‘The Green Hornet’ still carries a sting

In a recent blog item about “The Lone Ranger,” I noted the relationship between that radio (and later TV and movie) vigilante and “The Green Hornet.” It’s the kind of geeky stuff I just can’t get enough of.

So I thought I would return to the subject of “The Green Hornet,” one of the coolest masked vigilantes this side of Gotham City.

Nostalgia channel MeTV had a mini-marathon of the 1966 “Green Hornet” series tonight, so seeing a couple of  episodes of the show prompted me to mention a few notable elements of the series.

The Green Hornet and Kato were outlaws. This aspect of the show was way ahead of its time. Sure, there was a random episode or two of the campy “Batman” series in which the Penguin or somebody framed Batman as a bad guy. But “The Green Hornet” was considered a criminal by the police and public. Of course he was a good guy, but he shared a bad PR agent with Spider-man.

The show’s opening theme was the coolest. Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee” was an inspired choice for theme, and cool jazzman Al Hirt performed a blisteringly hot version. The theme was so cool that Quentin Tarantino used it in “Kill Bill” decades later.

The show wasn’t campy. “Batman,” by the same producer, was a huge hit but still leaves a sour taste in some fans’ mouths because of its campy “Biff! Pow! Only cross the street when you have a walk signal” feel. “The Green Hornet” wasn’t campy or silly. It was a straight tale of cool good guys busting mobsters.

Bruce Lee. Van Williams might have starred as newspaper publisher Britt Reid and the Green Hornet, but Lee — soon to become an international star — was frosty cool as Kato, the Hornet’s sidekick and chauffeur.

Martial arts. Sure, the show wasn’t as accomplished in showcasing the prowess of Lee and his fists of fury as modern-day series would be. Fight choreography back then just wasn’t as elaborate as it is today. But there’s no mistaking Lee’s skills.

Newspaper love. Reid was the publisher of a Los Angeles newspaper. While his vigilante activities might have been a little too participatory for journalism purists, Reid’s fearless crime-busting was something to which budding reporters like me could aspire. Besides, how many shows besides this one and “Lou Grant” routinely took place in a newspaper office, with shots of papers running through presses?

“The Green Hornet” lasted only one season, but the show is still watchable today, maybe even more so than “Batman.”

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