Beginning in 1937 with Jungle Menace, Columbia Studios spent nearly 20 years grinding out some of the finest and best regarded serials. These chapterplays, generally running 12 to 15 episodes, would unspool in theaters a chapter a week, usually accompanying weekend kiddie matinees. Known for their extremely pulpy storylines, endless fistfights and gunplay, as well as their outré villains (usually costumed, or at least masked) and silly sci-fi devices, these serials thrilled generations of youngsters.
Such serials are best remembered for the way each segment would end with the heroes in some seemingly impossible-to-escape death trap. Kids were thus encouraged to return the following week to see how the protagonists could have possibly evaded their impending demise. Cheating in these situations was rampant, which itself actually became a plot device in Stephen King’s novel Misery. The laziest technique would be to insert a new shot of the heroes (say) jumping out their car doors just before their vehicle plummeted over a cliff. With no replay possible, they hoped the audience would forget how the week earlier it had been established that the car doors had been welded shut.
All sorts of square-jawed (not to mention just plan square) heroes populated these dealies, often garden variety cops, military officers, federal agents or just self-styled adventurers. Columbia, however, quickly focused on the then nascent superhero. This began with only their third serial, The Spider’s Web. This featured an extremely watered down version of the pulp hero The Spider, who was basically a massively more homicidal version of The Shadow (in the magazines, if not in the serial).
The reception to this initial effort must have been good, because the studio was soon alternating the more prosaic jungle and seagoing adventures with further superhero shenanigans. Their very next chapterplay featured Mandrake the Magician. As the years went along, the studio’s offerings served up such characters as Terry (of “and the Pirates” fame), a return visit from The Spider, Captain Midnight, the first live-action screen appearances of both Batman and Superman (separately, sadly), The Phantom and TV’s Captain Video. Oddly, though, the most famous superhero serial was made by Republic. Indeed, The Adventures of Captain Marvel is probably the consensus choice for the finest serial ever.
The Green Archer, taken from a book previously turned into a silent serial from Pathé back in 1925, was the twelfth Columbia serial. Having just read the source novel in preparation for this review—my first direct Edgar Wallace experience, not counting his screenplay for King Kong—I can pretty much guarantee going in that my current object of inquiry is going to stray pretty severely from its literary roots.
Amusingly, the myriad cheapie German Krimis of the ‘60s, while amping up the campy crazy factor—although not as much as the uninitiated might suppose—hew closer to at least this example of Wallace’s work. In sum, they basically offer large casts of characters (allowing for many prospective victims) engaging in a myriad of Elliptical yet Ominous Conversations, much skulking around involving one character following or spying upon another, and insane conspiracies and revenge plots. These stews were then further spiced with periodic acts of mayhem.
In Wallace’s The Green Archer, however, I found to my surprise that such carnage was fairly limited. This is especially true in the first half of a book, which sees but one (so to speak) offscreen murder, along with the slaying of a dog. Admittedly, the latter half of the book offers further deaths, kidnappings, dramatic rescues and escapes, a pretty melodramatic imprisonment plot and other bits of rococo excitement. However, there’s no way we’re going to go seven or eight serial chapters out of 15 (!) without a lot more dastardly action that than. Not to mention the obligatory undercranked fisticuffs, shootouts and death traps, which the book is fairly skimpy on.
And although Wallace’s prose exhibits both the strengths and weaknesses of pulp writing—propulsive narrative drive and excitement on one hand, oft-ridiculous plot contrivance and paper-thin characterizations on the other—in The Green Archer he does create a few characters who proved more nuanced than I expected, and who even displayed a genuine compassion not much to be found in the German krimis. One of these characters is a barely reformed crook who still has larcenous impulses. I have to wonder if an American serial made in 1940 is going to feature such a character without feeling it has to punish him for his previous crimes.
Then there’s the actual character of the Green Archer, a lone, mysterious figure seldom seen and presented at least for much of the novel as a possible figure of justice. There is a villain, but serials require a gaudy and usually costumed villain, and the expatriate former gangster of Wallace’s book doesn’t cut the mustard in that regard. So here I’d expect the Green Archer to fill that role, plotting manically in the background whilst his de rigueur gang of fedora-clad henchmen punch it out with the hero on a weekly basis.
Our first indication that the serial may not prove itself rigorously faithful to the book? Well, to begin with, there is no one for whom “Prison Bars Beckon” at the beginning of the novel. So we haven’t even started the serial’s first chapter yet and Wallace’s plot is already being violently defenestrated.
