- The Shadow Columbia Pictures 1940
- Directed by James W Horne
- Victor Jory, Veda Ann Borg, Roger Moore (not that one) and Robert Fiske
- 15 Chapters
The Shadow is one of the most complicated characters in pop culture history. Starting as the host of radio's DETECTIVE STORY MAGAZINE, he was little more than a creepy voice that introduced that week's episode. People started coming to newstands asking for "that Shadow Magazine" and publisher Street & Smith knew they needed to cash in.
Magician and mystery writer Walter Gibson was hired to pen the stories for THE SHADOW MAGAZINE starting in 1931 with the first story "The Living Shadow". In that story The Shadow was a force of nature employing a large group of secret agents in New York City to help him in his war against crime. He wasn't quite human and sported two huge forty five automatics which he wasn't afraid to use.
Hugely popular his magazine was soon twice a month and in 1937 the radio producers decided to introduce a new series called THE SHADOW which would star the character and his "secret identity" of Lamont Cranston. He was given a female sidekick in the form of Margot Lane. Margot was introduced not just to appeal to a female audience but to give Lamont someone to talk to.
Rather than doing a literal adaption of the popular magazine feature the Radio producers took advantage of radio's Theater of the Imagination format and gave him the power of invisibility. In the magazines he merely dressed in black and hid in the shadows. In the magazines he wasn't actually Lamont Cranston, that was simply one of the identities he adopted when he needed it.
THE SHADOW on radio was more a straight mystery series and often loosely adapted some of the storylines of the magazines.
So, to bring such a character to the screen is a nearly impossible task-- because which version do you adapt? The blood thirsty avenger who not only believed in the death penalty, as artist Jim Steranko once remarked, he was the death penalty. Or do you bring the mystery formatted radio version who could "cloud mens minds so that they could not see him"?
Columbia had adapted fellow pulp character THE SPIDER to the serial screen in 1938 in THE SPIDER'S WEB-- The Spider was a copy of The Shadow from a rival publisher but rather than be a pale imitation he was a version that took The Shadow to the extreme. Where The Shadow might shoot a group of thugs in a gun battle, The Spider would take out an entire platoon of an enemy army and then brand their foreheads with a tattoo of a spider to let everyone know who was responsible.
There was one adventure where he needed to send a message to a gang boss so he removed the head of one of his underlings and mailed it to him. The Spider was someone you didn't mess with.
Columbia's Spider Serial had been a success so they made a similar themed version of The Shadow in that adaption.
Victory Jory, who a year earlier had been in GONE WITH THE WIND, starred as Cranston and The Shadow and did an acceptable job in the role. From a technical aspect a lot of the scenes were shot Day for Night -- which means it's clearly Noon but we're pretending its night, and that works against the final result since The Shadow works best in heavy darkness.
The stuntman's white socks in some scenes give the outfit a silly look and despite the fact that he carries a single .38 revolver rather than twin .45 automatics the serial is a solid version of the character with some weak Cliffhangers each week. In one chapter, The Shadow is trapped as the ceiling literally falls on him-- how will he escape? In the resolution he simply climbs out of the debris.
Serials were produced on the cheap and shown in weekly installments at local theaters along with other short subjects like Newsreels and cartoons, and that's how they should be watched now.
Available at Amazon and other DVD sellers.