The Green Hornet
Season 1, Episodes 18 and 19: “Corpse of the Year” Parts One and Two
Original airdate: Jan. 13, 1967 and Jan. 27, 1967
Sidant: One of the fantastic aspects of superheroes on television is the opportunity to explore some of the lesser-known characters over time. We began our journey with iconic figures like Superman and Batman, who are true A-listers.
However, we’re now delving into characters whose origins didn’t begin on the comic book pages but were later adapted for the small screen.
The Green Hornet wasn’t originally a creation of the comic book world; instead, he made his debut on the radio in the mid-1930s and later made appearances in a few film serials shortly thereafter.
Subsequently, there were some competing comics, leading to the eventual debut on ABC in the late 1960s.
While the radio series can be considered a success, it wasn’t a runaway hit. When Van Williams assumed the titular role and a young Bruce Lee joined him as the sidekick Kato, American audiences weren’t eagerly demanding more Green Hornet content.
In fact, the fact that this TV show only lasted for a year and that it took until 2011 for another (largely unsuccessful) film adaptation to emerge indicates that there was never a strong demand for additional Green Hornet content.
I can somewhat grasp this perspective, but I’m also slightly taken aback. “Corpse of the Year” proves to be astonishingly enjoyable, barring a few elements that reflect its context from that period.
The two-part structure provides ample room for the story to unfold more comprehensively than a typical episode.
This installment boasts a substantial number of plot twists and turns, which, while not entirely unexpected, remain remarkably effective.
Notably, this show emerged around the same time as the Adam West rendition of Batman, yet the Green Hornet and Kato made a later guest appearance in Gotham, revealing a tonal difference.
Green Hornet is a considerably darker and grittier series where characters meet untimely ends, and vehicles careen off cliffs in fiery spectacles. The plot is rife with clever feints and deceptions, maintaining palpable stakes throughout.
Furthermore, it’s worth mentioning that this show’s budget is discernible on the screen.
At times, the transitions between night and day and the sense of time can be a bit perplexing, but these nuances hardly detract from the overall experience.
“Corpse of the Year” incorporates some commendable exterior shots, primarily featuring the car, which are quite serviceable. Although it lacks the same stylish flair as Batman, there’s a sleek and dark aesthetic that is unexpectedly impressive.
Notably, Green Hornet doesn’t possess any special abilities that would demand high production costs (like Superman) or boast visually striking costumes and hideouts (like Batman).
The car suffices, and young Bruce Lee’s portrayal is as formidable and straightforward as one might anticipate, but it’s gratifying to see that some resources were allocated to a set piece or two.
However, it’s evident that this isn’t receiving top-tier treatment.
Simran: The Green Hornet has never quite reached the upper echelons of superhero shows or franchises.
I can comprehend why, given that the “hero” is a wealthy newspaper tycoon who relies on a chauffeur, disguised as a sidekick, to drive him around in the super car from one scene to another.
It’s challenging to rally behind a character who doesn’t engage in many impressive feats but simply dons a mask and solves crimes with limited special abilities.
This sentiment is particularly relevant in this episode, where the central mystery revolves around the identity of an impersonator trying to gain an advantage in the newspaper industry by posing as our hero.
And then, as soon as people start meeting untimely fates, things take a thrilling turn. It might sound morbid, but it elevates the entertainment factor of this two-part narrative by approximately 300%.
The introduction of danger injects sudden excitement, intrigue, and suspense into the storyline.
The focus shifts from the corporate espionage aspect (which might captivate some but doesn’t typically define a superhero story) to a web of betrayal and peril.
Elements like romance, hidden motives, enigmatic phone calls, and more imbue The Green Hornet with a film noir ambiance on the small screen.
As the episode progresses, it became more enjoyable than I initially anticipated. It certainly doesn’t hurt that most, if not all, of the central characters and villains are attractive, affluent, and impeccably dressed individuals.
As we’ve witnessed through soap operas and The WB over the years, watching good-looking people getting entangled in escapades can entertain just about anyone.
When you add a masked vigilante and a sleek ride to the mix, it’s a winning formula.
Nikita: This show doesn’t stray too far from Batman in terms of its execution, and this duality both serves as its strength and its weakness.
The series encourages you not to take the plot too seriously, which, akin to Batman, allows for an enjoyable experience (the fight choreography alone deserves applause).
However, the challenge lies in the fact that while Batman‘s storylines often venture far beyond what could be deemed as humanly possible, rendering them fun, The Green Hornet‘s stakes are more grounded in reality.
Disrupting a newspaper’s delivery operations is a significant disruption, especially in the context of 1966 when newspapers were a primary news source, and the inclusion of murders in the episode only intensifies the seriousness of the situation.
