US / 61 minutes / bw / Monogram Dir: Phil Rosen Pr: Joe Kaufman Scr: George Callahan Story: Walter B. Gibson for the character and the stories in Shadow Magazine. Cine: William Sickner Cast: Kane Richmond, Barbara Reed (i.e., Barbara Read), Tom Dugan, Joseph Crehan, Pierre Watkin, Robert Emmett Keane, Frank Reicher, Lester Dorr, Rebel Randall, Emmett Vogan, Sherry Hall, Cyril Delevanti.
This was the first of three comedy-crime adaptations to screen of Walter B. Gibson’s famous pulp character that Poverty Row studio Monogram released in 1946. The other two were Behind the Mask and The Missing Lady. This one had Phil Rosen at the helm (although it has been reported that William Beaudine did some filling in); the other two were done by Phil Karlson.
Lamont Cranston (Richmond) is outwardly a respectable young man of business who never seems to do any work; because he’s the cherished nephew of Police Commissioner J.R. Weston (Watkin), he and his secretary/fiancée Margo Lane (Read) are allowed to horn in on police investigations, to the ill concealed fury of Inspector Cardona (Crehan).
But there’s more to Lamont Cranston than meets the eye. His secret persona is as The Shadow, a mysterious vigilante crime-solver who, on donning his special garb—a mask and fedora—slips unobtrusively from one place to another being seen, if at all, most often as a, well, shadow.
The adventure in The Shadow Returns is not wholly coherent but involves what looks at first like a shady jewel-dealing conspiracy but later proves to be about something else that’s potentially even more valuable than jewels. Three men in succession die through seemingly throwing themselves from high places, each time in the presence of witnesses; yet Inspector Cardona and The Shadow are separately convinced the deaths are the responsibility of a murderer.
In terms of mystery, the movie works better as a howdunnit than a whodunnit: the murder technique, when finally revealed, is moderately clever, whereas the identity of the villain seems almost to have been chosen at random.
Comic relief in the usually profoundly unfunny Monogram manner is supplied by Tom Dugan, as Lamont Cranston’s uncouth driver and manservant, Shrevvie. Cardona regularly sputters expostulations about the damned awfulness of Lamont’s interference in his work, and that’s supposed to be hilarious too. There’s also some genuine humor in the screenplay, although it’s spread among much oafish tomfoolery. Here’s Margo bantering with Lamont:
“Don’t shout at me. Not until after we’re married. And then don’t you dare do it.”
UK viewers may be puzzled by the fact that the swanky building in which Lamont Cranston has his apartment is called the Broadmoor Arms; I’m not sure if the naming was a hidden joke or just a matter of happenstance.