Restored Serials // 1940 // 300 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart (Retired) // August 6th, 2007
"Heretofore, whenever a Bellamy found himself in trouble, legend has it the Green Archer came to his aid."
IMDb notes that this 1940 serial is one of three versions of the Edgar Wallace novel. The first was a silent adaptation in 1925 and the last was a German movie in the 1960s (it seems Wallace is very popular in Germany, since several of his works have been adapted for the screen there).
Wallace died while working on the script for a movie called King Kong, but the best-selling British writer's pulpy, action-packed novels had long been favorites of studios looking for their next serial or B-movie. The Green Archer also appears to be the inspiration for a certain green archer in comic books.
The Green Archer Restored! tweaks the 15-chapter serial for a better picture and puts it on DVD.
Garr Castle, a "spacious American replica of the Bellamy ancestral home in England," is the lair of a gang of crooks led by Abel Bellamy. Abel framed his brother Michael for jewel robbery so he could inherit the castle, a natural base for crime with its secret tunnels and traps.
Just to make sure nobody looks closely at him, Abel has the train taking Michael to prison derailed. After Michael is reported dead, his wife Elaine confronts Abel about her suspicions and is taken prisoner.
Enter Spike Holland, an insurance investigator and friend of Michael. He sets up in a rental house near Garr Castle, along with Elaine's father and sister, to investigate Abel and, hopefully, rescue Elaine.
The plot thickens with the appearance of the Green Archer (really Abel's henchman) and the appearance of another Green Archer (not Abel's henchman). By the time the serial ends, two more Green Archers will turn up.
The Garr Castle sets give what may be the best performance in this or any other old-time serial. The replica ancestral home is full of secret passages, trap doors, and traps (a room full of spikes, a cistern that can be used for drowning enemies, a pack of dogs). It's even got a hidden elevator for parking cars underground away from view. It makes a great Bad-Cave for Abel and his gang. It's obviously a set, but it's a cool one; kudos to the team that built it.
While there are one or two cliffhangers that are cheats (rolling the film again the next week, we notice that Spike jumped out of harm's way just in time), most of them are reasonably fair, even if they rely on luck or intervention from the mysterious Green Archer. There's a lot of action, so the five-hour serial moves pretty fast. There are plot holes and weak spots, but not too many, considering the length and budget. A late twist involving a radium formula and an evil Spike Holland impersonator seemed far-fetched, even for Saturday matinees, but it played out amusingly enough.
The leads aren't bad, either. Victor Jory (The Shadow) has a suitably rough-and-tumble look and steely determination as Spike Holland. James Craven (Captain Midnight) is sufficiently smooth and slippery as the treacherous Abel Bellamy; like most good movie or TV villains, he's most dangerous to his own men when they fail. Iris Meredith (Caught in the Act) makes a good ditzy damsel-in-distress as Elaine's sister Valerie, all the better to get kidnapped whenever the story needs a new twist. That's still all you need for a serial, as 24 proves season after season.
But wait, The Green Archer Restored! has more. In my favorite touch, Abel has hired a bad-guy dispatcher (Kit Guard, The Secret Code); this counterpart to police dispatchers is mostly there for comic relief as he keeps beating up the wrong Green Archer, but you'll have to admit, it's an inspired idea. Fred Kelsey (The Lone Wolf Strikes) is the comic relief on the side of good as the dim Capt. Thompson. Herbert Evans (Bringing Up Father) gets a few laughs as Henderson the Butler. (I'm still convinced that someone on stakeout duty would hire a butler, though.)
The big twist -- the identity of the good Green Archer -- is obvious from the first chapter, but there are a couple of smaller surprises at the end that may still actually surprise you.
The picture, though restored, isn't perfect. Often, there's this cloud-like stuff around the fringes of the picture; I'm not sure whether it's from damage to the film or bad lighting in the original. There's also occasional flickering of the picture, and stock footage of a train wreck is in really bad shape. After looking at the non-restored trailer's washed-out, grainy images, though, I'm convinced that Restored Serials did the best job that could have been done. The sound does the job sufficiently for the loud, thunderous musical score and the stage-style broad acting that won't let you miss any lines. Less impressive, the crawls that sum up the previous chapters at the beginning of each episode are cut off.
Extras on DVD-ROM? I didn't get a chance to look at these, so you're on your own there.
You'll spot the ending before the first chapter's done if you're sharp, but The Green Archer Restored! is still exciting fun. If you're up for an old-time serial, give this one a look.
Not guilty. I'm glad Restored Serials set The Green Archer free on DVD. Watch out for trap doors, though!
Review content copyright © 2007 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Restored Serials
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Release Year: 1940
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Pressbook, Lobby Cards, and Script for "Terrible People" in PDF on DVD-ROM
* Theatrical Trailer
* Rare Interview with Victor Jory