As a promotion for the movie, on Tuesday, Syfy is showing all 26 episodes of the 1966 TV series with Van Williams and Bruce Lee from 10 AM to 11 PM. I never seen any of them, just the Batman  guest appearances. I wonder if they're included? I'm going to tape some of it. Anyone else?

BTW, did you know that the original Green Hornet was the grand-nephew of the Lone Ranger and the inspiration for DC's Crimson Avenger and the Sandman?

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Philip Portelli said:

Not to burst anyone's bubble but I watched three episodes (so far) and haven't been all that impressed . . . . it was the lack of charm, for want of a better term. Don't get me wrong, they weren't terrible and you can't help but notice Bruce Lee's prowess but you can't help noticing what a demeaning role Kato had. Houseboy?

Van Williams was component but left no impression unlike Adam West's Batman. I know The Green Hornet was supposed to be the more serious show than Batman (both had the same producer) but how much would it drive all us fanboys crazy to admit that the campy style was best for the Caped Crusader!



Let me log in here with my perspective, which, admittedly, is largely counter-point. Let me emphasise, as I usually do in such discussions, this is not a matter of "I'm right and you're an incompetent boob for not seeing that". All art is subjective, and each of us appreciates or deplores a sample of art according to his own tastes; thus, there is no right or wrong. Your impressions are as valid as mine. I simply present my perspective for discussion.

I watched The Green Hornet both as a youngster, when it originally aired, back in '66-7, and as an adult, through VHS copies and cable-station airings. As a boy, I liked the show, though of course I lacked the critical analysis of an adult mind. I knew it was meant to be serious, as opposed to Batman, which even as a kid, I knew to be a parody of comic books. Batman, though, only worked well in its first half-season (it was a mid-season replacement), when the budget was larger and the writers took pains to carefully meld the proper measures of seriousness with spoof.


In its second season, Batman---as many situation comedies also do---began to lapse from that perfect balance into more and more outright silliness. The bloom was coming off the rose and I gladly turned to Dozier's Green Hornet to see the super-hero concept handled straight.

As an adult, after having viewed almost the entire season of The Green Hornet again, I've evaluated it with an adult's perspective and experience. Sifting out the nostalgic pleasure, I have to admit that my opinion is about the same as yours, Philip---that the show was presentable, but nothing world-beating. However, my criticisms, I believe, are different from yours. My over-arching criticism of The Green Hornet is that, like so many shows of the early television era, it could have---with only a mild amount of tweaking---been so much better.

Let me break down my analysis into topics of study. (Obviously, as I get into discussion, some of these topics will overlap.)


Performers.


There were five regular cast members of The Green Hornet.

The star, Van Williams, while no Anthony Hopkins, was competent and capable. When the material was exceptional, such as from the typewriters of the Warner Brothers' scripters back when Williams was one of the leads on SurfSide 6, he could deliver a satifsfying performance. Unfortunately, Williams, though handsome and likeable, did not have an overpowering screen presence, and when it's a thirty-minute programme where almost everything has to be presented in shorthand, the main character having a larger-than-life persona helps smooth over the obvious short shrifts in the plot.


I would still insist, however, that Williams would have been more credible in the part if the Green Hornet scripts had shown more depth and incisiveness.

The principal co-star, Bruce Lee, as Kato, did not yet have the acting ability or range of the rest of the cast, but he had that screen presence that Van Williams lacked. You watch Lee simply move across the room and you grasp his athleticism. You get the feeling that you're watching compact power under total control. And when his role as the Hornet's underling required him to be threatening, he was able to suddenly emit an air of menace with little more than narrowing his eyes.

Bruce Lee once told a newspaper interviewer that the reason he got the job playing Kato was that he was the only Chinese actor in Hollywood who could pronounce "Britt Reid". That was a self-effacing little joke because I have no doubt once William Dozier saw Lee's presence on screen, he knew he had struck gold.

Walter Brooke played District Attorney Frank P. Scanlon and looked authentic doing so. He was authoritative, confident, and intelligent---a far cry from Batman’s mildly befuddled Commissioner Gordon.

There was a certain chemistry between these three actors---there was always at least one and usually more scenes with the three of them in each episode, usually when Reid had to consult Scanlon about the current case. And the chemistry showed. Their scenes flowed naturally and the actors in their rôles came across as familiar and comfortable with each other. Often gestures replaced sentences and shared looks accurately conveyed meanings. This conserved dialogue, a handy thing when you only had twenty-two minutes of showtime.

