Green Hornet (1940) Film Serial Movie Review

By: Karl Stern (@dragonkingkarl, @wiwcool,

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I am a fan of the Green Hornet as a character.  In the George W. Trendle universe of characters he is a decedent of the Lone Ranger (Green Hornet is Britt Reid and the Lone Ranger in some tellings was John Reid his great uncle).  I decided not to watch the entire 1940 13 part serial.  Instead, I watched a movie released in the 1990s which was the serial edited into a roughly 2 hour movie.  This may have been a mistake as the movie was an edited mess and the film quality was quite poor (I presume the original film masters were in bad shade. More on this in the Patreon audio special.)

It's too bad.  The Green Hornet had all the pieces to be a very interesting film and the character is a good one.  The Green Hornet was originally introduced in 1936 in the radio drama, a full three years before Batman.  As it turns out, Batman draws heavily in many ways from the Green Hornet.  I have never heard or read if the Batman character was inspired by the Green Hornet but there were a lot similarities- A rich playboy who doubles as a crime fighter, he refuses to kill, he has a super extraordinary car, and a highly trained sidekick.

The Green Hornet's original mask differed greatly from the more famous later 1960s version.  Kato (on the right) is played by Keye Luke who famous played blind master Po in the 1970s Kung Fu television series.

Gordon Jones plays the lead role of the Green Hornet and does a pretty good job, although there is some obvious dubbing of his voice when he changes into his Green Hornet mask.  I suspect that parts of this movie also used some clips from the sequel The Green Hornet Strikes Again.  The plot, which wanders all over the place, essentially is that newspaper publisher Britt Reid, who is secretly the Green Hornet, and his valet Kato investigate and expose several seemingly separate rackets. This leads them into continued conflict with The Chief, the criminal mastermind behind the Syndicate and the individual crimes.  Kato is also a genius inventor who creates a super car for Green Hornet which is bullet proof and can drive at speeds of over 200 miles per hour (in 1940 no less).  Very much a proto-Batmobile.

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Gordon Jones in his Green Hornet disguise.

Because the editing of this movie version of the film serial was so disjointed we will revisit the Green Hornet again in the future to give the character another chance.  That chance will probably be some viewing of the popular 1960s The Green Hornet television series which starred Van Williams as the Green Hornet and Bruce Lee as Kato.  That duo also had a cross-over to the 1960s Batman television series and we will review those two episodes as well.

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The Green Hornet's mask and his gas gun which knocks out foes rather than kills them.  The gas gun was created by Kato.  The Green Hornet's secret garage has striking similarities to the later Bat Cave.


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