prop men crafted an interesting weapon along those lines. Though it appeared to have gas cylinders, on-screen the gun seemed to fire a gas pellet, which broke on contact —it was sometimes described that way on the air. The effect in the film used a pyrotechnic charge from the muzzle, with a gas cloud explosion nicely superimposed over the victim.
They also got to see the Black Beauty, played by what appears to be a 1937 Lincoln-Zephyr fitted with fancy “stream-lined” chrome mudguards.
THE GREEN HORNET is a pretty exciting serial, with a lot of verve, intelligent plotting, and better than average acting for a cliffhanger. Some viewers may carp at the low budget and obvious use of stock footage, along with a distinctly episodic feel.
However, all serials are episodic by nature, and THE GREEN HORNET script by George H. Plympton, Basil Dickey, Morrison Wood, and Lyonel Margolies and the photography by Jerome Ash (FLASH GORDON) and William Sickner (THE MUMMY’S GHOST) gives the production a lot of the feel of a crime B-movie of the period.
It’s more than a collection of action sequences for the kiddies, strung together with just enough story to connect the fights, chases and other set-pieces. Other serials might simply and repetitively follow a MacGuffin back and forth between heroes and villains for 12 or 15 weeks, while this one has many plot threads and situations for variety.
Though generally listed as a 1940 release, it seems THE GREEN HORNET opened in some theaters in November of 1939. It was a hit with its audience, and by December of that year a sequel premiered.
THE GREEN HORNET STRIKES AGAIN returned most of the actors to their roles, with the major exception of the lead. For whatever reason, now lost to the mists of time, Gordon Jones did not reprise his part of Britt Reid.
Replacing him was the more mature Warren Hull (THE WALKING DEAD, 1936), who had previously played Mandrake the Magician, and Richard Wentworth/The Spider/Blinky McQuade in THE SPIDER’S WEB (1938)and THE SPIDER RETURNS for Columbia Pictures.
Hull was good choice, despite being less physically imposing than Jones. Possessing an easy charm and a fine voice, it seems that The Green Hornet, Inc. didn’t feel it necessary to have the Hornet’s dialog dubbed this time around. As a result, some of his lines are slightly muffled (under a new lighter colored mask), but much worse were the few occasions when supervising editor Saul Goodkind saw fit to dub his own raspy voice in places where he felt lines were missing.
Warren Hull would soon leave the movies for radio, and later television, usually to host programs such as VOX POP and game shows, most notably STRIKE IT RICH.
Jasper Jenks was not in this serial. Instead, comic actor Eddie Acuff (the hard-luck mailman in the BLONDIE movies) played reporter Ed Lowery (voiced by Jack Petruzzi in on radio) and Jay Michael, one of the WXYZ regulars made it out to Hollywood for the serial, playing the sinister-voiced gangster Foranti in Chapters 14 and 15.
The lead villain, Crogan, was character actor Pierre Watkin, who played Perry White in the two Columbia SUPERMAN serials. Among those backing up his criminal syndicate was familiar face James Seay (KILLERS FROM SPACE, THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN )as the slick gangster Bordine.
It should be noted that Kato’s role in these serials (as in the radio show) tends to be more that of a skilled inventor and trusty aide. The Green Hornet handles the overwhelming majority of the fights and action, mostly limiting Kato to rescues of the hero and to take out only the occasional gangster with a timely karate chop from behind. In STRIKES AGAIN, we learn that Kato is relatively well-connected in local scientific circles.
THE GREEN HORNET STRIKES AGAIN runs 15 chapters, featuring interesting setups, including pre-WWII preparedness themes dealing with schemes to take over vital aluminum production via impersonating a naive heiress (Dorothy Lovett) and borderline science fiction aerial projectiles designed to foul plane engines.
The serial is nicely shot at times (Jerry Ash again, solo), but even more stock footage dependent, and a little sloppy and rushed in the editing, notably in the music cues. They often don’t seem properly timed or appropriately selected to match the onscreen events. Someone also thought it would be funny to bring in an Irish jig (The Irish Washerwoman), whenever possible on Mike Axford’s entrances and exits. Rear projection backgrounds are used in a number of scenes to tie into stock footage of locations, and work fairly well.
Ford Beebe returned as director, this time alternating with John Rawlins (SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE VOICE OF TERROR). Both serials were produced by Henry MacRae, who directed the first werewolf film (THE WEREWOLF, 1913), now sadly lost. He’s listed as “Associate Producer”, but this was an idiosyncrasy of Universal Pictures at the time, which considered that the Studio was the actual producer of the film.
Universal ended the series here, and though there was some discussion on a Universal Lone Ranger serial, that never came to fruition. Seeing as the radio series would connect the two characters, that might have been interesting to see.
The Green Hornet looked good in B&W on the silver screen. His next appearances would put him color —4 colors, to start.
THE GREEN HORNET and THE GREEN HORNET STRIKES AGAIN are available on restored editions DVDs from VCI Entertaiment.
THE GREEN HORNET STRIKES AGAIN is also available in an inexpensive regular edition in the CINEFANTASTIQUE STORE
January 31st, 1936 marked the radio debut of Detroit radio station WXYZ’s new masked crime fighter, THE GREEN HORNET. Their previous mystery man THE LONE RANGER had proved a huge hit, and station owner George W. Trendle was determined to catch lightning in a bottle once again.
With Lone Ranger writer/creator Fran (Francis Hamilton) Striker, and director of the Ranger and other XYZ shows James Jewell, he determined to come up with a modern-day paladin who could combat political and corporate corruption, along with racketeers as well as outright mobsters. Rather than bringing “law and order to the early Western United States”, this new champion of justice would also strike at “criminals within the law” in a large city. Such a vigilante would be at odds with the police as well as wrong-doers, so a new angle was needed. The solution: make the masked man a wanted criminal in the eyes of authority, a modern Robin Hood.
Fran Striker provided for that in the first adventures. Britt Reid, a globe-trotting young playboy, was given the job of publisher of The Daily Sentinel by his father Dan Reid, a maverick newsman and wealthy entrepreneur with a social conscience. Perhaps that would sober the young rascal up. Unknown to his hard-driven father, Britt Reid already had that serious side, hidden under a devil-may-care attitude. During his travels in the orient, Britt had saved the life of a man named Kato. This man would become young Reid’s friend and ally, and who despite his inventive genius would pose as a simple manservant.
Together they had built a suped-up car which they called The Black Beauty, since it had been assembled in secret in what used to be the stables of the older building where Reid lived. When the supercharger was cut in, the engine sounded like an angry hornet.
Outraged by a particular criminal, they had ridden out to deal with him in vigilante fashion. However, the miscreant was killed by another wrong-doer, and “The Hornet” was now wanted for murder. This, Reid realized was the perfect cover. He could now pose as a criminal, walk into their dens, and trick, blackmail, and betray them to the police — or set them up to wipe each other out. Rather than carrying a pair of six-shooters, the Hornet would carry a non-lethal gas gun.
As can be seen, The Green Hornet was an admixture of many other fictional heroes. The Scarlet Pimpernel, Johnston McCulley’s Zorro (the day-time wastrel Don Diego Dela Vega). Some of McCulley’s literary creations, such as The Crimson Clown, The Black Star, and The Bat used gas guns and bombs, rather than bullets. The legend of Robin Hood was mentioned as an inspiration, and I think the ‘bent’ hero Jimmie Dale, alias The Grey Seal had a particular influence, conscious or not.
Beginning in 1910 in Street and Smith’s People’s Magazine, The Grey Seal was named for the diamond-shaped gray paper seal he left as a ‘signature’, and not from emulating in any way a sea-going mammal. James Dale was a bored playboy, an expert on locks and safes due to his father’s business, who turned to safe-cracking as an amusing hobby. If any items were removed, they would either be returned, or if taken from a no-good, donated to a worthy cause. However, his secret was discovered by a young woman, who “blackmailed” him into becoming an active agent of justice.
