US / 64 minutes / bw / Grand National Dir: Charles Lamont Pr: Max Alexander, Arthur Alexander Scr: Jack Natteford, John Krafft Story: Foxhound (1937) by Maxwell Grant (i.e., Theodore A. Tinsley) Cine: Marcel Le Picard Cast: Rod La Rocque, Astrid Allwyn, