4 September 2005 | F Gwynplaine MacIntyre
Castle on the Hudson
Edgar Wallace was an astoundingly prolific English author of the 1920s and early '30s, who churned out so many novels -- mostly crime thrillers -- that two different movie studios (one in Britain, one in Germany) actually specialised in producing low-budget film adaptations of his works. A minority of Wallace's novels (including 'The Green Archer' and 'The Terror') dabbled in the supernatural, but usually offered a contrived 'natural' explanation. Ironically, Wallace's most famous screen credit is for a story he did *not* write. Hired by RKO to script 'King Kong', Wallace accepted the assignment but died before he could begin; the film gave him a story credit solely for the box-office value of his name. Although Wallace made millions from his best-selling novels and plays, he died skint: this was down to a combination of his personal generosity and his penchant for the gee-gees.
I've viewed an incomplete print of the American serial 'The Green Archer', based on Wallace's novel of that name but deviating from it in several ways. Abel Bellamy (the excellent Burr McIntosh) has become a millionaire by ruthless and illegal methods. Apparently having nothing better to do with his wealth, he purchases a mediaeval English castle and has it disassembled and shipped to America, where he reassembles it in upstate New York. (I would find this premise wildly implausible if not for the fact that William Randolph Hearst had pulled some similar stunts.) This development, not in Wallace's novel, has clearly been added to the film so that American actors can enact the story in Stateside locations, but with a Ye Olde Castle conveniently handy.
Yet the castle appears to be haunted: Bellamy and various other people keep spotting a weird cloaked figure, armed with a crossbow and very real arrows, which the archer uses for homicidal purposes. The intertitles inform us that the archer's robes are green, although this movie is monochrome.
This being a serial, several characters in the movie are suspected of being the Green Archer. Although the archer is apparently male, some of the suspects are women ... including marcelled-blonde Allene Ray as Valerie, a neighbour whose father (Stephen Grattan) has a grudge against Bellamy. Valerie is in love with handsome Jim Featherstone, a local police captain ... or is Featherstone really the archer?
Character actor Frank Lackteen, a favourite of serial fans, is on hand as a lounge lizard ... although Lackteen here wears a ludicrously obvious hairpiece. Lackteen parlayed his prominent cheekbones and unusual facial structure into a fine career in movie cliffhangers. IMDb's credits for this movie include an actor named Ray Allan, but no such actor is in the cast list of the reels that I viewed; I suspect that 'Ray Allan' is a typo for 'Allene Ray', the leading actress here.
I'm not much of a serials fan, as they tend to feature numbingly implausible plots, spun out repetitiously to comprise the maximum number of chapters for the minimum amount of story. Based on the non-consecutive reels that I viewed, 'The Green Archer' appears to be more coherent (and more intelligent) than most of its brethren. The scenes in the mediaeval castle are more convincing than I'd expected. As I've only seen a partial print, I shan't rate this movie.