Unfortunately, no such chemistry seemed to be there, at least to me, between Williams and the remaining two cast members.

Wende Wagner portrayed Reid’s secretary, Lenore “Casey” Case. She had a certain exoticism in her voice and she was effective in the few scenes she had without the presence of the other regulars. However, in her interactions with Williams as Reid, it just didn’t quite click. As Reid’s secretary and the only other person, outside of Scanlon, to know about Reid and Kato’s secret activities, one would expect a certain easiness in their nature. But their relationship always came across to me as being rather stilted. Reid and Casey said all the right things but they didn’t seem to feel it.

And then there was the Daily Sentinel’s crime reporter, Mike Axford, played by Lloyd Gough. In the radio series, Axford was a buffoon dipped in Irish whiskey. The writers wisely eased up on that; the television show’s Axford was bullheaded and definitely blue collar, but not a total nimrod. And that’s how Gough portrayed him. Like Miss Wagner as Casey, Gough did a competent job with the material he had. The backstory, however, insisted that Axford had been working for the Sentinel since the days when Reid’s father was the publisher and he had virtually taught Britt Reid the business. We the viewers only knew that, though, because we were told so; it never came across in his scenes with Williams. There was no sense of paternalism or underlying affection. Consequently, Gough’s Axford came across as a bellowing reporter who seemed to have nothing to do but hang around the boss’s office and grouse about the Green Hornet.


Characters.


The Green Hornet television series remained pretty faithful to its radio incarnation. The basic elements remained in place. What modifications the writers did make were intelligent ones. Many of the recurring characters heard in the radio show were expunged, a necessary capitulation to a thirty-minute series of non-serialised episodes seen only once a week.

I mentioned how the character of Mike Axford gained some I.Q. points over his radio predecessor. Now, even the television show’s Axford would never be a member of MENSA, but at least the audience would believe that the Sentinel would keep him on the payroll. And TV presented Casey as knowing Britt Reid’s secret from the get-go. In the radio programme, she didn’t find out until late in its run, which was when she assumed a larger part in the show. The television set-up simply moved Casey up to that status from the beginning.

The real beneficiary of the writers’ changes, though, was the character of Kato. In the radio show, Kato was little more than a functionary for the Green Hornet. He was Reid’s houseboy and the Hornet’s driver and was pretty much kept in the background. The radio version certainly wasn’t the kick-ass right-hand man who followed his boss into harm’s way the way the TV Kato did.

Van Williams had a large part in beefing up Kato’s rôle in the television series. Like everyone else, he saw the on-screen magic that resulted when Bruce Lee went into action and he knew that could only be good for the show. Williams insisted that Kato’s part be expanded to take advantage of that. In the first few TV episodes, Kato does little more than drive the Black Beauty and say “Where to, boss?” But after that, he began to get almost as much air time as Williams and figured equally in the Reid-Scanlon skull sessions.

That took advantage of the chemistry between Williams and Lee, too. Throughout the series, there are little bits of business between the two that underscore their friendship and mutual respect. One of the more singular examples occurs in the episode “The Preying Mantis”. In this outing, the Green Hornet goes after a gang boss who has his own “Kato”, so to speak, a martial-arts expert named Low Sing (portrayed by Mako). The centerpiece of the episode is when Kato and Low Sing square off against each other. I’ll speak more of this sequence later, but for right now, the moment to look for happens right after Kato puts Low Sing down for the count. There is a little bit of business, without dialogue, in which the Hornet points out, half in concern, half in amusement, that Kato didn’t get away from the fight unmarked. That and Kato’s facial expression in wordless response is genuine and speaks more about the underlying relationship between the two men than a half-page of dialogue would have.

While I’m on the subject, Philip, I wanted to make mention of your statement that Kato’s rôle as a houseboy was demeaning. I sensed a bit of a knee-jerk PC response in that. I don’t want to presume your thoughts behind your statement. If you meant that it was demeaning for the Green Hornet’s crimefighting partner to pose as a houseboy in civilian life, I don’t see it. It’s no more demeaning than, say, Alfred the butler. Or than Stripsey, the partner of the Star-Spangled Kid, to have as his civilian identity the job of chauffeur for the Kid’s civilian ID.

