APRIL MOVIE THON 2: The Green Hornet (1940)

April 2: Forgotten Heroes — Share a superhero movie that no one knows but you.

The Green Hornet started as a radio show on January 31, 1936 on WXYZ, the same Detroit station that aired Challenge of the Yukon and The Lone Ranger, a show that this is connected to, as The Green Hornet is newspaperman Britt Reid, the son of Dan Reid Jr., who is the nephew of the Lone Ranger.

It was so successful that starting on April 12, 1938, it was syndicated by the Mutual Broadcasting System radio network, and then NBC Blue and its successors, the Blue Network and ABC. The show ran the whole way until September 8, 1950 and then came back for a short run from September 10 to December 5, 1952.

Created by George W. Trendle and Fran Striker, with input from radio director James Jewell, The Green Hornet was so popular that he got this thirteen-episode serial, which was followed by a fifteen-episode sequel, The Green Hornet Strikes Again!

Britt Reid (Gordon Jones with Al Hodge as the voice of the Green Hornet; he also did the voice on the radio) is the publisher of The Sentinel newspaper by day and The Green Hornet by night, along with his Korean valet — and also the inventor of his Black Beauty car and gas gun — Kato. For this serial, Kato would be no longer Japanese, due to World War II, and is instead a Korean man that Britt saved from the Japanese. He’s played by Keye Luke, who was Charlie Chan’s number one son and in everything from Kung Fu to Gremlins.

Directed by Ford Beebe (The Invisible Man ReturnsFlash Gordon Conquers the Universe) and Ray Taylor (Outlaw CountryFrontier Revenge) and written by George H. Plympton (Blackhawk: Fearless Champion of Freedom), Basil Dickey (The Crimson Ghost) and Morrison Wood, this serial finds the Green Hornet and Kato stopping faulty bridge and tunnel construction, insurance fraud, bus and truck sabotage, dry cleaning and zoo extortion, election fraud, gun running and the attempted bombing of the offices of The Sentinel, all commanded by the evil mastermind known as The Chief.

It’s really interesting to see this character before the TV show that most discovered him from, but I’ve always loved the radio show and this even gets the buzzing noise and theme song right.

The Green Hornet is available from VCI on blu ray. It comes with liner notes by author Martin Grams Jr., two radio episodes of the show, an audio piece by Clifford Weimer and a photo gallery. You can get it from MVD.

MILL CREEK THRILLERS FROM THE VAULT: The Man With Nine Lives (1940)

Torn from the headlines! Both this movie and The Man They Could Not Hang on Dr. Robert Cornish, a University of California professor who brought a dog. named Lazarus back to life. After that became a big sttory, the university kicked out Cornish, who played himself  in the 1935 film Life Returns. Following a preview screening of the film, Universal pulled the film from general release and said that it was a “freak picture, not suitable for the regular Universal program.” In 1937, director Eugene Frenke won a lawsuit and got his film back, re-releasing it through Scienart Pictures a year later.

Dr. Tim Mason (Roger Pryor) is trying to convince his bosses that he can use cold therapy to heal patients, but they disbar him. He and his nurse Judith Blair (Jo Ann Sayers) travel to the abandoned home of the man who inspired him, Dr. Leon Kravaal (Boris Karloff), a genius who has been missing for more than a decade. That’s becaue he and five other men — one already dead — have been frozen all that time. Kravaal awakens and must figure out how to recreate the method he used to freeze everyone, even if that means experimenting on and killing everyone else.

Like all of Karloff’s mad doctor movies of this era, this was directed by Nick Grinde from a script by Karl Brown and Harold Shumate. With a tag like “He kills in the name of science…Tombs of ice for the living…Chambers of horror for the dead!,” I can see why audiences kept coming to these films. It’s also one of the few Hayes Code movies to allow the word cancer.

Mill Creek’s Thrillers from the Vault set also includes The Black Room, The Man They Could Not Hang, Before I Hang, The Boogie Man Will Get You, The Devil Commands, The Return of the Vampire and Five. There’s also a documentary, Madness and Mayhem: Horror in the 30s and 40s. You can get it from Deep Discount.

MILL CREEK THRILLERS FROM THE VAULT: Before I Hang (1940)

Another in the series of mad scientist movies starring Boris Karloff for Columbia, this was directed by Nick Grinde and written by Robert Hardy Andrews.