The opening credits appear over a cartoon door, into which an arrow quickly embeds itself. Our stars are to be prolific B movie actors Victor Jory and Iris Meredith. As with all who toiled in the B’s, such actors were prized more for their ability to get their scenes in the can in one take than for their thespian gifts.
The cast list provides further evidence that Wallace’s work will be much tampered with. Jory is playing Spike Holland, a classic smartass newshawk who at the beginning of Wallace’s book appears destined to be the hero. He’s soon sidelined, however, by James Featherstone, one of Wallace’s trademark Scotland Yard detectives. Featherstone becomes the book’s main character, as well as its romantic lead, as he forms an attachment to endangered heiress Valerie Howett (here played by Ms. Meredith).
Despite having hours of running time to play around with, the screenplay inevitably discards with one of the two male protagonists. For whatever reason, they opted to go with Holland. I can only assume this was because Featherstone, as a Scotland Yard detective, would have required the presence of other officers, meaning a larger cast. (Or make that just as a cop of any sort. The American cast indicates the serial will not, as did the book, take place in England.) A reporter, meanwhile, allows for a more lone wolf sort of hero. That’s my theory, anyway, we’ll see how it plays out.*
[*Featherstone remains the central character in the 1961 krimi based on the same book. This is unsurprising, as the vast majority of krimis had Scotland Yard detectives as the lead character. That film, however, will also retain Holland, although I’m assuming he’ll be the equally inevitable Odious Comic Relief. In fact…yep, a quick IMDB search shows that the krimi version of Holland is played by Eddi Arent, who assayed the comic relief role in literally dozens of Wallace adaptations.]
We open with a text crawl, which already radically alters the characters. The villain of the book is strongman American ex-gangster Abe Bellamy—who for some reason becomes “Abel” here—who moves to England and buys Garr Castle. As I expected, the action in the serial is indeed moved stateside, where Garr Castle is now unconvincingly established as a “spacious American replica of the Bellamy ancestral home in England.”
“Wow! At least half a dozen of those words are taken right from the book!”
It’s an absurdity worthy of Wallace himself to relocate a story set in an ancient castle to the U.S., but that’s what they’ve done. Furthermore, the crawl establishes—I think; it’s written somewhat confusingly—that this upstart colonial replica still possesses secret tunnels. Although the idea of hidden treasure is given but scant mention in the book, I think we can safely wager it assumes a rather larger, Scooby Doo-ish pertinence here.
Aping to some extent revelations that appear late in the book, we are further informed that “youngest son” Michael Bellamy has inherited the Castle, but loses ownership to Abel after being “convicted of a crime he didn’t commit.” In any case, as noted, the novel’s Abe Bellamy didn’t inherit his family’s American castle, and certainly not from this younger brother, but rather moved to England (the typical setting of Wallace’s books) and purchased an authentic one with his ill-gotten loot.
Our establishing shot of Garr Castle (the castle itself is notable for its patently pressed cardboard ‘stone’ walls) and its grounds showcase the presence of several large “vicious dogs” which patrol the property. Such dogs do play a part in the book, but are only purchased by the security-conscious Abe Bellamy after the mysterious Green Archer, a legendary ghost of ancient vintage, is seen in the castle.
Here the beasts are used to provide a note of menace, with their bloodthirsty nature confirmed via a sign warning any trespassers that they face prosecution as well as mauling. (Meanwhile, an amusing touch is achieved by stamped metal archers being a motif on the castle gate.) This is particularly funny, as the crawl seen just seconds ago established the Castle as “a mecca for tourists.” You know, the sort of tourist mecca patrolled by slathering, kill-crazy guard dogs.
If it didn’t work for Sissy Goforth, I don’t see why it would work for this guy.
We now cut inside to find Abel Bellamy, who cuts a rather younger and more suave figure than he does in the novel, standing before an old oil portrait of the emerald Archer. He explains to his elderly attorney Worthington (who didn’t appear in the book) that “when a Bellamy falls into trouble, legend has it that the Green Archer always came to his aid.” This, unsurprisingly at this point, in no way reflects the background of the novel’s Archer. And indeed, despite being the book’s titular character, the Archer occupies a smaller role in things there than it appears he will here.
In another screenplay oddity, the two commiserate over the shame Michael has brought to the previously pristine honor of the Bellamys. What I find strange is that they jump the gun and establish that Michael was innocent in the opening crawl of the serial’s first chapter, rather than saving that for a ‘shocking’ revelation later on. Moreover, his innocence perforce casts instant doubt on Abel, which again seems like something they’d want to save as a plot twist for some point in the 14 chapters that follow.
