The Back Row’s Weekly Serial Review: The Green Hornet

Watching a serial can be a harrowing experience for the uninitiated. Somewhere out there, right now, there is a poor soul who is putting in a copy of Buck Rogers and plans to watch it from beginning to end.  Soon they will be screaming at the television as the story meanders, and plot holes and inconsistencies start to pile up. Serials weren’t meant to be watched in one sitting. It’s better to watch them in four or five short bursts. Because they are mindlessly action oriented (a sort of low budget Michael Bay movie) and written simply enough that anyone can come in, at any time, and pick up the story, they make great background entertainment. Pop one in the next time you’re washing the dishes, cleaning the house, making diner, they’re fun and if you miss something, it doesn’t matter. There is, however, an even better way to watch a serial. Watch them with friends, who also enjoy bad movies, with gaping plot holes. Oh, and don’t forget the popcorn.

Quick Facts
Released in 1940
Directed by Ford Beebe and Ray Taylor
Written by George Plympton, Basil Dickie, Morrison Wood and Lyonel Margories
Starring Gordon Jones, Keye Luke, Anne Nagel, and Wade Boteler

Basic Story Line
Crime has overrun the city. Newspaper baron Brit Reid decides that instead of just reporting on crime, he should do something about it. He becomes the Green Hornet and, along with his valet, Kato, sets out to break the crime syndicates’ grip on the city.

The Green Hornet is not only an entertaining serial but it is an important link between the old school detective comics and modern day superheroes.

Today, when most people think of the Green Hornet they think of the recent film with Seth Rogen. If you’re a little older, or are geeky enough to be reading this, you may think of the comic books or the 1960s television series, where Bruce Lee, as Kato, stole the show. But The Green Hornet started as a radio series and then went on to have two film serials.

In The Green Hornet serial, he is described as “a modern day Robin Hood,” working outside the law to bring down the bad guys. However, watching the serial, it’s not Robin Hood, but Batman you think of. Predating Batman by 3 years there is little doubt The Green Hornet had an influence on the Dark Knight. Both are millionaire playboys, who run the family business by day, and are vigilantly crime fighters, who strike fear in their enemies, by night. Both have a secret lair, a cool car, and gadgets. Both have trusted servants who share their secret. Both lost their parents to the underworld. When the Green Hornet was created, the superhero trend had just started. Detective comics, like Dick Tracy, were still in vogue. The Green Hornet arrived just at the turning of the tide. He combined the colourful flare of a superhero and dirty work of a detective.

In The Green Hornet serial, each week he sets out to break up a different crime syndicate of the criminal organization running the city. This allows the story to stay focused, let’s the audience know what to expect, while, at the same time, giving them something new every week. It also means that the audience can miss a chapter and still keep up with the story. On the down side, crimes have varying degrees of believability. One week he could be breaking up a protection racket on a series of drycleaners and the next it could be a scam where a flying school crash their own planes to murder their students and collect the life insurance. This format also means there is no charismatic central villain, only a group of thugs. The head villain is an unseen voice, on a radio, which gives orders and is then promptly forgotten about by the audience.

Kato, the trusted sidekick, although horribly underdeveloped, is possibly the most interesting character in the serial. We know that he has traveled the world and that Brit Reid saved his life when they were in Asia. Other than that, his past is a mystery. This mystery allows the audience to buy into the idea that Kato can crack safes, build gadgets, modify cars, and knows karate. Kato is just that cool. Unfortunately, here, he is used as nothing more than a plot device.

Another underutilized character is Lenore Case, the potential love interest. She spends most of the serial doing nothing but saying things like, “I don’t believe that the Green Hornet is guilty.” Jean Rogers had more to do in Flash Gordon, and all she had to do was look pretty and faint. However, this all changes in the last chapter, when her trust in the Green Hornet is really put to the test. It is the biggest acting moment in the entire serial and Anne Nagel pulls it off.

Despite its underdeveloped characters, its’ sometimes preposterous story lines, the large quantity of stock footage used, and the unnecessary comic relief character, The Green Hornet is a fun serial, filled with 1940s style action.

Things to Watch For
-Twice, The Green Hornet has to jump onto a train. The second time they reuse the same footage and simply add rain effects over top of it.

The Back Row Weekly Serial Drinking Game
While watching a serial, anytime you or a friend point out a plot hole or inconsistency, take a drink. (Note: Quality of stock footage not matching the rest of the film is not a plot hole. A character blasting the Hornet Siren while trying to avoid the police, is.)
Odds of getting sloshed: Medium

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