UK / 71 minutes / bw / Real Art, UA Dir: George A. Cooper Pr: Julius Hagen Scr: H. Fowler Mear, Terence Egan Story: The Shadow (1932? play) by Donald Stuart (i.e., Gerald Verner), novelized by the author as The Shadow (1934) Cine: Sydney Blythe Cast: Henry Kendall, Felix Aylmer, John Turnbull, Ralph Truman, Dennis Cowles, Vincent Holman, Cyril Raymond, James Raglan, Gordon Begg, Viola Compton, Jeanne Stuart, Elizabeth Allan, Charles Carson.
London is enduring a rash of suicides of prominent figures, which suicides can be linked to their being blackmailed by an enigmatic figure called The Shadow: either they pay up on time or he’ll reveal their dreadful secrets. In the early minutes of the movie we see The Shadow deliver this ultimatum to the lawyer Sir Edward Hume (Carson), who at least has the gumption to phone Scotland Yard before putting a bullet through his brain.
The Yard’s Chief Inspector Elliot (Truman) reckons he’s worked out the identity of The Shadow, and is given reluctant permission by Sir Richard Bryant (Aylmer), Scotland Yard’s Chief Commissioner, to tackle the man on his own; the result is that Elliot is shot dead. When the cops arrive, they find that Elliot is clutching an unusual gold-and-platinum charm made in the shape of a clenched fist.
The Shadow spies darkly through the window of Sir Richard’s stately pile.
The dead Elliot’s place as chief investigator is taken over by Chief Inspector Fleming (Cowles), who introduces some new ideas to the investigation: he suggests The Shadow could be a woman (“All [blackmail] requires is cunning and, as far as cunning is concerned, women, in my opinion . . . well, gentlemen, you’re all married, I think?”), or could even be not an individual but an organization. These interesting ideas are unfortunately soon forgotten.
Sir Richard decides, oddly, to spend the weekend at his country house rather than pursuing the most urgent case on his blotter. Similarly odd is that Fleming has a hunch that The Shadow will be among Sir Richard’s weekend guests: no rationalization is offered for this immense leap of faith. Soon Fleming follows Sir Richard down to the country and phones him from the local railway station: cue a scene of The Shadow cutting the phone line; later, when Fleming makes it to the house nevertheless, The Shadow shoots him down in the very moment that Fleming is about to tell Sir Richard the criminal’s identity.
The Shadow readies to shoot down Fleming.
Elliot dead. Fleming dead. Enter yet another cop, Detective Inspector Carr (Turnbull), who, with his sidekick Sergeant Wallis (Holman), will see the case through. His task is complicated by the fact that professional thief and murderer Jim Silverton/Jimmy Weldon (Raymond)—he dreads being caught and facing the “eight o’clock walk” (to the gallows)—and his wife Moya (Stuart) have infiltrated the house in hopes of stealing all Sir Richard’s valuables.
Meanwhile, in the house, we discover not just Sir Richard but his daughter Sonya “Sunny” Bryant (Allan), his sister-in-law Mrs. Alicia Bascombe (very badly acted by Compton), his secretary Beverley Kent (Raglan) and his houseguest Reginald “Reggie” Ogden (Kendall), not to mention his butler/housekeeper/valet Willit (Begg). Reggie is played by Kendall as a sort of Bertie Wooster clone; Reggie takes it upon himself to play the part of private detective, so maybe the aim was to make us think of Lord Peter Wimsey, himself a close literary cousin to Wooster. Just to ensure we’re aware of Reggie’s comic status, he has a sort of studiedly bandy-legged walk.
There are plenty of lighter moments. Kendall, whose forte was stage revue, as both director and especially actor—even though he made lots of C-grade movies like this one—offers a really quite funny turn, if you’re into this sort of upper-class-twit comedy. He and others deliver several double entendres that might much later have graced a Whitehall farce. Aunt Alicia Bascombe delivers a good line, while being prepared for bed by maid Janet (uncredited): “Janet, put out the old chenille satin pyjamas in case anything should happen during the night.”
The movie’s solitary fight sequence—between Elliot and The Shadow—is (perhaps mercifully) invisible to us because shot in the mist. The choreography of the fight scenes in UK movies of that era was such that you prayed for the details to be submerged in shadows of impenetrable murk.
Some of the affected uppercrust English accents may make you want to go beat your head against the nearest wall, but this is not an entirely bad movie. In the finale, the villain proves to be the suspect we should have expected had we not fallen for some expert misdirection. As the final credits roll, it’s hard not to wish we’d seen the stage version instead.
There’s obviously a sort of vague generic resemblance between the blackmailing figure of The Shadow here and the iconic character of US pulps, comics, radio and other media: “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!” In the movie’s introductory sequence, the blackmailer doesn’t use precisely these words, but his gist is much the same even though his intent is itself evil. Again, the silhouetted figure of The Shadow here is reminiscent of some of the graphic representations of the US character. Whether the moviemakers were doing some opportunistic “homaging” of the US creation must be open to question. I’m planning to cover at least a couple of the movies about the US character—e.g., The Shadow Strikes (1937)—here on Noirish in due course, so shall doubtless return to this discussion. There are, too, resemblances to movies like Der ZINKER (1963) and The Case of the Frightened Lady (1940).
On Amazon.com: The Shadow