Sunday, February 20, 2011

Serial Sunday - The Heroes Take Over #1 - The Green Hornet

Hiya, Kiddies! So here we are, back again for another look at the weekly serials that were a staple of the cinemas for quite a few decades, from at least the 1920's until the early part of the 1950's but this time we're going to take little different tack. Instead of taking an in-depth look at a particular serial and following it through to it's end, we're going to look at different genres and see how they were handled over the years by the differing serials. That way, you can not only get an over-view of the many different samples through the different genres' but of course, if you want to follow up and watch the complete serial on your own, you'll always have that option.

Fair warning, however. Because many of these serials are based on trademarked characters, their public domain status may not be as clear as with most of the movies we discuss. That's one of the unfortunate issues when we begin to discuss the public domain and underlying rights (and I'm not going to go into that whole discussion now, since it's sure to come up as part of the Public Domain 101 series resuming soon). I will, however, do my best to note which of these are still under copyright or in the public domain where it is clear.

So, where shall we begin? Well, with the release of last year's Green Hornet movie and films based on The Green Lantern, Thor, Captain America, and The X-Men all coming out in the first half of this year, it seems like 2011 is at least going to start out as the year of the superhero in the cinema. (At least as far as the big blockbusters go.) So, since superheroes were also a long-standing staple of the Saturday matinees, that seems like as good a place to begin as any.
The Green Hornet first began his career as a crime fighter on the radio in January of 1936. Britt Reid, playboy son of newspaper publisher James Reid (and great-nephew of John Reid, aka The Lone Ranger, though little has ever made of that connection within the various stories of the character) inherits his father's newspaper, The Daily Sentinel upon the older man's death, and soon becomes troubled by the rampant criminality and corruption he sees spreading throughout the city. Deciding that simply writing about it is not enough, Reid decides to actually do something to try to actively combat it. Taking on the mantle of the Green Hornet, and accompanied by his faithful sidekick Kato, Reid infiltrates the underworld in an attempt to take down the racketeers from the inside.

The Green Hornet and Kato on Patrol.
In 1940, George W. Trendle, the Hornet's creator, took his hero to Universal Pictures for a 13 part serial entitled, appropriately enough, The Green Hornet. Trendle had already seen his other creation, the aforementioned Lone Ranger adapted for two serials by Republic, and was reportedly unhappy with the results, thus the move to Universal. This time, the studio hewed relatively close to the original source material and the results are quite satisfying.

In the serial, the Hornet is portrayed by character actor Gordon Jones who does a fine job of portraying both the indolence of playboy Reid and the physicality of the Hornet. One note of interest, however, is that whenever the Hornet actually puts on his trademark mask, the voice that emanates from it is not that of Jones, but that of Al Hodge, the man who also provided the radio voice of the Hornet, thus providing some continuity for those who were fans of the character's previous exploits. Also in the serial cast are Keye Luke, who plays Kato, Anne Nagel as Lenore "Casey" Case, Reid's secretary, and Wade Boteler as Michael Axford, a reporter for the Daily Sentinel and Reid's bodyguard.

Oddly enough, the one with the gun and mask is the good guy!
The plot of this first 13 chapter serial is actually pretty standard. The first chapter gives us the basic set-up and background for the character as he begins his infiltration of the local rackets. Subsequent chapters follow the Hornet's take down of individual plots as he slowly becomes aware of the existence of a mysterious felon called simply "The Leader" who is actually the mastermind coordinating much of the crime throughout the city. The final chapter, of course, features the inevitable face-off between the Hornet and the Leader.

The Green Hornet actually proves to be quite a smart choice for a serial of this type, as his adventures were always much more grounded in real-world problems and criminals of the gangster type than, say, someone like Superman who might be expected to be fighting giant robots or other-worldly aliens or Batman, whose colorful cast of villains would require much more extensive make-up work in order to hew closely to ther four-color counterparts.

Ok, so, enough talk from me on the subject. Let's take a look at the first chapter of The Green Hornet, shall we?

Hmm.... Looks like those tunnels are going to fill up pretty quickly, don't they? Well, luckily, unlike audiences of the day, we don't have to wait until next week to see how the Hornet survives. The entire serial is available to view or download for free at the Internet Archives, or it can be purchased on DVD from Amazon (just click on the link below).

And be sure to check back here next week for a look at the second Green Hornet serial, the Green Hornet Strikes Again!

Until next time, Happy Treasure Hunting,
-Professor Damian


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