Whitney, you point out the presence of film noir elements in the show, a sentiment I also share.
However, the exaggerated music, masks, and interstitial cuts (such as a hornet’s head and the word “ABSCOND!”) draw directly from Batman‘s campy style.
It’s somewhat reminiscent of our beloved yet short-lived ally, THE CAPE: it strives to be taken seriously, but there’s just too much content that falls into the overtly campy or derisive category for comic book enthusiasts to truly grant it any degree of seriousness. (In film noir, there’s typically an anti-heroic figure, and I never quite got that vibe from Rick or Kato.)
Had I not known that this show was somehow tied to comic books, I could envision it working more effectively.
However, it appears to be torn between emulating “Hart to Hart” and “Batman.” I genuinely wished I could have liked it more, but the execution vacillates between characters lurking in dark corners, awaiting the entrance of others, and masked individuals battling various forms of crime.
Many other comic book-themed shows successfully strike a balance or focus on excelling in a particular aspect, making it their guiding principle.
Regrettably, The Green Hornet sways too erratically between these extremes without a discernible pattern.
While sound storytelling is appreciated (“Corpse of the Year” can be considered a bit of a classic, with someone impersonating the vigilante to achieve a specific goal, and I concur with Cory that the extended runtime provides some breathing space), in the long run, I suspect this show might wear on me rather than winning me over.
Additionally, have you had the chance to watch the first season of Arrow? Who needs the Green Hornet when we’ve got GREEN ARROW?! I’ve just greened myself.
Reesav: It’s almost inevitable to draw comparisons between Batman and The Green Hornet, given their close proximity in terms of release, and when I stack the two against each other, I believe the latter emerges as the superior option.
As much as I enjoyed watching and discussing Batman last week, I must acknowledge that something felt amiss for me.
While I appreciate over-the-top villainy and clever wordplay as much as the next critic, I think the show may have ventured a bit too far into the realm of goofiness, preventing me from offering it a resounding endorsement.
I prefer a show that can strike a balance, generating excitement while also grounding us in the characters, making us emotionally invest in their journeys while entertaining us.
In this regard, I believe The Green Hornet struck a far better balance between the two realms of the superhero genre.
This is a show that unmistakably draws from its roots in the world of radio serials, designed to keep the narrative in constant motion at a brisk pace.
It often felt as though there was always a timely phone call when Reid needed that nudge to advance his investigation.
The driving force behind this storytelling structure is Al Hirt’s jazz trumpet, which propels the score forward in tandem with the plot.
I never found myself growing bored, and I considered the show to be quite visually appealing, particularly in the fight sequences and the car chases involving the Black Beauty.
Van Williams presented a dependable, square-jawed hero with a concealed identity, reminiscent of the Bruce Wayne/Clark Kent archetype.
The supporting cast all brought their unique qualities to the table, with Bruce Lee shining when he was allowed to break free from the subservient role and showcase his combat prowess.
Although the fight scene was somewhat hindered by the fact that they were taking on a group of elderly security personnel, it remained engaging.
Moreover, I’m personally drawn to storylines centered around the realm of journalism. It almost feels quaint in today’s world that a conflict between two rival newspapers could lead to murder and chaos on the streets of Los Angeles.
Yet, in the era before cable news and the internet, when newspapers reigned as the primary source of information, it makes perfect sense that such high stakes could exist.
I believe the writers did an admirable job of concealing the true culprits and unfolding the story in a satisfying manner.
The revelation that Simon had constructed the fake Black Beauty himself as a complex party trick added an intriguing twist to the conspiracy, showcasing its partially improvised nature.
Simultaneously, it managed to strike a delicate balance, offering a level of detachment from the somber realism that seems to draw criticism in today’s comic book movies (at least if we consider the reviews of “Man of Steel“).
It never compromised its entertainment value.
I found myself chuckling quite often, particularly at the inclusion of the Pony Club, a clever spin on the Playboy Club (though not as unintentionally comical as NBC’s “The Playboy Club“), and the blustery reporter Mike Axford, who repeatedly exclaimed that the Green Hornet had gone “too far!”.
Despite the somewhat artificial feel of many exterior scenes, seemingly shot on a studio backlot with the repetition of the same streets and a seemingly ‘day-and-night’ shooting approach that brought to mind the Mystery Science Theater 3000 line “It appears to be daytime now!”—it all contributed to the appropriate atmosphere for this style of action.
I wouldn’t label it as something extraordinary, but among the shows we’ve watched so far, I think I favored this one the most.
Partly because it features a superhero I haven’t been exposed to extensively, preventing me from growing weary of the character, and partly because it’s a series that effectively maintains the fantastical elements of the genre while keeping a reasonable level of grounding.
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