The Green Archer (1940) Chapter 3: Devil’s Dictophone

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When Last We Left Our Story: Spike Holland, two-fisted insurance investigator, is speeding towards a remote country meet-up of several hoods secretly working for criminal mastermind Abel Bellamy. Abel is not only the man responsible for the gang’s recent rash of robberies, but also for framing Spike’s best friend, the now presumed deceased Michael Bellamy, for murder. The hoods know Spike is coming, however, and set a deadly trap. Positioning a car above the road, they plow it into Spike’s automobile at speed, driving both vehicles over the cliff side and ensuring Our Hero a horrible, seemingly inescapable death….

Cliffhanger Resolution: Three guesses.

Cheat Factor: Zero, but a Lame Factor of 10. How lame? Well, I wrote this part before starting the DVD and I didn’t have to change it.

Boy the old “previously unseen insert shot of the hero jumping to safety before the car goes over the cliff.” (We’ll just ignore the physics of ‘safely’ jumping from a roadster going 50 miles an hour or more.) Gee whiz, that’s brilliant, why didn’t anybody ever do that one before? Sarcasm aside, I guess when you have 14 cliffhangers, it’s hard to avoid using that one. Assuming they used it in the second chapter to get it out of the way, then fine. However, it they use it again during the remaining 12, then shame on them.

Anyway, despite having four guys standing around, none of the miscreants noticed Spike’s leap to safety, and so he is presumed to be dead. (Lots of that going around.) They prepare to take their leave in their other car, but the guy who set the trap—which involved piloting the attack car from the running board and making his own leap to safety at the last second—gives two guys who were too scared to help their (literal) walking papers. You just can’t find good thugs anymore. Still, they do get severance pay…really…so that’s nice.

The two guys cut loose mention that they don’t even know  “who they were working for.” I guess they were freelance? They couldn’t have been part of the gang, because Abel always appears before them in their secret dungeon conference room. See, this is why most of the villains in these things wear masks, or cowls. It’s a lot easier to sell the ‘secret mastermind’ thing that way.

Anyway, they are miffed at being let go and decide to opt for some blackmail. Yes, I’m sure that will work well. Their plan is to hijack a passing car, which because this is a serial takes all of about one minute to appear (so much for them being in the remote countryside) and then, what, follow the first car of crooks? Wouldn’t that be gone already? Ah, well, sometimes you just have to let Art wash over you.

We cut to the Lanton Garage, where the police have traced the ownership of the car that smashed into Spike’s. Spike and police detective Inspector Ross are sweating Lanton for information. Although clearly agitated, Lanton proves too cagey to admit too much.

Meanwhile, Abel is finally figuring out that using outside, traceable cars and Lanton mechanics (apparently the guys who got ditched) as part-time holdup men was a bad idea. Indeed, it’s downright moronic, especially since Abel has a large gang of guys already. Still, each chapter of a serial has to have its own McGuffin. In this case clearly it will be the mechanics, with Abel and Spike competing to get to them first. So, let’s see. Chapter 3. Hmm, I’m pretty sure Abel doesn’t have to worry about much at this point. It’s not like he can be exposed as a Criminal Mastermind this early in things.

Bellamy ironically calls Lanton to warn him to keep his mouth shut, which only serves to alert Spike and Insp. Ross when they hear who’s on the phone. Lanton manages to signal to Bellamy the situation and hangs up. Sensing they won’t get anything else out of Lanton today, Spike and Ross take their leave. Spike tries to convince the Insp. that the well regarded businessman Bellamy is hooked up with the crooks, although Ross understandably finds that somewhat hard to believe.

Meanwhile, Abel’s two hoods are returning to the Castle. Amazingly, they seem not to have noticed that the two spurned mechanics / would-be crooks have apparently been following about 15 feet right behind them all the way from Bloodgate Hill. Then the latter two swerve to the side of the road and watch as, in broad daylight yet, the henchmen drive through the secret hedge entrance to the Castle grounds. Really, the police can’t catch these guys?! Yeesh.