Again, this represents wholesale changes from the novel. There Michael is long deceased, while here his imprisonment sets up a rather confusing plotline wherein he will be denied ownership of Garr Castle. Not because of a morals clause, but rather because their father’s will stipulates that Michael must occupy the Castle for five years before he receives title to it.
With Michael jailed following a murder conviction, Abel clearly has a bit of an advantage in this regard. I will say that, although this is in no way Wallace’s plot, it does sound like something he’d come up with. On the other hand, he’d have written it better.
Certainly the plotting here is needlessly murky. Worthington declares that Michael’s plight “makes it possible for [Abel] to take possession of this wonderful place.” So…does that mean that Abel has already gotten ownership of it, or that he now can potentially receive ownership? And if the latter, under what terms? Is it really too much to ask that this stuff be spelled out more plainly?
We now meet Savini, Abel’s manservant. In the book Savini is an oft-jittery half-Indian (East Indian, that is), which he definitely isn’t here. Instead, he cuts a patrician white guy figure, even sporting a Bud Abbott pencil mustache. The book’s Savini was also married. While his wife is a major character in the novel, she’s written out of the serial entirely.
We now learn that Abel intends to shut down the Garr Castle tourism trade that has brought his family such wealth. He wants to keep everyone else out of the Castle now; hence the dogs. That answers my previous questions, although it fails to explain why they introduced the whole tourism idea in the first place. So…it’s backstory that the Castle has, in previous times, been open to tourists, but…now it won’t be? Huh?
Suddenly Worthington cries out. Behind Abel’s back he’s spied the shadow of an archer drawing back an arrow. Needless to say, when Abel turns around this has apparent apparition has disappeared. Flustered, the attorney takes his leave, noting “It’s a long way to the city.”
“Good lord! Where is that back lighting coming from?!“
Outside, a bike messenger arrives rides up to the front door. OK, they said they were putting the dogs in “the kennel,” (a.k.a., a room in the house, one which can only be accessed via a secret passage [!!] off Abel’s office). Still, how did the guy get past the locked gate? And what, he wasn’t worried about the posted sign about the “vicious dogs”?
Also, Worthington said it was a long way back to the city, and presumably he had a car. This guy’s on a bicycle. Where did he come from? I guess Garr Castle might be near a small town, while Worthington drove in from a larger city further away. Still, I’m not sure why they expect us to piece this stuff together on our own.
Meanwhile, I can’t help noticing that from the outside the ‘Castle’ is beyond all doubt just a large home whose walls are adorned with a clearly fake stone veneer. Seriously, it looks like the sort of ‘stone’ house in which Bela Lugosi lived in shoestring flicks like The Devil Bat. Meanwhile, the even more patently ersatz stone of the “secret tunnels” must have provoked guffaws from even the Saturday morning kiddie crowd.
Yep, that’s some first class stone work right there, boy.
Time (surprise) for further exposition, as a chuckling Abel informs Savini that “soon we’ll give the police something to really worry about!” Then, hearing the doorbell, he nonchalantly tells Savini to “see who it is.” So much again for his plans to completely isolate Garr Castle from visitors.
Outside, Savini signs for the messenger’s wire and returns to Abel. The message is from Michael’s wife, Elaine, a young woman who again doesn’t correspond to anyone in the book. (Well, OK, she sort of does, but she’s so drastically altered that she might as well not be.) She’s announces her intention to come stay with Abel until Michael’s appeal process is finished.
Savini (who appears to be a one-note henchman in this, a far cry from the complex character he is in the book) argues against it, but Abel indicates she will be allowed to stay. Then the Wackiness Factor gets turned up a notch, as Abel contacts via his desk intercom another henchman, one Dinky Stone. Don’t blame Wallace for that moniker, he had nothing to do with it.
Dinky is apparently secreted in yet another of the Castle’s hidden rooms. This one sports a *cough* duplicate of the Green Archer oil painting from Abel’s office, for…no real reason. And what, the artist was told to run off half a dozen copies? “Yes, Governor,” Dinky responds, using a common form of address here in the States. Kit Guard (!), the actor playing Dinky, was born in Denmark. Perhaps his character is meant to be English, but if so he didn’t even bother trying for a British accent. He does sport a tweed cap, though. We’ll just have to see if he calls anyone ‘Ducky’ later.