Karloff is Dr. John Garth and he’s on trial for mercy killing a friend, predating the right to die controversy by decades. He had been trying to invent a cure for aging but it was too late to give it to the patient. He asks the judge to allow him to live as he’s close to this medication, but he is due to be hung in three weeks. Yet with support from the warden (Ben Taggart) and Dr. Ralph Howard (Edward Van Sloan), he is able to take the blood of an executed murderer and turn it into a serum that reverses the effects of aging just in time to be saved from the gallows.

If you’re wondering, “Will that killer’s blood make Dr. Garth a killer?” you don’t have to wait all that long to find out. He kills Dr. Howard and a fellow prisoner, which looks like he was the hero, and he’s soon released to live with his daughter Martha (Evelyn Keyes).

Dr. Garth then tries to convince each of his elderly friends to let him help them escape the ravages of age. When they refuse, his evil blood takes over and he kills them. Convinced that he could even kill Martha, he runs back to the prison and is killed trying to get back inside, in effect killing himself to protect his friends and daughter.

There are nearly five similar movies in a year starring Karloff as a scientist driven to murder. I’d watch them all and more.

Mill Creek’s Thrillers from the Vault set also includes The Black Room, The Man They Could Not Hang, The Man With Nine Lives, The Boogie Man Will Get You, The Devil Commands, The Return of the Vampire and Five. There’s also a documentary, Madness and Mayhem: Horror in the 30s and 40s. You can get it from Deep Discount.

MILL CREEK NIGHTMARE WORLDS: Men with Steel Faces (1940)

Men with Steel Faces is an edited movie version of the serial Phantom Empire, which stars Gene Autry as — who else? — Gene Autry, a singing cowboy who also has a Radio Ranch where he broadcasts a show every day and also has a dude ranch for kids where Frankie (Frankie Darro) and Betsy Baxter (Betsy King Ross lead the Junior Thunder Riders.

All three of them are kidnapped by soldiers from the advanced underground empire of Murania — justified and ancient — who have laser guns, robots and an evil queen named Queen Tika. Meanwhile, Professor Beetson and his gang are trying to steal all of the riches of Murania and double meanwhile, there’s a rebellion looking to overthrow the evil empire.

This serial went on to inspire the NBC series Cliffhangers!, which had a sequence called The Secret Empire. There’s also the Fred Olen Ray movie The Phantom Empire which is directly inspired by this, as are the legends of the Shavers*, which you can learn more about in the movie Beyond Lemuria. Other movies that have an under the world army include The Lost City, which pretty much outright steals from this serial and The Mole People.

I love the idea of cowboys interacting with futuristic science fiction and celebrate any movie that makes it happen again, even poor ones like Cowboys vs. Aliens.

*The Shaver Mystery was created — or discovered — by factory worker Richard Shaver who was able to hear within the center of the Earth and wrote to the magazine Amazing Stories and suddenly, that entire pulp was all about creatures and civilizations that existed within the Earth that are quite a bit like Phantom Empire. Then again, this movie’s writer Wallace MacDonald got the idea for this story when he was getting gas at the dentist.

MILL CREEK NIGHTMARE WORLDS: Purple Death from Outer Space (1940, 1956)

Directed by Ford Beebe — who also made a Buck Rodgers serial — and Ray Taylor — who was the director of The Spider’s Web — is the first part of the serial Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe and Perils from the Planet Mongo completes the storyline. While most movie serials were made for children, the Flash Gordon series connected with adults and became these actual films. This is the third of the serials and was also adapted into three syndicated films called Space Soldiers, Space Soldiers’ Trip to Mars and Space Soldiers Conquer the Universe, given that title as there was a Flash Gordon TV series at the time and they didn’t want to take away from it. There’s also another version released in the 70s called Space Soldiers Conquer the Universe.

The Purple Death is killing people, leaving behind a purple spot on the victims’ foreheads. Flash Gordon discovers that Ming the Merciless is behind the plague when he finds one of Ming’s spaceships spreading “Death Dust.” Our hero goes off to save every one of us along with Dale Arden, Dr. Alexis Zarkov and Prince Barin.

Taking sets and ideas from Buck Rodgers as well as footage from the German movie White Hell of Pitz Palu, this is still a great looking movie even eighty years later. As a kid, I would stay awake until four in the morning on Sundays, as WTAE in Pittsburgh would show thirty minutes of these old serials. It was just when my grandfather would get home from the mill and I was always so excited to watch these with him, then sleep in his bed while he told me about seeing then in the theater. A magical memory I’ll forever cherish.