The mechanics figure they are on easy street, figuring they can demand either or a job or a big payoff from the MURDEROUS CRIMELORD WHOSE IDENTITY IS A CLOSELY HELD SECRET. Again, that’s just a great plan, right there. Kudos, chums. Accidently triggering the photoelectric cell that automatically opens hedge—again, the police are stumped by these guys?!—they enter the grounds to claim their prize.

Meanwhile, Abel is pissed that Spike is still alive—as he learned from a subsequent call from Lanton—and more so when his henchman explains that he left the two unreliable mechanics at large. Realizing what a threat they pose, he orders his men to track them down immediately.

‘Comically,’ the henchmen, who are as woefully inept as they always are in these things, are lamenting what a tough task find the guys will be. At that same moment, though—ho ho!—the secret platform to the underground garage is activated. This lowers, and lo and behold, the two mechanics had just happened to be standing right upon it up on the lawn as they wandered around.*

(*You might be wondering why the two wouldn’t just jump off the section of ground that suddenly starts slowly lowering beneath their feet. Apparently the director told the actors to stand just stock still while this happened, and not even to change their expressions, which, yes, makes the whole thing totally believable.)

“You know, I have been in a state of extreme panic and agitation since this platform started lowering 30 seconds ago.”
“Yes, I as well.”

Seeing their good fortune—“That’s them!” one henchman yells, oddly when only the pair’s legs are in view—they jumps the interlopers. Following a furious fistfight the mechanics are subdued, but only after holding their own against five of Abel’s gang for a while. Abel and the rest of the gang in the next room, however, fled when they heard the tussle, thinking it must be the police. Man, they are really selling what a horrible threat to society these guys are.

Abel and the others return to the conference room when the mechanics are dragged in there. Again, though, none of the like 15 guys in the small room notice the moving eyes in the Green Archer portrait behind Abel’s desk. In any case, since the mechanics came to him, Abel thinks they might be worth another try-out (sure, why not?) and begins to give them an assignment as the camera cuts away.

In a bit, the two leave with their (to us) secret assignment. Then later, Abel meets with Brad, his Fake Green Archer. By the way, he meets with Brad, all dolled up in his Green Archer costume, in the office of his regular house. Uhm, OK. Why bother even having a secret underground complex next door, then? He gives Brad elliptical orders, and then sends him out through the secret passage to go to the underground complex. WHY MEET IN HIS OFFICE IN THE FIRST PLACE THEN?!*

“The world must never connect us! Now, leave the front room of my house, and go back to the secret complex you and I just left so as to have this meeting.”

[*The only reason I can figure is the screenwriters knew we knew the Real Green Archer could then secretly listen in on the orders via the portrait. If so, that’s just classic bad plotting. Abel wouldn’t know he was being spied upon, so for him there’s no reason not to meet with Brad up in his house. It’s purely to work around a situation only the viewer knows about, which makes no internal sense.]

Then Savini enters the office, also from the passage. Really, do they even have a signal so everyone knows it’s safe to do so? Sooner or later you’d think it would be inevitable that somebody would open the secret door when Abel has a visitor or something.

Anyway, Abel wants to brag about his latest gadget, which is a big speaker mounted on his office wall and ‘hidden’ behind a curtain. Yes, the police would never find that if they searched the place. This is connected to the kidnapped Elaine’s chambers in the underground complex. You’d think after a time not a lot of communication would be going on, but when Bellamy activates it, we hear Elaine and Mrs. Patton going back and forth.

[Abe Bellamy, Abel’s not very similar analogue in Wallace’s novel, had kept his Elaine analogue secretly confined in his dungeons for years. She was in a rather more realistically nasty dungeon cell all that time, however. Presumably to keep from horrifying the kiddies too much, the serial’s version of Elaine has been afforded rather swanker accommodations.]