If you meant it was demeaning for Bruce Lee, an Oriental, to have to play a houseboy, well, I still don’t see it. Granted, in the earliest days of television---from the late ‘40’s to the early ‘60’s---minorities were pretty much relegated to servant and labourer parts. But by the late ‘60’s---the time of The Green Hornet--- that had changed. Shows like I Spy and Mission: Impossible elevated minorities to rôles of prominent, capable, professional men, and that was just the beginning.

But there were still parts in television shows that called for servants and labourers and minions. And just because minority actors, rightfully, were now getting the plum parts doesn’t mean that they could no longer play the servant rôles; it just meant that they should have the same opportunities to play all parts, big and small, impressive and humble, just like any other actor.

So I see nothing demeaning in Bruce Lee playing a houseboy, in and of itself. Now, if Kato had been depicted as lazy or dull or cowardly and spoke in sing-song pidgin-English, I would agree that it would have been demeaning. But as the part of Kato was written, he was intelligent, capable, resourceful, and knowledgable. As much as the star? Well, no. But that’s because the show was called The Green Hornet, not The Adventures of Kato.


The Writing.


This is my biggest complaint about The Green Hornet television programme. The plots were competent. But they were, as I realised in watching the episodes again as an adult, superficial, with no room for personal drama to give them some meat.

The biggest example of this short-coming is in the episode “The Frog is a Deadly Weapon”. In this, Britt Reid determines to go after Glen Connors, a mob boss believed to be dead. It’s supposed to be a personal thing for Reid because Connors was one of the crooks who framed Reid’s father into prison. This should have been an intensely personal mission for the Green Hornet, but the matter of his father and Connors’ complicity is mentioned only once, at the beginning. The rest of the episode plays like the Hornet is going after any old gangboss.

I mentioned the episode “The Preying Mantis”. This was another opportunity that was allowed to escape. The first two-thirds of the script build up to this showdown between Kato and Low Sing, the “Anti-Kato”. Yet, when it finally happens, it’s a major let-down. The two martial-arts experts spend a minute circling each other and posturing. Then there are a couple of probing strikes by both men. (That’s when Low Sing gets his one shot in on Kato.) And then Kato cleans his clock. The whole thing takes about two minutes. Here was a perfect opening for the show to serve up some major dramatic and physical conflict, and it just let it pass.

The idea that the Green Hornet poses as an outlaw so that he may strike at criminals from within is a distinctive one. Many heroes are, or started out as, outlaws, but the police, in spite of their official responsibilities, always knew they were good guys, fighting crime. The Green Hornet was unusual in that he actively cultivated the reputation of being a criminal. But the television scripts rarely gave this little more than lip-service. Occasionally, there would be a police chase and invariably, Mike Axford would rant on about what a threat to society the Hornet was, but that was about it. Thus, here was another opportunity for drama that slipped through the writers’ fingers.

Suppose there was a situation when, through accident or artifice, evidence seems to point to Joe Doakes (that is, somebody not Britt Reid) as being the Green Hornet, and the police arrest him. Now District Attorney Scanlon has a real problem. How can he prosecute Joe, especially when the evidence is almost certain to convict him, when he, Scanlon, knows that Joe isn’t the Green Hornet? It’s a dramatic minefield. Yet, the show never took advantage of the premise to set up any real logical drama based on it.

William Dozier desired, in order to contrast it from Batman, that The Green Hornet be done straight. There were no costumed villains. Each week, the Hornet and Kato went up against ordinary racketeers and mobsters. I agree with Dozier’s sensibilities on this, but it resulted in some repetitive plots. They usually went like this:

A crook comes up with a new weapon or gimmick and commits a series of robberies with it.

Britt Reid finds out about the new weapon/gimmick and, usually through D.A. Scanlon, learns who’s behind it.

As the Green Hornet, he beards the crook in his lair and cuts himself in on the crook’s profits. As the crook’s new “partner”, the Hornet demands to see the weapon/gimmick for himself.

The crook agrees, telling the Hornet to be at a certain place at a certain time, then after the Hornet and Kato leave, rigs a double-cross.

The Hornet and Kato see through the double-cross, outsmart and outfight the crook and his henchmen and leave them for Scanlon, the police, or Axford to pick up.

