Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Green Arrow.. No, Darn it! I mean the Green ARCHER!

I've discovered that--if you're a comic book geek--it's impossible to tell people about Edgar Wallace's 1923 novel The Green Archer or either of the subsequent movie serials based on that novel without accidentally saying The Green ARROW at least 50% of the time. I have a lifetime of referring to an heroic archer who dresses in green as Green Arrow, darn it. I can't be expected to change now.

But the Green Archer is a different character from DC Comics' superhero. You could probably consider him an early superhero--he wore a costume and mask, keeping his identity a secret while taking vengence on villains.

Edgar Wallace wrote fun mysteries, full of bizarre twists and turns. The Green Archer is justly considered one of his best. It definitely has its share of twists and turns, as well as a superbly suspenseful climax involving many of the main characters being tossed into a clever death trap.

It's difficult to summarize the novel without giving too much away. The villain is Abel Bellamy, a rich American who has emigrated to England and now lives in the impregnable Garre Castle. He made his fortune in various ruthless and illegal ways and also has a nasty habit of taking vengeance on his enemies by threatening their children. We soon learn that he has been keeping woman prisoner in the castle for the last eight years.

Bellamy is villainous enough to require multiple protagonists, including a Scotland Yard detective, a young lady who may be related to the woman prisoner, an American reporter and--surprisingly--a husband-and-wife criminal team who at first work for Bellamy but discover that there are some things they simply won't do for money.

The most mysterious protagonist, though, is the Green Archer. Suspected by some to be a ghost haunting the castle, he seems to have full access to that castle no matter how well-guarded it is. He helps foil several of Bellamy's schemes and isn't above putting arrows through the hearts of Bellamy's minions. But his identity and his ultimate motivation is a mystery throughout the novel.

It's a lively and enjoyable book. Bellamy is loathsome in just the right way to make him an effective villain. The various good guys are all interesting characters, especially Julius Savini and his wife Faye. This is the husband-and-wife team I mentioned earlier--they begin the book as villains themselves, but to the surprise of everyone including themselves, they develop a tendency to act heroically (though they never do overcome a habit of pocketing any spare cash that might be lying around).

The Green Archer was made into a silent movie serial in 1925, which I haven't seen and I'm not certain if it exists in its entirety. It was made into a serial again in 1940, with the action moved to America. It is an excellent serial, with Victor Jory playing Spike Holland--the American reporter from the novel who is promoted to lead protagonist here. James Craven does a wonderful job as the villainous Bellamy. The story departs from the novel and is largely an original story, but its a good one. There are some great cliffhangers, often involving insidious death traps. In the serial, anyone who doesn't figure out the Green Archer's identity early on isn't really trying, but there are some fun twists involving the motivations of other characters in the last chapter.

But the original novel is still the best version of the story. It hasn't been in print for years, but The Green Arro.. no, darn it! The Green ARCHER is available online HERE.

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