The Shadow (1940)

THE SHADOW (1940)
(Serial)
Article #1542 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-4-2005
Posting Date: 11-1-2005
Directed by James W. Horne
Featuring Victor Jory, Veda Ann Borg, Roger Moore

The Shadow fights a mysterious criminal known as The Black Tiger.

It’s another cinematic stab at The Shadow! I last dealt with one of these when I covered the movie BEHIND THE MASK (1946), and I was less than thrilled to find that movie had bypassed moody ambiance in favor of excessive comic relief, and that there had been no use of the Shadow’s vaunted ability to ‘cloud men’s minds’.

This one is a little better. I’m still waiting for him to cloud someone’s mind, but it looks like that ability was given to the villain himself; the Black Tiger becomes invisible before meeting with his henchman (actually, these moody smoke-filled scenes are some of the best in the serial). At least this serial doesn’t drown in comic relief; the sole concession to it here is that one of the Black Tiger’s henchmen is a little on the dim side. So, if the Shadow can’t cloud men’s minds, what can he do? Well, he can let villains know he’s around by engaging in his sinister laugh.

The setup here is this: Lamont Cranston fights crime in the guise of the Shadow, but the police believe that the Shadow is actually a criminal, and possibly, the Black Tiger himself. Lamont Cranston also disguises himself as a Chinese shopkeeper named Lin Chang, who is able to consort with the underworld. This would be an interesting set-up if it didn’t set off sirens in my head. The fact of the matter is that rather than giving the Shadow his famed abilities, the writers used Serial Development Rule #1 – Whenever adapting a famous character to the serial format, ignore the character’s known talents and just shoehorn him into the standard serial format. In this case, they borrowed the whole setup for the Spider in THE SPIDER’S WEB, and applied it to the Shadow. Remember Blinky McQuade?

Now, let’s talk cliffhangers again. I’ve gone on about cheating cliffhangers and car-bail cliffhangers before, but now it’s time to discuss another lame type of cliffhanger—The “I’m Indestructible or Just Really Lucky” cliffhanger. These are the types in which our hero is in some sort of life threatening situation, and the resolution is that he just happened to survive. This serial is one of the worst offenders I’ve seen, and it’s almost always used in the same form, to wit—

1. The Shadow is trapped in a room.
2. The room explodes and all sorts of stuff falls off the ceiling.
3. The episode ends.
4. In the resolution, the Shadow just pulls himself out of the wreckage and walks away.

I can’t tell you how often this happens this time around! In fact, there are two episodes in particular that underline the overuse of this. In one of them, the episode begins with the aforementioned resolution; the Shadow walks away from the debris of a wrecked room. The actual cliffhanger of that episode does not involve an exploding room, but since each episode also includes exciting scenes from the next episode, we see that the next episode also has the Shadow trapped in an exploding room, and sure enough, that turns out to be the cliffhanger in the next episode. Being given two cliffhangers in one episode wouldn’t be a disappointment if they weren’t so lame.

The other instance is in the cliffhanger of episode 14. The moment where several men are being poisoned by gas in a sealed room was actually rather powerful (thanks to an effective use of music). The Shadow breaks in and tries to rescue the men, but he begins to succumb to the gas himself. This would have made a decent cliffhanger, if—

—right, you guessed it—

—there was then an explosion, all sorts of stuff fell off the ceiling, and the episode ended.

And guess what happens at the top of the next episode?

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