Abel orders Dinky to assemble the whole gang. (Again, none of this has anything to do with Wallace.) Apparently there are more secret rooms than regular ones in Garr Castle, American Edition. Dinky runs into the adjoining communication chamber, specially outfitted for all the needs of the modern criminal mastermind.
Soon the entire gang, all snap-brim fedoras and cheap suits, is sitting around a table in the back room. As they grumble, as cheap hoods are prone to do, we see—are you sitting down?—two real eyes appear behind the now vacated painted ones in the Green Archer portrait. Oh, brother. I’m going to be mighty disappointed if we don’t get a killer gorilla later on. Anyway, Dinky refers to Abel as “the Governor” again, so I guess he is supposed to be British after all. Why get a guy who can’t do an English accent then? Got me.
The lights dim so that Abel can make a dramatic entrance. Somebody seems to have seen one of Fritz Lang’s Dr. Mabuse movies, although I’m not sure they learned very much. Anyway, Abel sits under a spotlight at a desk situated in front of the painting, to make sure all the attention is on him. Perhaps he’s got an insecurity complex. The mugs wonder if “tonight’s job” is going forward. Abel says it is, but with a change of focus…
We cut to the gang sitting in a crowded train station. It’s here that Michael Bellamy, escorted by a police detective and his wife Elaine, is boarding the train that will take him to prison. The cop gives the couple a moment of privacy and waits out in the train corridor.
There Spike Holland, Ace Reporter, introduces himself. As noted earlier, he is the serial’s hero. Spike proves to be an old pal of Michael’s (another alteration from the book), and promises to continue working to prove his innocence. Meanwhile, back in the passenger car we learn that Michael and Elaine rightfully suspect that Abel is behind the frame. Elaine has sought to stay in Garr Castle in order to search for evidence to prove this. This established, she takes her leave of him.
The train heads out, turning into a miniature, which is pretty ominous in one of these things. Stock footage trains generally don’t crash, but miniature ones (even stock footage miniatures, as this undoubtedly is) often do. Hell, maybe it’ll be attacked by the Giant Claw. My theory is supported by a shot of some of Abel’s gang running around with shovels (!!), with one telling another “Everything’s jake!” Oh, the low vulgar slang of the street criminal.
Apparently the shovels were used—sure they were—to dig up a length of track. Yep, two guys with garden spades can derail a train, all right. The train hits this fiendish trap and indeed crashes. It says something about the crazy mentality of the serials that the bad guy would decide the easiest way to get rid of an inconvenient brother is to destroy an entire, jam-packed passenger train.
We see survivors being pulled from the wreckage. This footage is clearly stock stuff, of course, and looks pretty old, even for something made in 1940. I think it might from the original silent German version of The Hands of Orlac, starring Conrad Viedt. In any case, it sure wasn’t filmed for this.
Abel gets a call that the crash has been accomplished. “Swell!” he happily responds. By the way, I’m guessing that Michael not only survives the crash but escapes because of it–which was totally ripped off in that The Fugitive movie–and either takes on the identity of the Green Archer or is a red herring suspect for same. In any case, I like how Abel just blithely assumes Michael must have died in the crash. This despite us seeing numerous yet living passengers being pulled from the wreck.
Meanwhile, Elaine leaves the station and gets into a taxi. She soon arrives at Garr Castle, where she is greeted by the savage, barking hounds on the other side of the gate. The taxi driver informs her that Abel doesn’t actually live in the Castle anymore (?), but in the house next door.
At least this explains, finally, the thing with the bike messenger. Apparently he never had to contend with the dogs, since he was in fact going to Abel’s house next door to the Castle. Still, it would have been nice to know that earlier. I mean, this fact could have easily been mentioned during Abel’s conversation with Worthington. But as we’ll see, the serial is rather lackadaisical in parceling out information.*
[*By the way, this means that Abel’s next door house is also riddled with secret rooms and corridors, as well as copies of the Green Archer painting. Just so we’re keeping track.]
As for the Castle, Elaine’s uncouth driver informs her that “This place is haunted!” Undeterred, she has the driver take her to Bellamy’s new abode. Informed that she’s arrived, Abel tells Savini that they will give her a warm welcome. Meanwhile, we learn (or maybe we were supposed to recognize the guy earlier) that Elaine’s cab driver was in fact one of Abel’s gang. Apparently he was up to some shenanigans, although I’m not sure what. “Ditch the taxi cab!” Savini quietly orders the fellow.
