Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Overlooked Films: The Shadow Strikes (1937)

Here’s the good news: This first film version of The Shadow was based on the pulp magazine rather than on the radio show. (The pulp character, by my reckoning, is the real Shadow, and the other guy an imposter). The movie is based on the novel “The Ghost of the Manor” from the June 15, 1933 issue.

But the bad news is: Despite the cool title, The Shadow never really Strikes. In fact, he’s hardly present at all. This is really just an average low-budget mystery in which the hero twice dons a cape, for a total screen time of just over a minute.

As the film opens, we meet an unnamed gentleman and his aide. The gentleman is examining the bullet that killed his father, a high-profile attorney killed by the racketeers he crusaded against. The gentleman professes a desire to learn who fired the bullet.

Our hero spends the rest of the film solving a couple of mundane manor house murders and pretending to be an attorney named Chester Randall. Why this Randall persona was necessary is more than I can figure. In the pulp story, The Shadow was masquerading as Lamont Cranston, currently vacationing in Timbuktu. Anyway, it’s pretty tame stuff. A couple of guns are fired, but no one is shot on camera, and we don’t even get a fist fight.

In The Shadow’s first brief appearance, he wears a normal narrow-brimmed fedora and has a cape draped casually over a shoulder or two. Though his face appears to be in full view of the bad guys, they immediately know him as The Shadow. Hm.

Next time he pops in, he has the high collar of his cape turned up, so folks see just his eyes. This is more effective, but all he does is stand there, point a gun, and vamoose.

Only at the very end of the film, via a newspaper article, do we learn that our gentleman hero is amateur criminologist “Lamont Granston.” Yes, Granston with a G. Why? I’ve no idea. Unlike the Cranston we know from the magazine, he doesn’t know anybody and nobody knows him, so he parades around in his own face without being recognized. The mystery of who shot his father is never resolved, though the film ends with him studying a bullet recovered during the case.

Rod LaRocque makes a decent film detective. He always wears a slightly amused look, like a slightly older and fleshier version of Warren William. This adds a little comic relief, and we get more from the byplay between him and his aide. Trouble is, he’s not Lamont Cranston, or even Granston.

The film is otherwise not horrible. It’s a typical cheapie, with passable acting and occasionally good dialogue. A musical soundtrack would have helped a lot, but I guess that wasn’t in the budget. It’s only really bad if you watch it expecting to see The Shadow.

More Overlooked Films at Sweet Freedom.


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Rittster said...

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Evan Lewis said...

That must might be the weirdest comment I've had yet - and yes, there have been some strange ones. Good job, Anonymous!

Rick Robinson said...

If I watched a Shadow movie, I'd sure expect a lot more Shadow, and accuracy per the pulp novel version. Bah. By the way, you need to delete that first comment, it is SPAM.

Rick said...

Your base are belong to us.

Ron Scheer said...

I recall the radio show from my boyhood, but was too young to be a real fan. Lamont Cranston does ring a bell, though. I like the posters.

Ron Scheer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

In "International Crime" (1938), Rod La Rocque played Lamont Cranston (with a C), but never wore a cape or cloak, and was (AFAIK) never called the Shadow. Both films must have disappointed fans of the pulp magazine and the radio show. My impression is that the serial with Victor Jory was based on the magazine, and the 1946 B features with Kane Richmond were based mainly on the radio show (he could turn invisible). There was a also a late 1950's movie, "Invisible Avenger," which may have been an unsold TV pilot. I think Universal may have made about a half dozen short subjects in the early 1930's. They were based on the original radio show format, an anthology series with the Shadow as the host. The Shadow became more popular than the stories he introduced, which led to the pulp magazine and the revised radio series, both with the Shadow as a super hero.

Evan Lewis said...

I have pics of lobby cards from those non-Shadow shorts based on the early radio show. If you'd like to see 'em, email me at delewis1@hotmail.com

Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing.