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A mysterious criminal known as The Whispering Shadow commits crimes by means of a gang he controls by television and radio rays. Jack Norton, whose brother was murdered by The Whispering Shadow, suspects that the eerie Professor Strang - whose ghostly wax museum contains figures far too lifelike - may be involved in the crimes. Written by
Jim Beaver <email@example.com>
1933's "The Whispering Shadow" was Bela Lugosi's serial debut, and also the first that I actually purchased, because this was the only one of his 5 serials that had no feature version. The scenes in his elaborate waxworks prove to be the most memorable, although his character is one of numerous red herrings believed to be the title mastermind, whose identity revealed in the final chapter seems to be a real cheat. This Mascot serial lacks a musical score, which makes it stand out from the others Lugosi did, and doesn't really utilize him as the star. The next, 1934's 12 chapter "The Return of Chandu" allows him to be a genuine, two fisted serial hero (at age 51). He was the star villain in 1936's "Shadow of Chinatown," at 15 chapters the longest, but perhaps most enjoyable, since he works with beautiful Luana Walters, against former Olympic athlete Bruce Bennett (Herman Brix), with a supporting cast of familiar faces like Richard Loo and Victor Wong. 1937's Republic "SOS Coast Guard" was the only one where he was billed second, after hero Ralph Byrd, a well made 12 chapter slugfest, with less footage of Lugosi than the others, assisted by Richard Alexander (Prince Barin in Universal's "Flash Gordon") as the hulking, mute manservant. 1939's 12 chapter "The Phantom Creeps" was done at the familiar Universal studios, with a suitable supporting cast, including hero Robert Kent, Edward Van Sloan, and Lee J. Cobb, but among so many gadgets, the well remembered robot was played by Bud Wolff. Bela's batting average in serials was far better than Boris Karloff or Lon Chaney, although it must be stated that Boris did his last chapterplay before 1931's "Frankenstein," and that Chaney starred only in his first (1932's "The Last Frontier") and last, the 12 chapter Western "Overland Mail," for Universal in 1942 (reduced in stature as an evil henchman in all the others).
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