A cartoonishly effusive Abel greets Elaine, again unsubtly playing the innocent. He left the Castle, he explains, because he now only associates it with his dear brother’s predicament. He explains that he’s closed the Castle, and that it’s since fallen “into decay.” (Er, how long did this take? Michael’s problems seem to have occurred pretty recently.)
He offers to give Elaine a tour of the place to demonstrate this, and she jumps at the chance. Bum bum bum. Sure, go to a deserted, isolated castle in the middle of the night with the man you suspect of framing your husband for murder. What could go wrong?
So…I guess maybe they had a gang member pretend to be a taxi driver so that there would be no trace of Elaine’s having arrived at Bellamy’s home? Still, Western Union would presumably have a record of the wire she sent to Abel that afternoon, so that seems a bit dubious. On the other hand, it explains why they had Elaine mention earlier that she and Michael were keeping her plans a secret, for fear that their old pal Spike would try to stop her.
Elaine expresses but mild surprise when Abel reveals the secret passageway off his office, which connects his house with the Castle. (About time they explained all this.) She and Abel enter the tunnel, after which Savini contacts Dinky via the intercom. Dinky surreptitiously triggers a trapdoor in the passageway floor, which Elaine nearly walks into. “You’re lucky to escape,” Abel tells her. “The place is filled with such pitfalls.” I guess this is to make her fearful of snooping.
Elaine staunchly refuses to halt the tour, however, and insists they continue on. They enter Michael’s office in the Castle, where Elaine, like Worthington before her, sees a boldly backlit shadow of the Green Archer on a nearby wall. This time it seems a bit ridiculous that Abel didn’t see it too, but there you go. Of course, when he glances up, it’s gone. He pooh-poohs the idea, even though two people he’s been with today have seen the same thing.
As he continues laughing it off, however, we see the shadow again, and this time it fires an arrow into a chair the two are standing by. At this point I’m assuming the “Archer” is one of Abel’s men, again trying to scare Elaine off further investigations.
If so, it doesn’t work. Elaine barely blinks an eye at the deadly shaft that just narrowly missed her. Instead, she just comes out and accuses Abel of being behind Michael’s predicament. I’m not sure exactly what she thinks she’s gaining by blurting all that out, but there you go.
Seeing that the jig is up—despite the fact that all he has to do is kick her out so she can’t gather any evidence against him—Abel explains that Michael has died in the aforementioned train derailment. Moreover, Abel knows he was the only one who knew Elaine was coming to visit Abel. (Huh? How could he know that?) Again, except for Western Union, but anyway.
So now Elaine is at Abel’s mercy. Does he kill her? No, he decides to keep her captive, “forever if necessary.” Anyway, this does correspond in a very elliptical fashion to the book, although you have to squint pretty hard to see the similarities.
Elaine seeks to escape, but is blocked at every turn by one of Abel’s men. Finally she runs into the inevitable alcove that of course sports a set of iron bars that descend to trap her. Maddened, Abel unleashes the hounds, while ordering a blanching Savini to raise the gate now separating Elaine from the slavering beasts. The dogs rush in, leaving the screaming Elaine facing a horrible, seemingly inescapable death….
Ooops! Apparently, that’s not the cliffhanger. Weird, as we’re about 17 minutes in, more or less where you’d expect the chapter to end. Instead, we see Elaine’s escape, when a mysterious figure opens a (clearly outlined) secret panel behind her and drags her to safety just as the ravening dogs rush in. Again, odd, as that seems like a classic peril resolution such as you’d expect to start the next chapter. Instead, this one continues, and in fact runs another 14 minutes or so.
However, Elaine’s apparent escape is anything but. Abel never meant to kill her, just to terrify her a bit. The woman who pulled her to safety, identified as a Mrs. Patton, was yet another of Abel’s hench, er, people, and Elaine is now imprisoned. (I guess the studio felt they had to give Elaine a female warder, for appearances sake.)
Apparently the first chapter is extended so that we can also introduce Spike a bit better, since he’s who we move onto next. And, after all, he will be the hero of this thing, so that kind of makes sense. We see Spike outside a swank theater performance, whereupon I again learn the folly of assuming.
Spike isn’t a reporter, you see, he’s an insurance investigator. Now, why would I think he was a reporter? Oh, yeah, the book. Well, never mind. Hey, he retained his name if not his profession, or his nationality, or his second banana status, so…good enough, I guess.
