By Christopher Campbell | Spout January 10, 2011 at 7:32AM
I've been watching the old "Green Hornet" serial films from 1940 and am quite addicted midway through, though in time I could see myself getting tired of the basic formula repeated in each episode. Good thing there are only 13 chapters to the first run, I guess. The dialogue was initially way too expository, horrible yet understandable coming from a radio serial source, in which verbal exposition is more necessary than it is in cinema. But as is the case with any serial, good or bad, "The Green Hornet" easily hooks you as long as you stick with each part until the explosive cliffhanger. However, this is why even at only 20-21 minutes, the films also have to keep you interested in the middle as much as at the end.
True, this wasn't of as much importance 70 years ago, when the serial played on the big screen ahead of a feature. I mean now, whether you're watching on DVD or streaming online. And it had to be the case with "The Green Hornet" radio serials as well as the TV series that came later. The possible point of losing interest in each chapter of this incarnation will likely be around the mark when Britt Reid is in his office at the newspaper once again chatting about the latest accusations against The Green Hornet (his secret alter ego), which "Casey" the secretary always challenges. That's where I have consistently thought about skipping ahead to the action.
I'm writing this before seeing the new "Green Hornet" movie, but given the format of serials I don't know that adapting the character to feature film is the best idea for a property like this. Yes, George Lucas found a way to pay homage to the serial in his "Star Wars" and "Indiana Jones" franchises, but neither of those were very faithful to the continuation structure. Not even the ending of "The Empire Strikes Back" can be considered a cliffhanger in the same way. And when franchises do employ more of a cliffhanger ending, like seen in "Back to the Future Part II," audiences don't respond well. There's just too long a wait for the next episode (I love the cliffhangers at the end of the "Resident Evil" movies, however, because they're not really cliffhangers so much as they're sudden down-endings).
The concept of the movie serial evolved into the TV serial, which is why it makes sense that "The Green Hornet" became a TV show. And after watching a few chapters of the 1940 "Hornet," I wish there was a new attempt to bring it to the small screen rather than the theater. Serialized shows are all the rage now, and something that tackles conspiracies, rackets and big business cons could be very good if written well (but maybe not as complicated as the canceled "Rubicon"). Of course, superheroes aren't always big with ratings, as last night's "The Cape" debut once again proves. A "Green Hornet" series would probably have to be what Salon's Matt Zoller Seitz wishes "The Cape" was: a show that takes "advantage of the single greatest strength (or indulgence) of TV: its ability to linger, and make lingering interesting -- to make it the whole point of the medium, the thing that makes it distinct from movies."
And the thing that made movie serials distinct from features. Thinking of that distinction has me curious about the feature version of "The Green Hornet," since unlike the serials it won't have time to work through a "Green Hornet" type plot the way it should be worked, and how we're used to it working.
If you're interested in getting hooked into the original "Green Hornet" (film) serials, here's the first chapter, "Tunnel of Terror." You can continue watching streams of other chapters on the Classic Weird Movies blog, though I'm not sure if it's entirely legal.