Britt Reid (Warren Hull), owner and publisher of the big-city newspaper the Sentinel, returns from a vacation in Hawaii to deal with a new crime syndicate that is engaging in espionage as well as backing various racketeering enterprises. As in his first clash with organized crime, Reid launches a two-pronged crusade against his enemies, battling them publicly through the Sentinel while carrying on a private war against them as the dreaded Green Hornet–who is believed to be a lone-wolf criminal by both racketeers and criminals.
The Green Hornet Strikes Again follows the basic plot structure of The Green Hornet very closely, but differs from its predecessor in several small but significant ways and is, overall, not as strong or distinctive a serial as Green Hornet was. Strikes Again is far from a weak chapterplay, however; its cast, its fast pace, and its well-characterized heroes make it consistently entertaining.
George Plympton, Basil Dickey, and Sherman Lowe provide Strikes Again’s screenplay (a Fred MacIsaac is also credited with “screen version,” whatever that might be). Just as in the first Hornet serial (which Plympton and Dickey both worked on), the narrative centers on the hero’s discovery and destruction of a succession of criminal enterprises–but with a key difference. Green Hornet allowed its hero to engage and defeat a whole series of subordinate racket bosses while searching for the boss behind them; this approach helped to mask the repetitive structure of that serial’s plot. In Strikes Again, on the other hand, the Hornet only brings down a few intermediary bosses, spending most of his time battling the big boss’s personal lieutenants, who supervise most of the gang’s schemes and continually survive to fight the Hornet another day. These recurring heavies not only make the repetitiveness of Strikes Again’s narrative more noticeable than that of Hornet, but also makes the hero’s crime-busting seem a little less crushingly effective this time out.
The ultimate downfall of the villains is also disappointing when compared to the memorable finale of the earlier serial; the Hornet plays a much a less pivotal role in the Syndicate’s undoing here. Nor are the villains themselves very memorable; while there are some potentially interesting characters among the Syndicate members in Strikes Again (particularly the sinister hit man Bordine), the heavies for the most part remain a realistic and low-key “mob” of interchangeable hoods. In honesty, the same could be said of the leading villains in the first Hornet serial–but then, that mob was not as over-exposed as this one, thanks to the varied succession of sub-bosses that occupied center stage throughout the earlier outing.
Though resolutely down-to-earth in their demeanor, Strikes Again’s heavies perpetrate some decidedly fanciful crimes. Like the gangsters in the first Hornet serial, they participate in many real-life criminal rackets (rigged lotteries, truck hijackings, car thefts), but they also dabble in the kind of villainy that can only be found in serials–kidnapping an heiress and replacing her with a double, developing a revolutionary anti-aircraft bomb for sale on the black market, selling an entire factory to foreign agents, or making an armed assault on a heavily guarded power plant. These wild capers lend welcome variety to the storyline, but they also make Strikes Again seem more generic than its predecessor, which was distinguished from the average serial by its almost exclusive emphasis on believable racketeering.
The depiction of the heroes in Strikes Again, on the other hand, matches that of the first Hornet outing in every successful particular; the many dialogue exchanges between Reid and his Sentinel staff are well-written and very appealing. Reid’s bodyguard Axford is still full of impulsive schemes for bringing down the Green Hornet or the racketeers–and is still being wryly referred as “man of action” by his colleagues–while Reid’s secretary Miss Case is still making witty and biting remarks in defense of the maligned Hornet. The savvy reporter Lowry replaces the Jenks character from the first serial and lends additional energy to the office scenes, being even more sarcastic and flippant than his breezy predecessor. Character bits like the Sentinel staff’s discussion of what to do with an unexpected windfall, Miss Case’s indignation over the “snippy” behavior of heiress Frances Grayson, Axford’s bragging about his new super-car that is sure to run down the Hornet’s vehicle, or Lowry’s delighted reaction to Axford’s embarrassing encounter with a former police colleague (to name but a few examples) immeasurably increase the serial’s entertainment value.
Despite plenty of dialogue scenes (both in the Sentinel offices and in the villains’ headquarters), Strikes Again never seems excessively talky; thanks to the writers and to directors Ford Beebe and John Rawlins, the characters are kept steadily on the move, with expository lines often being painlessly tossed off while Reid and his reporters are investigating suspicious locations or tailing suspects–or while the Hornet is zipping from place to place in his car the “Black Beauty.” Action scenes are mostly short and to the point, with the Hornet typically zapping enemies with his gas gun before they can start a serious hand-to-hand combat–but there are more than enough car chases, quick fights, and tense confrontations to keep things lively; Eddie Parker, Ken Terrell, and Chuck Hamilton, among others, handle the serial’s stuntwork (Terrell seems to double star Warren Hull in at least one scene). The fight in the powerhouse in Chapter Four and the Chapter Thirteen warehouse fight are two of the serial’s best action scenes, longer and more elaborate than most of the other fights in the serial; the battles in the back of two different speeding cars in Chapters Two and Fourteen are also noteworthy.