Tag scene in which Axford gripes to Britt Reid that it’s too bad that the police didn’t nab the Green Hornet, too. Reid and Casey exchange knowing smiles. The end.


About halfway through the season, the writers shook loose of the formula and brought in some fresh ideas. But the damage had already been done; the viewers had gotten bored.

The Green Hornet was an example of the kind of series that has always bugged me most. A bad show, one can just write off. But this was one of those shows that was adequate, but could have been so much better if someone had taken the time and effort.

Excellent overview, Commander. Much more thorough than the one from my guide to prime time television shows.
Interesting - I never saw the show, as a kid or an adult.  I recall that the Hornet and Kato turned up on a Batman, but I don't have a strong recollection of it. I seem to recall reading that Bruce Lee had a little fun teasing Burt Ward, threatening to let loose on him when he precieved Ward as being a little full of himself.

Great essay, as always, Commander! Compared to you, I fully admit to being an incompetent boob, but willing to learn! :-)

As I said, I only saw three episodes which were probably early ones based on your descriptions. I will watch the rest as I can so hopefully I will get a better perspective.

But from my first impressions, it was the absence of any emotional connection and the right up front repetitiveness to the Black Beauty's tricks and gimmicks that struck me.

While there was no origin story, as there was none on Batman as well, it would have been helpful to get some history of these people. Was it assumed that everyone was familar with it?

As for Kato's role being demeaning, growing up under the sheer power of Bruce Lee's persona, it just struck me how "wrong" it was to have him be anyone's servant! I agree with your reasonings but it would be like Denzel Washington or Will Smith being a rich white guy's butler!

"...it would have been helpful to get some history of these people. Was it assumed that everyone was familar with it?"

 

I've wondered about shows that made the transtion from radio to TV - were the TV shows considered "continuations" of the radio shows? 

 

I seem to recall reading that Bruce Lee had a little fun teasing Burt Ward

Common wisdom has it that only on TV could Burt Ward whup Bruce Lee's @$$.

While there was no origin story, as there was none on Batman as well... Was it assumed that everyone was familar with it?

I noticed that, too. Would that today's makers of superhero movies make the same assumption.

I've wondered about shows that made the transtion from radio to TV - were the TV shows considered "continuations" of the radio shows?

I think so, yes. Whereas certain radio episodes were later re-made for TV (I can think of specific examples for Lone Ranger, Dragnet, and perhaps others as well if I sat and thought about it a little more), I think they shared a common continuity. Jack Webb is the first actor who spings immediately to to mind as making the transition from radio to TV, but Clayton Moore succeeded Brace Beemer as as The Lone Ranger, George Reeves succeeded Bud Collyer as Superman, James Arness succeeded William Conrad as Matt Dillon, and so on.


Philip Portelli said:

As I said, I only saw three episodes which were probably early ones based on your descriptions. I will watch the rest as I can so hopefully I will get a better perspective.



Unfortunately, I don't think your opinion of the show will improve that much after seeing more episodes. As I said, midway through the season, the writers broke free of that confining formula and came up with some fresh approaches. The problem was that they handled the new ideas as superficially as they did the old formula. And the emotional vacuum remains. That makes the show frustrating to watch---again, because you know it wouldn't have taken much to make it "more better".




Philip Portelli said:

While there was no origin story, as there was none on Batman as well, it would have been helpful to get some history of these people. Was it assumed that everyone was familar with it?



I was lucky enough to stumble across the screen tests for the parts of the Green Hornet/Britt Reid and Miss Case. (To my surprise, a dear friend of mine, Lynn Borden, was one of the testees for the part of Casey. However, I can no longer find that clip of the screen tests on line.) The tests comprise two scenes which serve as, essentially, the pilot to The Green Hornet, and the first scene, in Reid's office has Britt relating how his father founded the Daily Sentinel and was framed by mobsters because of his relentless crusade against organised crime. Reid senior eventually died in prison.

While the scene doesn't establish a direct cause-and-effect between the injustice to Reid's father and Britt becoming the Green Hornet, the implication is crystal. I would imagine that this scene had probably been slated for inclusion in one of the aired episodes, but wound up being cut for time.




Philip Portelli said:

As for Kato's role being demeaning, growing up under the sheer power of Bruce Lee's persona, it just struck me how "wrong" it was to have him be anyone's servant! I agree with your reasonings but it would be like Denzel Washington or Will Smith being a rich white guy's butler!



Ah, now I take your point. I see what you mean. But remember, this was at the beginning of Bruce Lee's acting career, and it's inaccurate to gauge him in hindsight. If 'way back when, you had seen Danzel Washington or Will Smith play rich guys' butlers in their first acting rôles, would your reaction have been the same as it is to think of them doing it, now?


By the way, as soon as some art I need arrives in the mail, I'll be posting the answers to my Silver-Age quiz, but you should find my Deck Log Entry immediately after that interesting. I took an article I once wrote on the relationship between the Lone Ranger and the Green Hornet, dusted it off, and fleshed it out a bit.

Looking forward to it, Commander!

BTW, I read that Kato, who is Japanese, "suddenly" became Chinese or Filipino during WWII (instead of being banished like Mister Moto) only to be Japanese due to the Cold War.

Also, according to the Now Comics' version, the 60s Green Hornet was the nephew of the original Green Hornet and the Bruce Lee Kato was the son of the Keye Luke Kato.

As we stated with the Essential and Showcase books, some TV shows were not designed to be watched back-to-back. So what we see as repetition, the creators may not have saw it as such.

Green Hornet was not the only 1960's show bitten by the bad writing bug. In recent months I have watched episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and I Spy, two shows I loved as a kid, and can't believe how poorly written they are. U.N.C.L.E. in particular suffers from thread bare plots and often clumsy dialogue - and yet the show was HUGE in the mid-Sixties.

 

I don't believe I saw more than one or two episodes of the Green Hornet during its original run - it ran opposite The Wild Wild West on Friday nights and I chose Jim West and Artemus Gordon over GH and Kato every time.

 

I'm amazed to see you mention I Spy as a poorly written show. I have all of season one on DVD and several other episodes on VHS. With all that to choose from, I have yet to see a stinker. From interviews with Robert Culp (Agent Robinson), I know that the quality of the show was very important to him, Sheldon Leonard, and Bill Cosby.

 

Back to the subject at hand, I filled a six hour tape with Green Hornet episodes at my parents' house and I'll watch them with Alex when he's home after his surgery next week.

ITEM:  Commander, that analysis of Green Hornet was magnificent.  As always, your attention to detail and keen commentary set a standard that few can match, but that all can appreciate.  Excellent.

 

ITEM:  Burt Ward looked dreadful against Kato in that Batman episode.  Had it been a true crossover, it would have been a BUTT WHUPPIN' on the Green Hornet half of it.  I mean, it's funny to watch... Burt Ward makes a small move and Kato counters it three times and is ready to knock Robin's block off.  But then again...

 

ITEM:  Good lord, that Bruce Lee was beautiful!  Not necessarily physically attractive, but watching him fight - even choreographed fighting - was like a symphony for the eyes!  Just watching him walk across the room made me think of him moving in slow motion, no action wasted... one of the great reasons to watch Green Hornet, and the producers and Van Williams sure seemed to know it.

 

ITEM:  I loved the fact that while Batman was campy, and had to try to be funny as well as exciting... Green Hornet was straight as a line.  The Commander commented on it, and I'll say it; Batman was sappy.  I had to put up with the silliness watching it.  Van Williams played a great newspaper publisher - serious, intense, lighter when necessary, but obviously a professional.  And Kato was a real part, much more than, "Okay Bruce" or "You're right again Batman!"

 

ITEM:  Oh, and while the later episodes were undoubtedly superior to the initial ones... you can probably skip "Invasion from Outer Space."  Good villain concept done only adequately, female cheesecake thrown in... I dunno, for female cheesecake value... Britt Reid having a TV camera live feed in his den?  At least, one would think it would be be in... say... a TV studio.  I know, I know, another set means another scene, and costs more money.  Still... it wasn't so hot.

 

Perhaps all 26 episodes at once may be a bit much, but if you get a chance to see these again... I recommend 'em too.

 

x<]:o){

Cav, you may be right on I Spy, my sampling was very small, only the last half hour of two episodes that I caught on TV over the holidays. I'll stand by my comments on Man From U.N.C.L.E. though since I have the complete first season on DVD. I've watched two thirds of the set and the good episodes are few and far between.

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