US / 68 minutes / bw / Monogram Dir: Phil Karlson, possibly augmented on bad days by William Beaudine Pr: Joe Kaufmann Scr: George Callahan Story: Arthur Hoerl, based on characters created by Walter B. Gibson and stories in Shadow Magazine Cine: William Sickner Cast: Kane Richmond, Barbara Reed (i.e., Barbara Read), George Chandler, Dorothea Kent, Joseph Crehan, Pierre Watkin, Robert Shayne, June Clyde, James Cardwell, Marjorie Hoshelle, Joyce Compton, Ed Gargan, Lou Crosby, Bill Christy, Nancy Brinckman, Dewey Robinson, Jean Carlin, Laura Stevens.
In the second of Monogram’s three installments of Shadow chronicles—the first was The Shadow Returns (1946)—the “humor” has been allowed to swallow up entirely any elements of suspense that might have been there.
On the eve of the marriage between Lamont (Richmond) and his secretary, Margo (Read), someone impersonating The Shadow knocks off blackmailing journalist Jeff “Man About Town” Mann of the Daily Bulletin (Cardwell) and—for no apparent reason—a cop in the alley outside. The sheet of paper in the journo’s typewriter reads:
Rackets make no noise because their owners work quietly. It is your “Man About Town” who creates the din that effectively silences rackets for good.
THE SHADOW, creature of the underworld, who created fear by flitting about in cloak and mask, has at last reached the end of his masquerade! THE SHADOW is none other than . . .
The murder method will be familiar to anyone who’s read Dorothy L. Sayers’s Unnatural Death (1927).
Could the killer be extortionist racketeer Marty Greene (Crosby) or illicit bookie Mae Bishop (Hoshelle)? Where do the dead hack’s colleagues fit in?—sultry secretary Edith Merrill (Clyde), editor Brad Thomas (Shayne; now there’s a name to conjure with in a series detective flick!) and the ever-helpful copy boy (Christy).
Shrevvie (Chandler, taking over the role from Tom Dugan), Jennie (Kent), Inspector Cardona (Crehan), Detective Dixon (Gargan) and even Margo are all about 100% stupider than they were in the first movie, which takes some doing. Amid this tsunami of rank stupidity—sorry, comedy—there’s the odd flash of ingenuity, swiftly extinguished. That gamblers should place their bets on the geegees by speaking into a niterie’s juke box is a vaguely neat (if logistically impracticable) idea, while the scene where there are three Shadows—the real one plus two ringers—has some interest through the mechanism of its setup.
And of course there’s plenty of sexism, some of it fairly innocuous—
Shrevvie: “The only way to fight a lady is with your hat—grab it and run.”
—but some of it less so, such as a ribticklingly hilarious final scene where Lamont and Shrevvie decide to spank their respective girlfriends. The words “The End” are accompanied by their squeals of pain. What larks!
Dreadful though Behind the Mask is, midway through watching it I was struck by the idea that Kelly Roos or someone like that could have made a great novel out of some of this material.