Donning a black mask, coat, and slouch hat, The Grey Seal would deal with villains in the New York City badlands as well as in the salons of the rich. Author Frank Packard’s Jimmie Dale appeared a number of magazine serials, several novels, and a 16-chapter silent movie serial, ALIAS THE GREY SEAL (1917).
I should note that for the first few episodes (no recordings are known to survive) the Green Hornet was referred to a simply The Hornet. and the program actually called THE ADVENTURES OF THE HORNET, according to researchers Martin Grams Jr. and Terry Salomonson. However, it’s been reported in books such as Wyxie Wonderland (a book on the history of WXYZ) that the station’s legal staff raised the issue that the show bore some similarities to the pulp magazine character The Spider, such as the insect-derived name, often being thought a criminal and wanted by the police, leaving a red spider mark as a signature on his work —usually dead criminals, as Richard Wentworth’s alter-ego carried .45 automatics which he used quite liberally— and having an “oriental” aide (Sikh warrior Ram Sing serving as chauffeur and knife-wielding enforcer).
Always a shrewd businessman, George Trendle decided after some discussion to re-christen the character the GREEN Hornet, which seemed sufficient to make the name unique. There are no actual green hornets to be found in nature.
By the way, the radio Green Hornet did NOT dress all in green. He wore a hat, topcoat ( generally tan or camel in offically approved artwork), and often a scarf. To hide his identity, he wore a black mask over the lower part of his face. After a while, he sported a green Hornet insignia on the mask, like the ones emblazoned on the seals he left to mark his involvement in cases.
Britt Reid/The Green Hornet was played by the powerfully-voiced Al Hodge from 1936 to 1943, with another stint in 1945. Hodge would later go on to play science fiction hero CAPTAIN VIDEO on television for the Dumont network in the 1950’s.
Donovan Faust played the part for awhile, followed by Robert Hall, and Jack McCarthy from 1947 to the show’s end in 1952. Known to older New Yorkers as “Captain” Jack McCarthy, he would serve as WPIX-TV’s kids show host (showing mostly Popeye cartoons), staff announcer, and presenter of the Saint Patrick’s Day parades during the 1960’s and 70’s.
The role of Kato was originated by Tokutaro Hayashi, known as Raymond Toyo. The fact that he was of Japanese descent had something to do with Kato intially being identified as Japanese, rather than Chinese or another Asian nationality. (Reid and Kato met in either Hong Kong or Singapore.)
Legend had it that Kato became Filipino after Pearl Harbor, which makes a good story. However, the show had described the character as being from the Philippines as early as 1939. In later years, actors such as Rollon Parker (who often doubled as the Newsboy usually heard at the end of the programs, assuring us that The Green Hornet was Still At Large), Michael Tolland, and others played the role.
One of the characters that would make the Hornet’s life more difficult was former police officer Mike Axford. Axford actually pre-dated the Green Hornet series; he had been in many episodes of WARNER LESTER, MANHUNTER, an offshoot of WXYZ’s MANHUNTERS series, which featured various crime fighters, and also birthed the Lone Ranger. On WARNER LESTER, Axford had begun as a hard-nosed Irish cop, eventually becoming more friendly and avuncular to the hero.
On THE GREEN HORNET, he would begin as a retired police officer, now a bodyguard the elder Reid had afflicted upon his “wild” son, and living in the same home. Soon Britt would give him a job as a reporter for the Sentinel, and gently evict him from his digs. The character would mellow into a largely comedic role, though still often a menace to the Hornet, who he longed to unmask. Jim Irwin originated the role, and played the part until 1938. Gilbert Shea would play Axford from 1939.
