- Originally published on the Bartitsu.org site on Thursday, 27th December 2018
Having previously shone a spotlight on John Steed, Adam Adamant and Harry Hart, it’s fitting that our periodic documentation of the use of umbrella and cane weapons by fictional heroes should now focus on Britt Reid – better known to generations of pop-culture aficionados as the Green Hornet.
The Hornet was created in 1936 for a WXYZ radio serial produced by George W. Trendle and Fran Striker. As such, the character narrowly pre-dated the costumed superhero tradition generally (though arguably) conceded to have begun with the first appearance of Superman in Action Comics #1, which was published in April of 1938. From the successful radio series, the Hornet flew straight into a movie serial, pulp novels, comic books and, most famously, a 1966-7 TV series starring Van Williams and Bruce Lee.
In common with many of his predecessors, Britt Reid was a wealthy businessman who assumed a masked persona to foil wrongdoers who considered themselves to be above the law. As far as the police, the general public or the criminal underworld were aware, however, the Green Hornet was, himself, a mob boss; Reid believed that the best way to dismantle crime was from within. He and his partner/bodyguard Kato employed a range of ingenious weapons and gadgets, most famously including the Black Beauty – a “rolling arsenal” in the guise of a tricked out sedan – and the “hornet sting”, an extendable sonic ray gun that could destroy locks or even blow doors off their hinges. The “sting” also occasionally doubled as a cane weapon in hand-to-hand combat.
The fight scenes in the Green Hornet TV series are typical of their vintage, apart from the unique and indelible presence of Bruce Lee, whose gung fu skills were first showcased for a mainstream audience as Kato. The Hornet’s own fighting style was the standard ’60s Hollywood concoction of cowboy haymakers and general roughhousing, except for when he happened to have the hornet sting in his hands at the moment the action kicked off. Under those circumstances, the masked hero tended (sensibly enough) to hold the weapon in an extended “bayonet grip”, using the shaft to parry or block incoming punches and retaliating with bar strikes; he also very occasionally used single-handed cane strikes to disarm enemies at close quarters.
Here’s a quick compilation of excerpts from the Green Hornet series mostly showcasing the hornet sting as a close-combat weapon:
… and yes, that was John Carradine as the villainous “Scarf” being choked out by Bruce Lee.
The tone of The Green Hornet series was much darker and more realistic than that of the contemporaneous Batman show, which was produced by the same company. It did not, however, achieve Batman’s pop-culture resonance and lasted only one season. The characters of the Green Hornet and Kato have lived on via sporadic comic book revivals and in the 2011 action-comedy feature film starring Seth Rogen and Jay Chou.