Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

Last week  this column featured The Shadow Strikes, featuring Rod La Rocque as Lamont Cranston/The Shadow.  This is Behind the Mask, another in the five or so featuring The Shadow. It stars Kane Richmond as Lamont Cranston (The Shadow) and Barbara Read as Margo Lane, Cranston’s main squeeze. The Shadow Strikes came out in 1937, and this one followed in 1946. The big difference is in the improvement in cinematography and acting, but not much else. The story is still lame, a comedy of murder and mayhem. We are going to see people dropping dead all over accompanied by loads of laughs.

This is from Monogram Pictures (what else). Details are from Wikipedia and IMDb.

Opening scenes show shady reporter Jeff Mann (James Cardwell) making the rounds for his sideline operation (blackmail). A hundred here, a few hundred there, and people’s names won’t appear in his column. Here he muscles sumptuous gambling operator Mae Bishop (Marjorie Hoshelle). With each visit the eager Mr. Mann drops word that his fees are going up.

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And that’s the end of the sleazy reporter. Back at his office at the newspaper a shadowy figure comes in through the window behind him. The first his co-workers notice anything wrong they see an ominous silhouette on Mann’s office window. It’s The Shadow, they are sure of it.

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Meanwhile, the real Shadow, Lamont Cranston, is making cuddle bunnies with his fiancée, Margo Lane. They are going to be married the next day.

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It goes downhill from  there. This has nothing to offer by way of a plot. Cranston, both as himself and as The Shadow, bumbles his way through the case of mounting bodies. Here he deals with some officers of the law.

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Here Cranston has lured Edith Merrill (June Clyde) up to his place, the idea being to schmooze her and get her to lead him to an important source of evidence. Unfortunately girlfriend Margo and girlfriend’s girlfriend arrive first, and Cranston’s butler, Shrevvie  (George Chandler), hides them behind the couch just in time as Miss Merrill arrives. Here the two are listening with increasing agitation as Cranston makes progress of various kinds.

It’s all very comical, but that’s the last we see of the lovely Edith. As she exits and takes the elevator down a shadowy figure is waiting and grabs her from behind.

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On another occasion The Shadow attempts to penetrate a suspect’s fortified position and tangles with three of his henchmen. He defeats the three through the application of John Barrymore gymnastics and Shrevvie wielding a pair of Indian clubs (they are in a gymnasium).

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Of course it all comes to an end when Cranston gets the host of suspects together at the newspaper office and reveals the mystery killer.

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What this has over and beyond last Sunday’s bad movie is a hint at direction and cinematography. Settings and shots are more realistic, and the action moves, comparatively. Vis, the stiffness rampant last Sunday:

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Some of these movies are available to watch free on YouTube:

The Shadow Strikes

The Shadow Returns

But I’m guessing not this one. I will have a review of The Shadow Returns some Sunday in the future. Not soon.

Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

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Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows…

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.

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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.

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A key villain is arch criminal Barney Grossett (Cy Kendall), who runs an apparently illegal  gambling operation, where Delthern’s son Jasper (James Blakeley) has run up a tab of $11,000.

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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.

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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.

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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.