So he’s outside the theater because there’s been a crime wave recently, and one of his agency’s wealthy clients is attending the performance wearing scads of valuable jewelry insured by his firm. This being the days where theatergoers where presumed to be the social elite, all decked out in top hat, tux and tail, or fur coats, sparkly dresses and fabulous jeweled necklaces, bracelets and tiaras.
Sure enough, a trio of Abel’s hoods is waiting in a car outside the theater. When they take off after the aforementioned target, Spike sees them and jumps into a waiting taxi. And thus finally starts some more typical serial action; car chases, fistfights and gunplay. As with the train earlier, vehicular chases were particularly popular because you could economically edit in spectacular wrecks and other bits of business using stock footage.
The crooks notice Spike tailing them, and being in a Master Criminal Car, have at their disposal the standard Crime Accessory Package, as clearly labeled on the dashboard panel. First, though, they use a flashlight to signal a compatriot stationed in a large truck to pull out and smash into Spike’s cab. This results in a spectacular wreck achieved, surprise, with stock footage, presumably taken from an old Warners Brothers gangster epic.
Spike leaps unharmed from the wreck, however—although apparently he will be presumed to have died in it—to continue his pursuit. However, the delay allows the hoods to waylay their targets outside their apartment building. Meanwhile, Spike flags down a police patrol car, jumps in and heads them in that direction. Soon both the chase and the stock footage have resumed.
Conveniently, although the hood’s car comes equipped with all sorts of anti-pursuit gizmos, it lacks a souped-up engine that would allow them to just outrun the cops. Something so prosaic would lack a certain je ne sais quoi, I suppose. So the head goon turns the dial clearly marked “TEAR GAS” (one wonders what the mechanic thinks when they take the car in for an oil change) and unleashes a cloud of the stuff. The cop car swerves off the road and crashes. The hoodlums drive on and escape.
“No, I don’t know why they put that right next to the windshield wiper switch either.”
Here we get more junior grade supervillain antics. The car drives through a secret retracting section of a tall hedge, and then is lowered to an underground garage (complete with Stereotypic Grease Monkeys) via an area of lawn hiding a sod-covered hydraulic platform. I’m not sure why the dungeon areas—I’m assuming that’s what they’re supposed to be—would extend so far from the Castle itself, but it’s quite handy, no? Anyway, it’s all goofy as hell, but damn, that’s what you want from these things.
Abel yells at the thugs for arriving behind schedule, I guess just to establish him as a supervillainous Stern Taskmaster. Still, it’s hard to take him seriously when he hasn’t yet dropped a single henchman into a piranha tank or vat of liquid nitrogen. Then he grabs the satchel containing the gems and repairs five feet away to his desk, whereupon, yes, the rest of the lights in the room dim and his personal desk spotlight comes on. Egomaniac!
Again to establish him as a Criminal Mastermind, Abel queries Brent, the head henchman, as to whereabouts of a final piece of jewelry. “An emerald bracelet,” Abel clarifies. “72 stones.” See, those Masterminds don’t mix a trick. The henchguy pleads ignorance, with predictable results. He appears to just fire the guy, and Brent leaves in (presumably) his car via the secret hydraulic lift. The rest of the gang is concerned about this guy running around loose, but of course Abel has things well in hand.
He’s still pretty low-tech, though. Most serial villains would have an Automobile ‘Sploding Ray or something. However, Abel merely radios another henchman, warning him “And don’t miss!” Dinky listens in and then inquires, “Everything jake?” Again, that authentic gangland street slang is really adding the verisimilitude.
In a bit that’s retarded even for a serial, the radio call went out to a fully Robin Hood-esque garbed Green Archer. We cut outside to see this guy trotting to a position alongside the road. When Brent drives past—handily in a convertible with the top down—the Archer lets loose and his arrow buries itself in Brent’s back. A pretty nifty shot considering the latter was in a speeding car at the time. In any case, the film stock suddenly changes (not to mention the model of car) and the vehicle inevitably tumbles over a cliff side, although weirdly it doesn’t blow up. Hilariously, the stock footage seems to have come from a British film, since ‘Brent’ is clearly seen seated on the wrong side of the car.
Cut to Spike’s office at Tri-State Insurance, with offices in New York, Illinois and California. Screw that contiguous stuff. A police detective has come to show them the aforementioned emerald bracelet, which was found in the wrecked car. Apparently part of being a Criminal Mastermind is to let a guy leave with an invaluable bracelet and then have him sniped with an arrow as he drives off. Much better, surely, than doing something prosaic like just shooting him while he’s standing there and reclaiming the bracelet for yourself.
