Columbia's 9th serial, slotted between "Overland With Kit Carson" and "Terry and the Pirates", was intended to have Lorna Gray in the role played by Veda Ann Borg, and to have been co-directed by D. Ross Lederman and Norman Deming. The credits specified the serial was "Based upon stories published in "The Shadow Magazine", while the ads proclaimed it to be "right out of the air waves and magazine stories." What appeared was a mixture of both with Lamont Cranston the true identity of The Shadow, although Lamont Cranston was only an occasional disguise of the pulp magazine Shadow. The hypnotic invisibility of the radio character was completely ignored, as was the almost invisible "Living Shadow" of the pulps.(In the serial, the only invisible man (The Black Tiger) was the villain, as even James Horne probably realized that six to ten henchmen taking orders from an invisible man was more plausible then six to ten henchman falling all over the place from unseen blows delivered by an ... Written by
Les Adams <email@example.com>
Chapter Titles: 1) The Doomed City, 2) The Shadow Attacks, 3) The Shadow's Peril, 4) In the Tiger's Lair, 5) Danger Above, 6) The Shadow's Trap, 7) Where Horror Waits, 8) The Shadow Rides the Rails, 9) The Devil in White, 10) The Underground Trap, 11) Chinatown Night, 12) Murder by Remote Control, 13) Wheels of Death, 14) The Sealed Room, 15) The Shadow's Net Closes. See more »
One of my favorite childhood heroes is reduced to standard Saturday matinée serial fare...
Being a fan of the beloved radio show for many years, I was eager to see this Saturday matinée serial version of the mysterious pulp magazine and radio character. The Shadow was one of my favorite childhood heroes, along with other masked men like Claude Rains' Phantom of the Opera and Tyrone Power's Zorro. At the age of seven I managed to see THE SHADOW (1994) in a local movie theater and found it a disappointment, particularly due to the dull portrayal of Lamont Cranston/The Shadow as played by Alec Baldwin.
However, this 1940 movie serial fares little better than the big-budget 1994 film. Rather than containing a clever and imaginative plot like so many of the plots of the radio show, the serial's plot is routine Saturday matinée serial tripe containing middle-aged henchmen in suits and fedoras, a melodramatic comic book villain who gives his orders behind a desk at all times, and ludicrous cliffhanging situations in which our hero emerges from demolition and debris without a scratch. As usual, the henchmen are dimwitted and never rely on using their guns to finish off The Shadow before a chapter ends.
There are compensations, and I suppose much of the credit goes to Victor Jory as the title character. Looking every inch like the hawk-nosed Lamont Cranston on the pulp magazine covers, Jory is ideal casting for the character and his fine acting skills are apparent in all his scenes. After all, Jory played villainous supporting roles in such prestigious films like GONE WITH THE WIND (1939). His Shadow laugh and voice are perfect and he looks great in costume. It's delightful to see how Jory uses his cloak and hat for functional purposes at times rather than just for show. However, the costume only looks good in dim lighting and looks rather foolish in brightly lit scenes and in fight scenes. Too bad Columbia Studios didn't rely on using a better cinematographer or lighting cameraman to film Jory's scenes in costume not to mention a bigger budget and a better fight choreographer. The Shadow tends to use a revolver and get knocked around quite a bit rather than cloud men's minds here.
Other compensations include the mysterious lighting style of all the villainous Black Tiger's sceneswhich calls for a hazy beam of light to shine down on his desk in his pitch-dark officeand the presence of one of my favorite movie serial actors, Robert Fiske. Fiske played a henchman in the Columbia serial THE BATMAN (1943) and I immediately recognized him by his voice here. Also creditable is Lee Zahler's excellent and exciting music score which captures the mood of each scene perfectly. The taut direction makes the serial exciting to watch from beginning to end.
But this is not enough to make THE SHADOW rise above the level of a standard movie serial. The cinematography is standard, the lighting style is standard, the sets are cheap-looking, and fight scenes are laughably yet excitingly staged like so many of the low-budget movie serials of the era. And the lovely Margo Lane (Veda Ann Borg) has little to do but be in danger and scream her whiny head off rather than help Lamont track down the Black Tiger. Leave all the partner work to Harry Vincent (Roger Moore), who plays a movie serial version of cabdriver Moe Shrevy from the radio show.
Worth watching if you're a fan of The Shadow, but my feelings towards this serial and THE BATMAN are indifferent. Once again, the low-budget serials have made a laughingstock out of one of my favorite childhood heroes. If you want superior examples of 1940s movies starring masked men, try the lavish PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1943) or THE MARK OF ZORRO (1940) starring the dashing Tyrone Power.
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