January 3rd, 2011

The Green Hornet tackles John Carradine

"Alias, the Scarf" (Feb 24, 1967)



SPOILERS AHEAD
Just so you know...

A neat little change of pace of THE GREEN HORNET, as our heroes tackle a classic 'wax museum' case involving a legendary serial killer. The Scarf was evidently an urbane, sophisticated sort of maniac, dressed in evening wear and using a white scarf as a garrotte for his murders. More than twenty years earlier, he abruptly disappeared, never caught and never identified.

His image is a prominent exhibit at a local wax museum featuring other notorious killers, but all the attention lately has been going to the new addition of replicas of the Green Hornet and his masked accomplice (it's interesting to note that every detail of their outfits is accurate; the Kato figure even is holding up one of those wasp-shaped darts). James Rancourt, the cranky old co-owner of the wax museum, praises the Scarf when giving his guided tours but grudgingly admits that the Hornet is (for now) the subject of more public interest.

After the wax museum closes, the co-owner is mudding around in the backroom when he is suddenly throttled from behind by a man using a white scarf (gasp!). We see two legs walk rather stiffly away from the crime, past the empty spot where the Scarf's figure stood. Say... you don't think....?

As a series of new Scarf killings throw the city into a panic, Britt Reid investigates. He and Kato do some research and find that the Scarf used to socialize after his killings by visiting a burlesque queen called Vena to gloat, bringing champagne and caviar. The Green Hornet looks up the now slightly ripe stripper, and convinces her to set a trap for the Scarf. (She claims she doesn't believe her admirer had anything to do with the crimes and wants to prove this masked man wrong.) So, Britt Reid calls Rancourt to the DAILY SENTINEL and offers a thousand dollars to the man for writing an article about the Scarf. As Rancourt hurries to the wax museum to get his journal, the trap is set.

James Rancourt is played by John Carradine, and I think we all know right away that (of course) he IS the Scarf. What the heck, the very first scene shows him standing next to the wax figure clearly modelled on him. (In fact, it rather looks the way he did in BLUEBEARD, with mustache and goatee and huge bags under his eyes.) It's always a treat to see Carradine bring his deep voice and mobile expressions to any show. Van Williams was never an especially distinguished actor but he was a good solid craftsman at his trade, and he handles himself well against Carradine's broad strokes. The actress who plays Vena, though, is clumsy and obvious enough to make your realize just how competent most TV actors actually are.)

In the big showdown, I was half-expecting to see the Scarf stalking the Hornet and Kato through murky back streets. Nope. As the madman starts to choke Vena ("I can't stand the clumsy way you deliver your lines!"), our boys jump down from where they have been standing in for their wax replicas. It's a four-second fight as the Hornet blocks the white scarf with the extended Sting, and Kato gets the killer in a half-nelson. More realistic than having a sixty-something John Carradine slug it out with a strapping young Van Williams, let alone a twenty-six-year-old Bruce Lee.

There are quite a few nice touches to this episode. It's implied that the murderer actually is the wax figure animated somehow (a witness says his face is glossy.) For some reason, heavy fog rolls in whenever the Scarf goes out to kill. (Actually, the series in general could have used a lot more fog and moody lighting.) Sneaking around the museum, the Hornet finds blood on the scarf of the wax figures and that the clothes are damp.

Rancourt thinks of the wax figure as the real Scarf and he himself as only "the vessel of his immortality." His jealousy of the Green Hornet's new infamy keeps popping up, including a wonderfully sour grimace as he looks at the poster outside the museum advertising the new exhibits. Also, he seems to end up convinced that he was attacked and subdued in the museum by the wax figures of the Green Hornet and Kato, rather than the genuine crimefighters, a good sign he will be able to try an insanity plea.

Britt Reid does a decent job investigating the crimes, searching the wax museum and finding Rancourt's journal of Scarf activities, which he uses to bait the trap. He also badgers Vena into going along with the plan. Kato doesn't get to show any gung fu against opponents, although he does execute a nice jumping kick that slams a locked door open. He has a remarkably vague and unconvincing thought about the Scarf, "There are many legendary figures of evil in the Orient. Some say they are driven back into action by their own malevolence" (Lee looks like he doesn't enjoy saying this line.)

STOP THE PRESSES Why didn't someone tell me? On January 11th, the SyFy (ick) Channel will be running a GREEN HORNET marathon. Unfortunately, I'm certain they will have big honking chunks cut out of them to make room for more commercials and I'd bet a pint of blood it will be Bruce Lee's fight scenes that get sliced out. Still, you never know...