Spike notes that the location of the car crash is near Garr Castle. (Another reason to avoid such an ornate manner of execution, dumbass.) He further asserts that Brent couldn’t have been behind the robbery, because he was too much of a small timer. Good thing the cops have him to notice stuff like that.
Later Spike escorts Valerie and John Howett, Elaine’s sister and father, into a house he’s rented for them, which is rather pompously called Lady’s Manor. This strategically overlooks Abel’s place next to the Castle. From here they can keep out eye out for any suspicious shenanigans.
By the way, in the book Valerie is Elaine’s daughter, and her (in the book, adopted) father’s first name is Walter. Good thing the studio had professional scripters on hand to pointlessly change his first name. That’s why they earn the big bucks.
Valerie’s role is pretty obvious. With Elaine captured, Valerie can serve as the obligatory spunky dame who constantly needs saving by Spike, while also acting as a romantic interest for him. A pretty chaste one, of course. The studio would know the serial’s main audience demographic, 12 year old boys, wouldn’t want too much of the gooey stuff.
Spike also introduces the Howetts to Henderson, their new Veddy Proper English Butler. Although he’s played straight here, I fear he will be used for odious comic relief. (Henderson is played by bit player Herbert Evans. Of his 190 (!) IMDB acting credits, often uncredited, at least 43 of them were for playing butlers. He also played chauffeurs, doormen and valets.)
Spike and the Howetts then discuss their suspicions about Abel. Apparently I was wrong about Henderson’s role in this—and thank goodness!—because actually we see him eavesdrop on the conversation, indicating that he’s one of Abel’s spies. Boy, that really makes Spike look on the ball, doesn’t it? Moreover, his ‘plan’ involves the Howett’s presence making Abel nervous. Great idea! Maybe he’ll panic and have them murdered, and then they’ll have all the proof against him they need. Brilliant!
Having already received word of the Howett’s presence nearby, however, Abel does anything but panic. Indeed, as with Elaine, he plans to make it as easy for the Howett’s to ‘break’ into the Castle as possible. So saying, he calls Dinky down in the lair and tells him to send up the Archer. We now meet this fellow sans hood, and he turns out to be a rather generic doughy-faced guy with the serial’s 47th pencil mustache. Abel gives him a note and orders him to deliver it to the Howetts “in the usual way.”
Later, we see John head off to bed, leaving Spike and Valerie in the living room. Outside, the Green Archer dons his mask and then fires an arrow into the house. This flies through a window and just barely misses Spike. (Good thing it was on a wire!) Not too surprisingly, the shaft of the arrow has the aforementioned note wrapped around it.
Meanwhile, outside the Archer is preparing to fire a second arrow (??), when suddenly he is jumped and quickly subdued by a rather fitter individual in the exact same costume. Gee, could this be the presumed-to-be-dead Michael, actually still alive and assuming the role of the Green Archer to frustrate his brother’s evil machinations? I…oh. Uh, SPOILER. Sorry about that. Who knows, maybe I’m wrong, anyway. Maybe the new Green Archer is the, er, bicycle messenger guy. I mean, it could be.
“Show up in the same costume as me, will ya?”
So Spike and Valerie are inspecting the note, which actually contains the key to the Castle. Well, that doesn’t seem suspicious or anything. Spike, being a levelheaded man, urges cautions. Valerie, of course, is a girl and so just wants to run right over to the Castle. Just like Elaine did before her. Chicks! Am I right, gentlemen?
Outside Green Archer number two (who I assume will fill the Green Archer role for the rest of the serial—should the old one reemerge, I’ll refer to him as the Bad Guy Green Archer) also prepares to fire another arrow. Hey, who’s paying for all these broken windows and impaled chairs, buddy? This also bears a note, this one reading “The Green Archer always protects the honor of the Bellamys.” Valerie seizes on this. “That proves it!” she says. “The Green Archer is a friend!”
Spike jumps out the window in pursuit of the Archer. Out on the lawn, though, he bumps into (bum, bum, bum!) John Howett. Howett says he couldn’t sleep and went out for a stroll. Is he the Green Archer?! *cough*redherring*cough*. Spike is suspicious, but is quickly distracted when John asks where Valerie is. “By George!” Spike exclaims, running back to the house he left just thirty seconds ago. It’s now official: Our Hero is a dumbass.
Speaking of dumbasses, sure enough, Valerie has reacted to Spike’s absence by immediately donning her fur coat and heading across the street to the Castle. After all, one of the arrows that flew through her window and nearly killed her stated the Green Archer was protecting the honor of the Bellamys, so what could possibly go wrong? Well, for one thing, she could be being stalked by some of Abel’s goons.
