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Review: The Green Archer (1940)
Topic Started: Sep 7 2005, 10:28 AM (1,516 Views)
Laughing Gravy
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In my previous attempt to get through the 15-episode Columbia serial The Green Archer (1940), it joined a short list of serials I was never able to muster enough enthusiasm to finish (in case youíre wondering, you nosy parkers, Return of Chandu and The Black Coin are the other two). I managed to finish it this time, thanks to a pretty good DVD from VCI and a better appreciation of a terrific performance from James Craven, but I would be lying if I said it wasnít somewhat of a chore.

Michael Bellamy inherits a castle in Southern California (donít ask) but his evil brother Abel has him framed and sent to prison and takes over the castle himself to serve as his headquarters for a series of crimes. When Michael is killed in a train wreck on the way to the penitentiary, his widow, her sister, and his friend, ace investigator Spike Holland (Victor Jory), move in to the house next door to the castle to try and pin the evil deeds on Abel Bellamy. Meanwhile, Spike Holland himself comes under suspicion thanks to a bumbling police chief (Fred Kelsey). Coming to Hollandís aid, however, is the ghost of the Green Archer, a mysterious figure who has protected the castle for ages. (And howzabout that Ė 15 episodes worth of plot in only one paragraph. Do I have this gig down, or WHAT?!?!?)

From late 1939 through the spring of 1942, James W. Horne directed all ten of Columbiaís serial releases Ė by himself! In contrast, the vaunted Republic team of William Witney and John English directed nine serials in that span (with Witney directing another solo). When you consider the cheapness of the Columbia budgets, and what Horne did with what he was given, I think he did an admirable job. In most cases. The Green Archer ainít most cases, sadly. Its cheapness seeps through every frame. My main knock against the serial is the fact that the ďcastleĒ is portrayed by 3 or 4 rooms and a couple of hallways, and said hallways are the source of much of the action, as the bad guys chase the good guys (and occasionally, vice versa) up and down the same halls and in and out the same doors, very reminiscent of later Three Stooges shorts with Shemp. Jory does what he can with the material heís given (he was much better in a much better Horne serial, The Shadow). The chapterplay belongs to James Craven as Abel Bellamy. What a scene-stealer! As each episode goes by and each plot is thwarted by Holland or the Archer, Craven gets madder and madder until by the final few episodes you are sure his head is going to explode. It is, with the exception of Charles Middleton's Ming the Merciless, as enjoyable a performance of villainy as you'll find in American serials.

I also liked Fred Kelsey (well known to fans of Columbia comedy shorts) as the blithering idiot police captain, Kit Guard as Dinky, Abelís loyal but inept henchman, and the drop-dead-gorgeous Iris Meredith as Valerie, the sister-in-law of the deceased Michael. Miss Meredith mustíve also caught the eye of funnyman Charley Chase on the Columbia lot, because she pops up from time to time in his shorts. So to speak.

This is also one of the few serials Iíve ever seen in which the final chapter was the best one; usually, it was the first couple of episodes that featured the best work, as those were the chapters shown to exhibitors to get them interested in purchasing the serial. Not this one, boy, as in Chapter 15 all of the running around willy-nilly comes to a head, the Archer is unmasked, two of the characters are revealed as something other than we expected, and Abel Bellamy meets a most singular demise at the final fadeout. The denouement is almost worth waiting patiently for 15 weeks just to see!

The Green Archer is (very) loosely based on an Edgar Wallace thriller; it was originally filmed (also as a serial) in 1925, and as a feature in Germany in 1961. Itís one of four Horne-helmed serials currently available on DVD from VCI Entertainment (the other three, Holt of the Secret Service, Captain Midnight and Terry & the Pirates, are sillier and more memorable).

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marlin lee
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For a negative review you sure have a lot positive to say about this serial. I recommend this serial but admit all your negative points are valid. This serial is certainly a mixed blessing or curse. Probably one of the better examples of "Is the glass half full or half empty?" This was my first Horne serial which probably helped. Because I would agree that other efforts such as Captain Midnight and Holt of the Secret Service are better.

