The country estate of American emigre Abel Bellamy (Gerd Fröbe, in fine intimidating form) is haunted by the ghost of the Green Archer, a 14th century Robin Hood type figure who terrorised the former lords of the manor.
Now, with the gangster coming home on vaguely defined business and his niece Valerie (Karin Dor) arriving with her adoptive father to take up residence in the adjacent mansion, much to Bellamy's annoyance, the archer has returned.
Who is he and what does he want?
The cloth-capped, working class thief, whose death starts the story
This 1961 krimi from Rialto and Preben Philipsen, directed by Jürgen Roland, presents the third film adaptation of Edgar Wallace's 1923 novel of the same name, following two US serial versions in 1925 and 1940.
Though coming early in the krimi cycle and thereby remaining relatively faithful to the spirit of Wallace and free of intentional (if not unintentional) camp, there was just something about Der Grüne Bogenschütze which just failed to work for me, at least in the the way I had expected.
Town and country – the twin poles of krimi space
The usual ingredients are certainly there: an incomprehensible plot whose machinations the viewer-detective has absolutely no chance to figure out for him- or herself; a dastardly villain; a mysterious avenger with a gimmick; a beautiful damsel to be placed in situations of distress; country houses replete with secrete passages and dungeons; an array of quirky supporting characters cum victims cum suspects; a trip into the heart of darkest Soho; stock shots of the Houses of Parliament and Picadilly Circus to add a veneer of authenticity to the German imaginary London and, of course, the stalwart men of Scotland Yard there to unmask the guilty and save the day.
I think that the two biggest difficulties I had with taking the film in the usual way revolved around the first and last entries in this laundry list. There are almost too many characters, subplots and incidents to keep track of at times, in part because the Scotland Yard man who usually represents our route into and through the story is working undercover and not introduced as such until over half-way through.
What the film does have going for it is a somewhat more self-conscious approach to the whole business of the krimi.
A giallo-esque black glove moment
A giallo-esque black glove / telephone moment, with a more krimi costumed villain
While we can ascribe the absence of “hallo hier spricht Edgar Wallace” to watching the English language edit of the film, the opening sequence is noteworthy for foregrounding the sort of distantiating strategies that – at least according to theory – popular films don't engage in as two characters, a journalist and a tour guide, breach the fourth wall and directly address the spectator:
“There's nothing to make a decent film of here friends. A murder with a bow and arrow. Come on, they can't be serious! That terrible green archer – an absurd idea!”
“All who visit here are deceived, so of course they all come here. No one here believes in ghosts. Oh but they pay to come in here – they want to know why they don't believe in them.”
A few moments later, after the tour guide has done his spiel about the 10 shilling book detailing the “lurid history” of the castle and the archer in greater depth, he and the reporter discuss the authenticity of the archers' green-painted bow:
“Well, you know how it is. They want a little atmosphere. But how about doing a little story on it, eh?”
“Shoot some shots for the newsreel?”
“I am a reporter, not a press agent!”
“Yes, well, we all have to live”
Then one of the tour party is found dead with a green arrow in his back, allowing the story proper to begin:
“Is he dead?”
“Yes; I guess we have a story for the film after all”
If events proceed along more conventional lines hereafter, the journalist (the ubiquitous Eddi Arent) again turns to us intermittently throughout the narrative, signalling pantomine-like that we must be quiet as he sneaks up on some of the bad guys and so forth, to remind us that it's not for real.
Breaching the fourth wall
It's not the epitome of cinematic modernism, but does server as a useful reminder that the avant-garde perhaps wasn't always as avant as it thought and never held a monopoly on such practices / praxis. (After all, couldn't Wallace's patented plot wheel be read in quasi-structuralist terms, as revealing similar kinds of paradigmatic and syntygmatic combinations as, say, Proppian analyses of narrative?)
Another point of interest in relation to the Wallace universe is the way the film treats its foreign and working class characters. Though some subalterns certainly follow the conventional villain pattern, others unusually get away with their schemes, perhaps because of their Robin Hood-esque “rob from the rich” quality.