Spike comes chasing after her, and arrives just in time to jump Valerie’s would-be kidnappers. The obligatory undercranked, flailing fistfight ensues as Valerie skedaddles back home. Outnumbered, Spike rushes inside the house, and makes his way down into the dungeon area, Abel and his men in pursuit. Eventually he finds himself trapped in the same barred alcove Elaine was in earlier. However, that previously established secret panel will avail him not, for another switch triggers a trapdoor that Spike falls into. The bars are raised and the vicious hounds leap down into the pit with him, leaving Our Hero facing a horrible, seemingly inescapable death….
Oh, and remember that thing at the end of each Adam West Batman cliffhanger, when the Narrator would ask things like, “Is this the end for the Dynamic Duo?!” Yeah, they do that here:
“Is Valerie frightened? Can it be the mysterious face at Lady Manor’s window? What orders are these nine Bellamy crooks waiting for? Look closely now! Is that painting coming to life? These intriguing questions are answered in ‘The Face at the Window,’ next chapter of The Green Archer!”
Come back in two days for the answers, folks.
First of all, the initial chapter of The Green Archer serves up way too much exposition, although I suppose that’s necessary for a first chapter. As well, as indicated above, much of it is delivered haphazardly.
Abel’s having a house alongside the Castle isn’t established until well into things, and in a manner almost designed to sow confusion. Worthington and Abel are meeting in the Castle. The former leaves, and we see Abel and Savini exiting a short length of secret passage into a more modern office, whereupon we cut immediately ‘outside’ to see the bike messenger arriving. There’s no indication at all that the action has moved next door to the Castle. We have to piece that together ourselves later on.
Indeed, the entire two location thing seems pretty pointless. Why not just set all the action at the Castle? And it was kind of hard to get a fix on what exactly was happening where. Is the gang housed in the Castle, or in Abel’s house next door, or possibly even between the two locations? Again, the whole idea just needlessly complicates things.
In any case, you can see why so few serials were adapted, even loosely, from books. Novels are generally plot driven, while serials are ongoing loops of often repetitive action that largely tread water until the climatic final chapter.
This explains why the majority of serials were based not on plots so much as a central character, often from comic books or strips or radio shows. Using such a character as the pivot of the action more naturally services the intrinsically episodic nature of the beast. And surely being too plot intensive would have been counterproductive. You wanted to draw that kiddie audience back every week, but obviously you couldn’t count on them being there 15 weeks in a row.
Much as Sunday newspaper comic strips generally just recapitulated the previous week’s action for those who missed it (which remains true even today), serials had to offer thrills while advancing the plot slowly enough that you wouldn’t feel hopelessly left behind had you missed a couple of previous chapters. Aiding in this were the recap crawls that opened each chapter.
Even so, many of the changes from the Wallace’s novel seems unnecessary, from revised plot elements to rejiggered character profiles to pointlessly altered character names. I suppose moving the book’s action from England to America was necessary given the demands of the serial form—they were fairly low-budget and thus they probably couldn’t afford trying to simulate an English setting (that would have to wait for the krimis)—even they clearly didn’t really vet the novel so much in terms of it being a logical source for a serial to start with.
I’m also particularly bemused by Spike’s change in profession. Did they just feel that audiences had had enough of brash, wisenheimer reporters? Because frankly, I don’t see what is really achieved by changing Spike from a newshawk to an insurance investigator. Both operate as lone wolfs, while at the same time having organizational resources to call upon. Both would have a professional rationale for hunting down the culprits. Either would have police contacts. I really don’t get it.
The first chapter’s 31 minute running time threw me a bit. Tradition dictates that serial chapters to run a fairly standardized amount of time, usually in the area of 20 minutes. And indeed, the remainder of the Green Archer episodes corresponds to this. Indeed, the added length seems tacked on at the last minute, whether it was or not. Hence the false climax where things would normally finish, but which is instantly resolved. To be fair, it is somewhat cleverly used to set up the chapter’s actual cliffhanger.
Aside from the length of the chapter, I found the actually plot pacing sort of odd as well. Introducing Elaine, introducing her scheme to spy on Abel, having her confront him followed by his immediately imprisoning her….
With 14 chapters left to go, these seem like things that could have been parceled out a bit more. Again, though, it’s clear they wanted to get to the established serial template as quickly as possible, hence clearing the underbrush with the extended first chapter.