Back at Lady’s Manor, the house across the street from Garr Castle where Valerie Howett and her father John—Elaine’s sister and father, respectively—are staying, Spike is telling Valerie about his latest adventures. By the way, aside from Elaine’s disappearance, Valerie has been kidnapped from the house once already by Abel’s men, and had numerous arrows shot through her windows and sundry chairs murdered by them. Nobody seems to think this indicates a relocation would be in order, however.

Actually, Valerie doesn’t seem to be a bit nervous about things. “I feel as if I’m sitting on a volcano about to erupt any minute!” she frets. “It’s not that bad,” Spike replies. “Something always happens.” Huh? How is that supposed to be reassuring? I’d think if you were sitting on a volcano you’d want things NOT to happen.

Something does, however, for at that exact second an arrow (quite evidently traveling on a string) whizzes right past both of them, missing their torsos by an inch or two. And yes, sure enough it impales another innocent chair. Maybe the Green Archer is an upholsterer and the real criminal mastermind of the piece.

“I tell you, no chair is safe while that maniac is on the loose!”

Spike sees the Green Archer waving out from the lawn before he runs off. Then he and Valerie read the latest Arrow-o-Gram. The note warns them to be on their guard against visitor that night. “Do you believe this?” Valerie asks. “Why not believe it?” Spike replies. Wait, earlier wasn’t Valerie the one arguing they should trust the Archer, and Spike the suspicious one? Now it’s the other way around? Whatever.

They show John Howett the note, and he *gasp* wants to call the police. Spike, of course, nixes the idea. He wants to catch the assailants while they’re forewarned. So we see them setting up silhouettes of themselves (just go with it) in the living room. These will cast shadows on the curtained windows and present seeming targets. “This is an old gag,” Spike says. Yeah, one you ripped off from Sherlock Holmes, none the less.

So the mechanics show up and seeing the apparent shadows, open fire on them. As per usual, when the heroes can actually get killed, the villains only try to capture them, and then only try to murder them when the plot would fail. Pretty convenient, really.

Convinced of the success of the mission, the two laughing would-be assassins make to take their leave. However, an armed Spike and Howett rush out of the house to capture them. Abel had prepared for such a screw-up, though, and positioned Fake Green Archer outside. Once the mechanics come into view he fires arrows into their chests. Exit two Red Shirts. (So far all three deaths we’ve seen have been the bad guys killing some of their own.)  FGA pauses to leave a note in one of the body’s coat pockets, and then runs off.

Spike shows up to discover the impaled corpses lying on the lawn. I have to say, two bodies with arrows sticking out of them seems rather more grisly than sort of “clutch your chest and fall over” aftermath of shootings in these things. I’m sure the kids in the audience were eating this up. One imagines them whispering “Don’t tell my mom!” to each other so they could come back the next week.

Yes, I can explain it! Obviously in the dark, the Archer must have mistaken these poor devils for lawn chairs.”

The note supposedly instructed the men to go to the Clark Warehouse after the job, where “the girl” would be. “That might mean Valerie!” Howett exclaims. (Uh, why would you think that, rather than that they’re talking about Elaine?) Spike points out that she’s safe back in the house, but then we hear a scream. Sure enough, Valerie’s getting kidnapped again and they see her being hustled into a car. Good grief. And course, once they rescue her, she’ll just return to Lady’s Manor yet again.

So…let me see if I’ve got this straight. Just in case the mechanics failed, Abel prepared a trap to lure Spike to his death at the warehouse, and had other guys ready to go in and grab Valerie again for bait. So why not just have those guys hide in the bushes and shoot Spike and Howett when they came running out of the house after the assassins, which is clearly what they expected to happen? Good grief.

Spike runs to his car to follow the crooks, although astoundingly he does first tell Howett to call the police and have them go to the warehouse. He quickly arrives, but the gang has used about 100 feet of rope to set a trap; the rope is tied between the door and a shotgun, which set to fire when the door opens and yanks the rope. This is awesome because

a)     this requires about ten feet of twine, not a huge length of rope that for some reason is looped around and around and around between the gun and the door. In fact, that amount of rope would probably result in enough slack that the trigger wouldn’t be depressed, and

b)     oh, yeah, the door opens inward, so that would definitely just slacken the rope, meaning the gun wouldn’t fire, and

c)     you know, rather than setting up this sub-Ruth Goldberg device, why not just have the four guys currently hiding in the warehouse just shoot Spike when he enters? Isn’t a rigged shotgun the sort of booby trap you set to kill someone when you’re not there?

