Thursday, February 12, 2015

Video Cheese: THE GREEN ARCHER (1961)

Posted here by the kind permission of Mr. Ken Begg

   "A possibly supernatural emerald avenger stalks the castle of Abel Bellamy."

   Edgar Wallace wrote a book called 'The Green Archer', about a spectral figure dressed in green (and carrying a bow and arrow) which stalked the castle of prominent citizen (but unscrupulous millionaire) Abel Bellamy*. In the 13th Century or so, the figure was a Robin Hood type who carried on a war with the contemporary authorities. In the 20th Century, his ghost is using non-supernatural arrows to wipe out the Bellamy line. Thus far, the story has been translated to the screen no less than three times, each under the same title.

[*Actually, I understand this moniker was first used in one of the serials.]
   The 1925 serial re-locates the action from London to the United States, by having that version's Abel Bellamy transport an ancient castle to the States, curse included. (The 1925 serial may be lost, in its entirety, as only three reels are resting in the UCLA film archives, and I guess there are no other prints known to exist!) 

   Another serial (one that looks pretty good, if the trailer is anything to go by) made in 1940 brought in Victor Jory. This one also appears to be set in the States, and I would wager is largely a remake of the earlier serial (such remakes happened from time to time). 

   Finally, in 1961, this feature version was produced in Germany. The action is moved back to London and our star this time is none other than Gert Frobe.

   Frobe was a major star in Germany during the 50's and 60's. He would achieve screen immortality, however, as the title character in the filmed version of Ian Fleming's Goldfinger. Just as Goldfinger is still the standard used to judge all spy films, Gert Frobe's gold-obsessed, cultured, but quite ruthless industrialist is still considered by many to be the high water mark for 007's cinematic villains. 

   Forever after he would be billed more often than not as "Bert 'Goldfinger' Frobe" in the few more of his films that would find American release. (He wasn't alone, as Harold 'Odd-Job' Sakata could attest.) Even here, a couple of years prior to Goldfinger, he gets a special "And Gert Frobe" credit that comes zooming at the camera, unlike any of the other credits! (What year this was actually brought over to the States, I couldn't say. Possibly these titles weren't translated until after the monstrous success of Goldfinger.)

   Gert is playing the criminally-minded Abel Bellamy in this version (I don't know if this element is in the Wallace book or not, but they make a big deal out of him being an American).

   Also on hard are some relatives, including his foxy niece Valerie. Valerie is being played by Karin Dor, who also appeared in a Bond film. She was You Only Live Twice's Helga Brandt, the assassin who threatens to skin 007 alive! She also, as did Frobe, appeared in a Dr. Mabuse movie, as well as a Fu Manchu entry and The Strangler of Blackmoor Castle. She was also the human shell for one of a pair of world-conquering Martians in Assignment: Terror!

   Also snooping around are a Scotland Yard inspector and his master-of-disguise superior who acts as a field agent (!), a newsreel reporter/cameraman who occasionally breaks the fourth wall, and a slew of suspicious servants, dive-dwellers, and underworld figures. Which of them is posing as The Green Archer?

   Ever see one of those movies where you keep forgetting what you saw five minutes earlier? You'll see a character walking around outside, but you can't remember the scene where he left his room, but the scene must have been there because there's a gap you can't recall? I found I frequently had no idea what was going on. 

   For one thing, the film is so quirky, you're not sure what direction it's going to go in. Sometimes it feels like The Phantom of Soho, sometimes it feels like  Hollywood gangster pic from the 30's, yet other times it has a vibe more akin to an episode of the Adam West Batman

   Making this worse is the dialog here, which sounds unlike anything I've ever heard before. I can't think of any other film where I've had this much trouble keeping up with who these characters are and how they relate to each other. After a while, I just leaned back and hoped it would all make sense in the end. I don't remember being particularly distracted during the film, not a lot on my mind as I recall, but I had no idea what was going on in front of me half the time!

   It's possible I was too excited going in, looking forward to The Green Archer after seeing those dandy Dr. Mabuse films I'd watched recently. After it was all over, though, I only walked away with a couple of impressions of what I'd seen... 

   One, Karin Dor had some fantastic legs. 

   Two, Gert Frobe is a very intense actor. His eyes bulge more often than those of Desi Arnaz, and he's constantly shivering like he's a slender thread away from throwing a punch! Despite that, however, he has a real screen presence, and you find you're always drawn to him when he's on screen. It's like watching an actor standing in the middle of a room surrounded by crash-test dummies, Frobe really commands the scene whenever the camera points at him.

    Hopefully, when I eventually get around to a second screening, it'll be less confusing. These German mysteries of the 60's really aren't my cup of tea, so I fear I may not've given the film all the breaks it might deserve. On the other hand, I was quite ready to like the film, so it's lack of impression may be very real....

   You'll just have to see the film and decide for yourself.

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