Those are the words I heard on the radio, growing up before television. The Shadow had “the power to cloud men’s minds so they cannot see him.” I remembered well. So well, in fact, that years later when I met a couple, and they introduced themselves as Lamont Cranston and Margo Lane I knew right off they were fakes. I never let them know that I knew.
The character was originally developed as a “mysterious radio narrator who hosted a program designed to promote magazine sales for Street and Smith Publications.” In 1931 Walter B. Gibson expanded the character into pulp literature. The Shadow was “[o]ne of the most famous adventure heroes of the 20th century United States.” The Wikipedia entry mentions five movies, but I never saw any of these until February, when a collection showed up on Amazon Prime Video.
Here is The Shadow Strikes, starring “Rod La Rocque as Lamont Cranston/The Shadow.” It came out in 1937 from Grand National Pictures, which is probably why I didn’t catch it at the neighborhood theater. Margo Lane is not in this one. She probably came along later. We shall see. Cranston doesn’t have a main squeeze in this flick, but he does develop an itch for leading lady Marcia Delthern, played by Agnes Anderson.
For all its drama (people getting killed), this is played for fun. It starts with a big mix up. Cranston is examining the bullet that killed his father (obviously another story). Then, for reasons unclear to me on first viewing, he goes to the offices of Chester Randall, Attorney at Law. Whether he intended to crack Randall’s safe for some documents, or not, it turns out that when he gets there two safe crackers are a few minutes ahead of him. They have the safe open and are looking for the “affidavit” in question. Cranston enters as The Shadow, wearing his black overcoat and hat and a black cloth mask. He gets the drop on the crooks and phones the police.
Just before the cops arrive, Cranston steps into Randall’s private office and waits for the police to take the crooks away. When all leave, he goes to the safe and pilfers the items he was looking for. Surprise, surprise! Police Captain Breen (Kenneth Harlan) returns to check on things and discovers Cranston en flagrante. Cranston’s only way out is to assume the identity of the attorney Randall, and things go down hill from there. It’s pure comedy, with bodies piling up.
Before they can leave Randall’s office, Randall gets a phone call. Cranston continues to play the part and goes to the desperate client’s home to review and to rewrite the man’s will. We know what’s going to happen. While the two are sitting there discussing Mr. Caleb Delthern’s (John St. Polis ) family matters, somebody shoots Delthern dead. No point in changing the will now. Rather than exit stage right, Cranston continues to play the part in order to solve the crime.
And on. Guess what? It was the butler all along. He didn’t want Delthern to change his will and cut out his son, who has plans to marry Marcia.
It’s all as flat and dry as the West Texas plains. Acting is not up to par with 1930s’ level, and cinematography is uninspired. Look at the image at the top of this post, where Cranston and Breen are having a pow-wow. The director’s instruction manual says the audience wants to see the front of people doing the talking, so both actors are turned just enough so the audience can see the fronts of their jackets. It’s drained of all drama. Compare that to just about any image from a modern film or even a TV production. Here’s a screen shot from Lethal Weapon. Modern directors get the viewer right into the action.
Dialog is uninspiring:
Breen: What’s up?
Cranston: I don’t know. Well thanks again, Captain. If you need me for anything, I’m at your service.
Breen: I think I’d better go along with you.
Cranston, Oh, I don’t think that’ll be necessary.
Breen: Well, you don’t seem to know what they want with you, and perhaps… Yeah, I think I’d better go along.
The story lurches along. Cranston wants to get the goods on Grossett. So he barges into Grossett’s office, a couple of times, eventually leaving a hidden microphone. About as clumsy a maneuver as ever unwound on the big screen. Not spoiling the plot, but Grossett follows Cranston to his place. The evil butler Wellington (Wilson Benge) is there with a gun. See the above screen shot. Grossett barges in and discovers Cranston is The Shadow. Grossett fires. Wellington fires. Both are dead. And Marcia marries he fiancée. Cranston compares a bullet from Grossett’s gun with the bullet that killed his father. That’s end of the movie.
Up next Sunday: another movie with The Shadow. A comparison between the two is worth a look.