The Green Hornet (1940)
Film review #394
Director: Ford Beebe, Ray Taylor
SYNOPSIS: A racketeering gang is causing all sorts of crimes across the city. Meanwhile, the owner of The Sentinel newspaper Britt Reid, upon learning of these criminal activities, has decided to fight back in disguise as The Green Hornet, accompanied by his valet Kato and their super fast car, they attempt to shut down the criminal rackets all the while trying to avoid having their identities uncovered by their friends at The Sentinel…
THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: The Green Hornet is a 1940 movie serial based on the radio series of the same name. The story opens up showing a crime racket running amok in a city, with The Sentinel newspaper trying to chase down the stories behind their criminal activities. Britt Reid, the head of the newspaper, decides it is time for someone to deal with these criminals, and he dons the disguise of “The Green Hornet,” a masked vigilante who visits these criminals and tries to uncover who is leading the rackets. The plot unfolds over the thirteen serial chapters, with each chapter introducing a new racket that The Green Hornet must confront. With each chapter introducing something new, there’s enough variety to keep viewers returning and engaged with the story. There’s the usual high-speed chases and fist fights you would expect, and these are executed pretty well. Maybe nothing too memorable, but still entertaining enough to watch.
The character of Britt Reid and his alter-ego as the Green Hornet play a typical superhero role, with no-one knowing he is leading this double life. As such, this leads to many of his friends and colleagues at The Sentinel newspaper wondering whether The Green Hornet is a hero or villain, and in some cases working to apprehend him, which leads to some complications and interesting turns in the story. The only person who knows his identity is Britt’s valet Kato, who drives The Green Hornet’s car, which is a super speedy vehicle that makes a buzzing sound akin to a hornet. Kato stands out as a character as he is actually portrayed by an Asian actor, whereas a lot of the time Asian characters were portrayed by white actors in makeup to “look” Asian. Also of note is that when the serial was released in 1940, the U.S. had not entered world war two, although anti-Japanese sentiment was still growing, leading to Kato’s original origin being Japanese being changed to Korean for the serial (Keke Luke, the actor himself, was Chinese-American). Nevertheless, it is very rare to see a non-white person in a leading role at this time. Other characters include the one token female character, who works at The Sentinel and believes throughout that The Green Hornet is a force for good in spite of her colleagues believing otherwise. Also Britt’s bodyguard plays a bit of a comic relief character, and his being Irish leads to some stereotypical phrases that come out of his mouth. The villains don’t really have much of an impact as characters themselves, as they mostly change with each chapter and the new racket that the Green Hornet must thwart, but that’s not too much of a problem, as the protagonists are much more interesting.
Overall, The Green Hornet is a good example of the serial format. There’s plenty of action, the characters are interesting, and there’s enough variety to keep viewers entertained. It is also a good example of an early superhero-esque character who leads a double life and must balance the two roles.