For me Victor Jory was solid enough and James Craven over the top enjoyable enough that it is worth any flaws in the execution of the plot. One other nice element was Abel's use of one of his henchmen posing as The Green Archer to further his nefarious scheme. However as with most things in this serial there was also a negative. The joke of Bellamy's other henchmen mistaking him for the real Green Archer was pulled a few too many times. I also liked the couple character surprises at the end. Especially since the identity of The Green Archer was rather obvious.
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The Batman
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I may have to give this one a try, after that half-full/half-empty review. I had seen the 2-disc (each sold separately) edition put out by Alpha, but never picked it up because of Alpha's suspect quality. This VCI version might be worth a shot. It would be my first James Horne, so that might help.
Always be yourself! Unless you can be Batman...then always be Batman!
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Tony Bolton
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The first time I tried to watch this I really was unable to get into it, but after remembering I put out 16 clams to buy it I tried it again and found it not bad. The usual Columbia henchmen are there headed as mentioned by manic James Craven. I as impressed as much though by Victor Jory fresh from his evil turn in GWTW. His enthusiastic, energetic and humorous performance is a perfect counter to Craven.
The serial is a bit unusual and although not an upper bracket Columbia effort sufficent to provide some fun. The surprising developments in the final chapter may make repeat viewings slightly less effective.
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panzer the great & terrible
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Bat, I seem to recall that you found FLASH GORDON CONQUERS THE UNIVERSE kinda cheesy. Well. you ain't seen nothing yet!
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The Batman
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You're right, Paul, I did detect a small cheese factor in FGCTU, but I still found it above average. I also felt the serial improved as it went, especially after the first three chapters. FGCTU is still not one of the best, IMHO, but it deserves a place in the upper echelons of serialdom. I am comfortable giving it a 7 out of 10.

Sounds like the Green Archer is the type of serial that will require some red wine, while one is watching. Wine always goes nice with cheese. If I come across that VCI version, I will let you know.
Always be yourself! Unless you can be Batman...then always be Batman!
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panzer the great & terrible
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Yeah, red wine will be just the thing. Also, this is one case where watching more than one episode at a time simply won't do. You'll understand if you try.
Life is just a bowl of cherries, it's too mysterious, don't take it serious...
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AndyFish
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There's a feature version of this one on Amazon on a double bill with a feature version of The Lost City-- I just ordered it. I wonder if a shorter running time will help?
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The Batman
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Thanks, Andy, just ordered it!

Always be yourself! Unless you can be Batman...then always be Batman!
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Pa Stark
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Bats, don't listen to the others about THE GREEN ARCHER, it is fun, really fast paced, and most of the time really loopy. James Craven and Kit Guard give really over the top performance, but nothing equals Fred Kelsey's performance as a police inspector.
Honest and Lovable Pa Stark
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The Batman
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Pa, I have and have watched and have highly enjoyed the Green Archer serial. When I posted about it (12 years ago!!!), I had not seen it, or any James Horne serials at that point.

Since then, I have watched several and enjoyed them all. I am firmly in the "James Horne is a great serial director" camp. His serials are different, and fun, and there's nothing wrong with a little variety.

Looking forward to the feature version.


Always be yourself! Unless you can be Batman...then always be Batman!
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Pa Stark
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Bats, have you seen the silent serial, OFFICER 444? It goes way beyond anything James Horne ever could have dreamt of. Totally insane.
Honest and Lovable Pa Stark
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The Batman
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I have, Pa, but I don't recall much of it right now, but I only gave it a 5/10. If a better copy comes along, I'll gladly upgrade and give it another shot.


Always be yourself! Unless you can be Batman...then always be Batman!
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Pa Stark
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As I remember, the prints going around are very good.
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The Batman
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If you mean OFFICER 444, Pa, I believe I have the Serial Squadron version. Is there a better version available?

Always be yourself! Unless you can be Batman...then always be Batman!
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