Hey, this has potential. It begins with THE BIGGEST CLOCK IN THE WORLD. At the sound of the chimes, the time will be Grand National:
Instead of another Dick Tracy, as I expected, we get another protagonist from another media platform – pulps and radio, in this case.
The Shadow Strikes? That’s going to leave a – well, nothing, except perhaps a fleeting sensation of a minor temperature variance. “Rod La Rocque” sounds like a cheesy nom de pron from the “Boogie Nights” era, and you’re thinking that can’t possibly be his name. He was actually born Roderick La Roque De la Rou, and had many names, including “Bob La Rock.” He made 104 films, and but his career sputtered after “Meet John Doe” in 1941, and that was it for the flicks.
The Shadow never really grabbed me. His powers make no sense. He had the ability to “cloud men’s minds,” as if he exuded some sort of psychic BO. No one could see him, but they could hear him. But he wasn’t invisible. He just made people think he was invisible, somehow. In a way he was an early Bruce Wayne – wealthy man-about-town by day, always accompanied by the Lovely Margo Lane, always running into some nefarious plot. Orson Welles was a decent shadow; he made The Shadow a pensive, intelligent character. After him, it’s pulp. Well, let’s see how this works.
According to the credits, there’s no Margo Lane; a little research indicates that she first appeared on the radio show in 1937, the year this film was made. She wasn’t an established character yet. (Fun fact: on the radio she was played by Endora from Bewitched.)
Two minutes into the movie, it’s apparent that it’s awful. The Shadow of the radio show was known for his mocking laugh; it was how he always announced his presence to the Underworld, because it just freaked them out. Gunsels, hoods, molls and kingpins: everyone knew that when you heard a strange tinny mirthless laugh from somewhere in the room, the Shadow was there. In this movie, the Shadow walks in on a couple of safecrackers and says “Sorry, boys.” One of them turns around and says: “The Shadow!” Because that would be the obvious conclusion when you saw someone in a dark room. Who looked like this:
That’s like Batman showing up in a chicken suit. The Shadow calls the cops – keep in mind we have no idea how he knew the criminals were breaking into the safe – then, when the police arrive, he impersonates the lawyer whose office the crooks were burgling. He does that throughout the film to get to the bottom of the mystery. I can’t tell what the mystery is. I don’t care. Let’s scan ahead for the obligatory dame:
Agnes Anderson. Her eleventh film, and her last. Don’t feel bad for her; she went into cosmetics and real estate, lived an additional 71 years, and died last February. She went into cosmetics and real estate.
I did other things while this played in the background, but I kept an ear open for salient Shadow-based lines or plot-points. Having reached the end, here’s your Shadow checklist:
Number of times he laughs in the dark to chill the blood of superstitious criminals: 0
Number of times he says “the weed of crime bears bitter fruit”: 0
Number of times he says “who knows what evil lurks in the heart of men? Me! Me! I do! I do!” or some variant close to the original character’s utterances: 0
Number of times he bothers to cloud men’s minds: 0
Number of times he enters a dark room in a hat with his face obscured: 1/2
Number of helpful expository newspapers that tell you the story’s pretty much done, and use a word never seen in newspaper headlines ever:
In short, it’s not a Shadow movie. There’s just the name “Shadow” tacked on here and there. It’s not like Batman in a chicken suit – it’s like a “Batman” movie in which a guy does nothing like Batman and doesn’t dress like Batman and doesn’t speak in a husky voice or ride around with a grim look being conspicuously annoyed by the death of his parents and other problems in the world, but still says “I’m Batman” twice.
The part that will haunt me the rest of the night: the picture on Lamont Cranston’s office wall. It’s like a pre-Peter Max image of a Turkey Woman born aloft on baseball bats through the corn dog forest.
Ugh. One more of these.