Taking the side of the Hornet was Lenore “Casey” Case, who had been Dan Reid’s secretary when he was publisher. The part was played thoughout the entire series by Leonore “Lee” Allman, director Jim Jewell’s sister. Though she may have suspected after a number of years, Casey did not actually learn Britt Reid was the Hornet for a fact until 1948. Like THE LONE RANGER, one of the things that made THE GREEN HORNET memorable was the music. WXYZ tended to use orchestral recordings of classical works. The theme was Rimsky-Korsokov’s The Flight of the Bumblebee, an apt choice. Igor Stravinsky’s Infernal Dance from The Firebird was also often used. As Russia did not recognize copyright at the time, the piece was effectively in the public domain in the U.S., and fair game. These cues and others from various sources really gave the shows gravitas, as many radio adventure series used no dramatic music or relied upon an organist to provide accompaniment.
Also adding zip was the Hornet buzz, attributed variously to the Black Beauty’s engine, horn, or appearing apropos of nothing, simply as a dramatic device to signify the Green Hornet was present, much as a filtered laugh heralded The Shadow. Various buzzing devices were tried, including humming through a wax paper-covered comb, before the sound crew obtained a theremin, the early Russian-invented electronic musical instrument.
The show went out on WXYZ Detroit, and the stations of the loosely aligned Michigan Radio Network. In 1938, it was picked up by the Mutual Network (flagship station WOR, New York), and in later years by the NBC Blue Network, and it’s successor ABC.
THE GREEN HORNET became a national success, and soon Hollywood would come calling. To Be Continued…
Columbia Pictures releases this big-screen adaptation of the old radio character, previously seen in a short-lived television series around the same time as BATMAN. Seth Rogen plays millionaire playboy Britt Reid, who rouses himself from his drunken torpor after the mysterious death of his father, turning himself into the mysterious crime fighter posing as a criminal. Jay Chou is sidekick Kato. Cameron Diaz and Tom Wilkinson co-star for director Michel Gondry, working from a screenplay by Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg, based on the radio series by George W. Trendle. Release Date: January 14
“A fierey Horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty ‘Hi-yo Sil-ver! The Lone Ranger Rides Again!'” For most people who remember those words, they are indelibly related in the mind with the voice of radio/TV announcer Fred Foy. Foy passed away yesterday, December 22nd, 2011 at the age of 89.
Begining as an actor/announcer for radio just before World War II, during wich he served in the Army’s Armed Forces Radio, in 1948 Fred Foy was selected as the announcer for THE LONE RANGER radio series. He replaced announcer Harry Golden, and became the voice most associated with the series.
In fact, as Foy related with relish, he actually played the Lone Ranger in a single episode (March 29, 1954). Lead actor Brace Beemer had come down with a bad case of laryngitis, and watched as his announcer played his role. Afterwards, Beemer, who had be one of the announcer/narrators of the series before replacing Earle W. Grasier as the Lone Ranger, said words to the effect of: “Pretty good, Foy. Lets just say, I’ll never miss another show.”
Acting as well as announcing for WXYZ Radio in Detroit, where the syndicated shows originated, Fred Foy also played usually small roles on THE LONE RANGER, THE GREEN HORNET, and SERGEANT PRESTON OF THE YUKON. He would play Sgt. Preston a number of times, though I don’t have the details at hand.
When THE LONE RANGER debuted on television, the earliest episodes featured actor Gerald Mohr (ANGRY RED PLANET) as announcer/narrator. Though he possesed a fine voice, his grim delivery was not what people expected, and the producers soon had Fred Foy record the shows opening and needed narration in his trademark high- energy style. These were done from Detroit and sent out to the West Coast, so he never worked with the TV cast.
Fred Foy gave the show a sense of breathless urgency and enthusiasm; you could tell he loved it. Having met him and heard him speak a number of times, I found out he really was a fan of high adventure. He subscribed to relatively recent pulp reprints of The Spider, according to then-publisher Rich Harvey, and delighted in appearing at Old Time Radio conventions, often announcing or playing the leads in THE LONE RANGER and THE GREEN HORNET, his voice having lost nothing of it’s power over the decades.
Fred Foy became an announcer for ABC, and narrated documentaries in later years.