Strikes Again makes surprisingly little use of stock footage from the first Hornet serial; the scenes of the Hornet and his assistant Kato entering their secret garage and some of the shots of the Black Beauty racing through the night are the only major borrowings from the earlier outing; the first serial’s establishing shots of the Sentinel and the Reid mansion are also reused throughout, creating a nice visual continuity between the two serials (the use of the same exterior shot for the heavies’ office-building headquarters in both serials makes less internal sense). As in the first serial, Universal’s city-streets backlots and their country mansion set provide an effective backdrop for much of the serial’s action, with off-lot roads and hillsides in the San Fernando Valley furnishing some visual variety.
The serial has many well-staged and exciting cliffhanger sequences–particularly the car-off-the-drawbridge scene at the end of Chapter Two, the lab explosion in Chapter Six, the Chapter Ten truck crash, and the Chapter Twelve ending in which a car driven by the Hornet smashes through warehouse doors and runs right into a stockpile of explosives. The percentage of “the hero-simply-lived-through-the-catastrophe” cliffhanger resolutions, however, is very high even by Universal standards, and the Hornet’s repeated survivals of perils that almost invariably claim the lives of similarly-endangered crooks come to have an almost embarrassingly comic effect after a while; all serial fans know that the hero enjoys the special protection of the chapterplay gods (aka the writers), but there’s no need to make said protection as blatantly obvious as it often is here (the resolution to the lightning-strike cliffhanger providing the strongest example).
Warren Hull does a strong and charismatic job in the leading role played by Gordon Jones in the first serial, despite having a screen personality very different from his predecessor’s. While Jones was both jovially laid-back (when bantering with his staff) and gruffly determined (when investigating rackets), Hull handles both light-hearted and serious dialogue scenes with the same suave and briskly authoritative manner he brought to his turns as Mandrake and the Spider. However, Hull does significantly alter his demeanor when disguised as the Green Hornet; unlike Jones (who was dubbed by radio Hornet Al Hodge), he’s allowed to use his own voice in the part, and does an excellent job of sounding tough and threatening, barking out his lines with aggressiveness and steely assurance.
The very likable Keye Luke returns to the role of Kato, which is considerably enlarged this time around; his character participates in the action much more often and has far more dialogue than in the first serial. Although he still delivers his lines with an assumed accent, he largely eschews the aloof reserve he affected in Green Hornet, turning in a cheerful and frequently enthusiastic performance that looks forward to his affable wartime serial characterizations. He always maintains enough seriousness to make Kato’s supposed scientific genius believable, however; he does a particularly good job of intelligently and convincingly explaining the principles behind the villains’ anti-aircraft bomb.
Wade Boteler and Anne Nagel also return as Mike Axford and Leonore Case, both of them just as good as they were in the first serial. Boteler is again very endearing despite his character’s blundering impetuosity; he makes Axford seem so incorruptibly honest and so naïvely well-intentioned that it’s impossible to be irritated by his clumsy and generally inept attempts to fight criminals or interrogate suspects. As in her first turn as Miss Case, Nagel is intelligent and bitingly sarcastic in manner but always sympathetic, considerably enlivening the serial despite playing almost all of her scenes inside the Sentinel offices.
Eddie Acuff is perfectly cast as the cagy and rather cynical Lowry, a flippant but very shrewd newspaperman who is never taken off guard and can handle dangerous or delicate situations just as successfully as Britt Reid can (his behavior during his and Axford’s encounter with gun-runners and his interview of a gang boss in the final chapter are cases in point.) Acuff delivers Lowry’s cockily sardonic wisecracks so well that his characterization would be quite obnoxious–if he wasn’t equally good at conveying the character’s admirable competence.
Pierre Watkin, as the crime-syndicate kingpin Crogan, makes the best of a limited part; although he remains in his headquarters for the entire serial and never even meets one of the good guys until the final chapter, he issues his orders to his men with plenty of oily sarcasm and acerbic energy. Pudgy Arthur Loft, who played a sedentary secondary villain in the first Hornet serial, is much more active here, essentially serving as the principal action heavy; his self-satisfied smirk, nasty sneer, and raspy voice make him quite convincing as a mob boss. Jack Ellis, as Watkin’s lanky and rather seedy bodyguard, also looks and acts the part of an underworld type to perfection–as does stocky, wide-mouthed, and New-York-accented Joe Devlin, who plays the voluble recurring henchman Dolan.
