By G. Michael Dobbs
In this edition of the DVD review column, a look at the "real" Green Hornet and a boxed set of some of the most typical examples of "drive-in" movies ever made.
Regular readers of this column might recall my utter distain for the recent big budget re-make of the venerable crime-fighting character that saw success in radio, comic books and, to a lesser extent, television.
The Seth Rogen comedy completely missed the mark.
The enterprising people at VCI Entertainment, a company that specializes in releasing older films, came out with their own feature film to capitalize on the publicity generated by the new version of the Hornet and, for me, it was a far more satisfying experience.
Universal Pictures made two Green Hornet serials the first in 1940 and the second in 1941 and this film has been edited from the first serial. Cutting down serials, which can run longer than three hours, is nothing new. Serial producers undertook the practice in the 1930s to offer exhibitors different options.
Editing down a three-hour serial meant losing some of the many intricate sub-plots a typical serial would have with the goal of maintaining the basic story and lead characters. This "new" Green Hornet feature is quite watchable, if you're like me and like serials to begin with.
Although a part of the movie-going experience from the early silent days to 1956, serials did not always feature the best performances or production values. The first Green Hornet serial, the source for this feature, starred Gordon Jones as the dashing newspaper publisher Britt Reid, whose alter-ego the Green Hornet fights crime. Jones was a busy performer in the 1940s and '50s usually with comedy roles, but he's not bad as the hero here. The great Chinese American character actor Keye Luke is Kato, the brains in the operation who has developed the Hornet's car and his signature gas gun.
Kato even gets into the action with a skillful karate chop.
Sure it's fanciful and a bit cheesy at times as most serials were, but I found it to be a lot of fun.
Also on the DVD are two uncut chapters of the serial to give you an idea of the structure and selling points of this type of film. Would the Hornet escape from the trap laid by the racketeers? Back then you would have had to come back next week to find out. Now you just press a button to watch the next chapter.
Independent filmmakers who beat the odds by not only making a film not an easy proposition but also carving out a little niche for themselves have always fascinated me.
The late Andy Sidaris was a highly successful television director who developed the way football games were photographed for television. He wanted another challenge and began directing movies, but didn't hit his stride until 1985 with "Malibu Express," a action picture featuring Darby Hinton as a private detective involved in a case with car and helicopter chases, guns and topless women.
With the success of this film, Sidaris began a string of action films that became known for beautiful settings many of his films were shot in Hawaii and casts that featured hunky guys, Playboy Playmates and Penthouse Pets.
Thanks to the formula's popularity and deals for widespread distribution, his made-for-video films became fixtures at corner video stores remember those?
This collection features 12 of his films with the last one being "Return to Savage Beach," shot in 1998. By then, Sidaris had stopped trying to make his films with any serious intent and these films were parodies of themselves. He clearly understood the silly nature of what he was doing. They still found an audience, though.
Were they any good? Well, that depends on your taste and tolerance for paper-thin spy and crime plots written to expose as much female skin as possible without being classified as pornography. If you're willing to check your political correctness and expectations at the door, you might enjoy these films.