The Back Row’s Weekly Serial Review: The Green Archer (1940)

After a brief hiatus, the Back Row’s Weekly Serial Review is back with a new selection of good, bad, cheesy, and sometimes just plain odd, serials from around the 1930s and 40s. Things to look forward to: Dick Tracy, Flash Gordon Conquers the Univers, Phantom Empire (starring Gene Autry) and Radar Men From the Moon. This weeks entry is The Green Archer!

Quick Facts
Released in 1940
Directed by James W. Horne
Written by Morgan Cox, Jesse Duffy, and John Cutting
Starring Victor Jory, Iris Meredith, and James Craven

Basic Story Line
Insurance investigator Spike Holland attempts to help his friend Michael Bellamy after he is framed by his brother, Able Bellamy, for a rash of jewel thefts. Holland is aided in his quest by the legendary Green Archer who is supposed to come and help the Bellamy family when needed.

The Green Archer is a decent film serial that is unfortunately not quite good enough to make the audience forgive its faults.

There is a lot of potential in The Green Archer. It is based on a book and a 1925 silent serial (both of which I hope to get my hands on). It is set in a dark and moody castle that is riddled with secret passages and booby traps. It also has not one, but two Green Archers, one working for our villain, and one helping Spike Holland. The script is set up as a game of wits between our hero and a sophisticated, intelligent and ruthless villain, played with glee by James Craven. Although this is enough to make The Green Archer a watchable and often entertaining serial, it is not quite enough to sustain 15 chapters.

The story is meant to be a battle between a brilliant, charismatic villain, and a smart, tenacious hero, filled with moves and counter-moves. Unfortunately the story becomes a repetitive stalemate as one is constantly foiling the other’s plot. The story has no forward momentum. It isn’t like the Green Hornet, where the hero is slowly chipping away at a massive criminal organization, or The Crimson Ghost, where Duncan Richards is getting closer to the identity of the villain and the Ghost is getting closer to completing his weapon. This serial stays in the same place for all 15 chapters; Spike Holland knows that Able Bellamy is the villain but can’t prove it and Able Bellamy can’t dispose of Holland. This premise is not only stagnant but it becomes hard to believe. Able Bellamy is a genius with a gang of thugs at his disposal and he can’t dispose of one man? Spike Holland is an insurance investigator with strong contacts in the police. On multiple occasions Bellamy openly tries to kill him, and yet he still doesn’t feel he has enough evidence to go to the police? They do try to pad the serial with a side story of Bellamy attempting to steal a formula for synthetic radium. This, unfortunately, feels like a bit of filler and doesn’t add to the story.

The character of The Green Archer is cool. The fact that there are two masked archers, one working for either side, adds an extra layer of confusion for both our hero and our villain. It does however cause some credibility issues. It is cool enough and presented in such a way that, yes, the audience can believe that two men can run around dressed as Robin Hood and not draw attention to themselves, however, that does not explain why the police don’t seem to register to the fact that there is a sudden rise in the number of people killed by arrows in the neighbourhood. The Green Archer is also a crutch for the writers when it comes to cliff hangers. It becomes predictable that anytime Holland finds himself in an impossible situation the Green Archer will swoop in and save him.

It is not uncommon in a serial for the villain to steal the show. Charles Middleton did it in Flash Gordon, J. Carrol Naish did it in Batman and James Craven does it here. Which is good, because our heroes have issues. First our Holland hangs out with one of the most useless and annoying female characters in any serial I have seen. She tries to be spunky and proactive by insisting on going with him on all the dangerous adventures, or following directions from suspicious sources who tell her to come alone and not to let anyone know where she is going. She then immediately becomes a liability and needs to be rescued. Our hero on the other hand is more Superman then insurance investigator as he regularly takes on as many as six men at a time, sometimes up to three times a day, and never so much as gets a black eye.

The ending presents us with a series of twists. Unfortunately most of these twists don’t work. Some of the twists contradict what already happened. The average viewer will have likely already guessed who the Green Archer is in the first chapter, making the reveal anti-climactic.

There are a lot of serials that are far worse than The Green Archer, (Once again I’m looking at you Undersea Kingdom) however, there are also a lot better serials out there.

Things to watch for
-The same stock footage of a truck crashing into a car that was used in the Green Hornet Strikes Again! and Batman
-A model of a warehouse exploding

The Back Row Weekly Serial Drinking Game
While watching a serial, anytime you or a friend point out a plot hole or inconsistency, take a drink. (Note: The genius villain crashing an entire passenger train just to kill his brother might be considered worthy of a drink. Not bothering to check and make sure his brother was among the fatalities definitely is.)
Odds of getting sloshed: Medium to High

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