2 weeks later and with the help of the Army Corps of Engineers, the trap was set.

Being a serial hero, though, Spike knows to be suspicious of the door. Furthermore, Valerie, who the bad guys tied to a post but failed to gag, screams out a (pointlessly vague) warning. So Spike opens the door, all right, but by tossing a convenient small barrel through it. This harmlessly triggers the shotgun, and then it’s your typical Flurry ‘o Fists. Because sure enough, the guys who set this elaborate, if retarded, death trap don’t just shoot him from where they’re stationed, but all rush out to fight him.

“Listen, if you knew the stuff they wanted you to do the Japanese market, you wouldn’t be complaining about this!”

Spike holds his own pretty well against his four opponents, but inevitably a lantern gets overturned and sets the warehouse ablaze. The crooks run for it—somehow locking the door behind them, despite Spike having just heaved a barrel through it—leaving Our Hero to free the bound Valerie as the conflagration grows about them.

Valerie is soon freed (and the actors clearly were on the set with some big flames, and I don’t care if the fire was ‘controlled’ and they had additional avenues of escape in real life, but yikes!), but sure enough the two find themselves locked in. Spike tries to break the door down—again—but is driven back when the hoods start firing through the door. Somehow they don’t manage to hit Spike, so that’s pretty lucky.

“Nah, don’t worry. The studio isn’t going to risk stars they’re paying $25 a week.”

Then Valerie sees a trapdoor, but when they open it—prepare to be shocked—they learn the warehouse cellar contains couple tons of dynamite and other explosives.  Suddenly, we cut outside, to see the obvious miniature warehouse explode, ensuring Our Heroes a horrible, seemingly inescapable death….

“Boy, when Kevin goes as Guy Fawkes for Halloween, he doesn’t mess around.”

Join us in two days for Chapter 4: Vanishing Jewels.*


Really, that’s the best they could come up with? Vanishing Jewels? Boy, that’s beguiling. Certainly more compelling “The Ceiling of Death,” since the Narrator promised us one of those descending spike ceilings in the next chapter. On the other hand, he also promised us a Face in the Window for the 2nd episode, and we never got one of those, so who knows?

Speaking of worst chapter titles ever, I guess the Devil’s Dictograph referenced in the title of the current episode was the intercom, briefly seen when they established the speaker leading up from Elaine’s room. Even so, since we were promised a ‘dictograph,’ it would have been nice if we had seen Abel, I don’t know, dictating something on it. Or, I don’t know, even speaking into it. Again, really, they thought The Devil’s Dictograph was better than “Killer Arrows” or “The Exploding Warehouse”?


Wallace-O-Meter: Pretty much a big fat zero.

Fights: The mechanics duke it out with some of Abel’s men, Spike brawls with four or five guys at the warehouse.

Car Crashes: Yep, right there at the beginning.

:  Several instances of it, along with some arrow deaths.

Valerie Endangered
: Yes.

Big Explosions: Yep.



  • Anonymous

    Mock all you you want, but I think “Devil’s Dictograph” could go in a manual for modern writers wanting to recreate these old serials (if… um… anyone would ever want to).  I mean, it’s just so delightfully cheesy, breathless, hyperbolic, and ridiculous.  I love it.

  • Ericb

     ‘I don’t know, even speaking into it. Again, really, they thought The Devil’s Dictograph was better than “Killer Arrows” or “The Exploding Warehouse”?’

    I’d go with “The Warehouse of Death”

  • I got it!  The chairs are actually henchmen disguised as chairs. The RGA is really a pre-Dexter blood-thirsty maniac.