James Seay is menacingly smug and cold-blooded as Bordine–the hitman who is assigned to kill Britt Reid in the opening chapter, is apparently killed in a fire while fighting the Hornet, and returns several episodes later, decidedly worse for wear and seeking revenge on the masked hero. Unfortunately, this promising subplot develops no further after Bordine’s return; despite the buildup given his character, Seay merely becomes a member of the henchman squad for the rest of the serial. The fourth principal member of that squad (the other three being Loft, Seay, and Devlin) is the gigantic and thuggish-looking William Hall–whose treacherous and dull-witted plant guard DeLuca is, like Seay’s character, given an individualized introduction only to recede into the background soon afterwards.
The perkily attractive Jeanne Kelly (later known as Jean Brooks over at RKO) and the beautiful Dorothy Lovett provide the serial with some welcome pulchritude–Kelly appearing in the first episode as a socialite who Reid meets in Hawaii and rescues during a ship fire, and Lovett playing a more prominent part in two separate later chapters as the (initially) flighty heiress Frances Grayson, who owns the vital-to-national-defense Aluminum Products Company and becomes the target of two different Syndicate plots; Lovett also takes a second role as the brassy actress hired to impersonate the Grayson girl. The serial also features–albeit very briefly–yet another attractive female performer: future leading lady Louise Currie, who pops up as Bordine’s hard-boiled girlfriend in Chapter One.
As I’ve already indicated, the incidental heavies generally receive short shrift in Strikes Again; for example, the elderly but tough and vulpine Charles Miller is given far too little screen time as crooked lawyer Otterson (a key cog in the plot against Frances Grayson) before being killed off. William Ruhl appears briefly as another villainous attorney, while Eddie Dunn, who played a racket boss in the first Hornet serial, does similar duty here but enjoys less screen time than in the earlier outing. Silky-voiced Jay Michael–a radio actor who frequently worked on the Green Hornet radio show–fares the best of the supporting villains, turning in a vivid performance as the slimy and confident gangster Foranti; he gets to make a dramatic entrance at the Sentinel offices, stands up to the Hornet much more defiantly than the other heavies, and ultimately leaves us wishing we’d seen more of his character.
William Forrest is good as the slick but increasingly nervous Harper, the corrupt editor who temporarily controls the Sentinel for the Syndicate; Pat O’Malley appears as reliable managing editor Gunnigan (absent much of the serial with a broken leg) towards the end. Harry Cording and C. Montague Shaw are wasted in bits as a crooked construction boss and a venal scientist, while Richard Kipling overacts wildly as Shaw’s harried associate. Walter Sande, Forrest Taylor, John Merton, Eddie Dew, Harry Strang, Jack Perrin, Phill Warren, Eddie Parker, Jason Robards Sr., and Bob Kortman all play small henchman roles in different episodes, while Roy Barcroft, Reed Howes, and Lane Chandler pop up briefly as policemen (also in different episodes). Robert Barron is a shady nightclub owner forced into assisting the Syndicate’s car-stealing racket, John Holland has one scene as a foreign agent, Karl Hackett (as in the first Hornet serial) plays a murdered whistleblower, and Pierce Lyden (concealed behind aviator’s goggles throughout) makes periodic appearances as the Syndicate’s pilot.
James Blaine pops up as a corrupt plant owner, with Frank Ellis and Ray Teal as two of his security guards. Philo McCullough, Joe McGuinn, and Ethan Laidlaw are guards at other plants, Stephen Chase is a victimized builder, Paul McVey the concerned chairman of the Aluminum Products company, Irving Mitchell a nervous front man for Foranti, Joseph Forte a butler, Frank Hoose a venerable-looking but crooked warehouse owner, and Al Bridge the captain of an endangered liner in the first episode. Nestor Paiva also pops up in the first chapter as the murderous beachcomber who assists Bordine’s attempt on Reid’s life in Hawaii. The actors playing the suave loan shark Cain and the likably boisterous wildcatter Fulton are not credited and are unfamiliar to me–but their unfamiliarity, and their polished voices, lead me to suspect that both of them (like Jay Michael) are radio actors. Finally, two future “names” appear in bit parts–Richard Travis (a short-lived leading man at Warner Brothers in the early 1940s) as a waiter in Chapter Twelve, and the much better-known Barry Sullivan as a henchman to Eddie Dunn’s racketeer in Chapter Two.
The Hornet’s “Flight of the Bumblebee” theme music is retained from the first serial, and once again makes a good accompaniment to the hero’s swift nocturnal raids. There are plenty of other classical borrowings in Strikes Again’s score, chief among them the “Storm” portion of the William Tell Overture (which appropriately underscores the catastrophic cliffhanger endings) and portions of Schubert’s “Unfinished Symphony.”
Although the minor flaws enumerated above keep The Green Hornet Strikes Again from being quite as good as The Green Hornet, Strikes Again is still a solid serial. Like its predecessor, it will never enjoy great popularity among serial buffs due to its lack of fantastic elements, but–again like its predecessor–it’s enjoyable, well-made, and quite worthwhile.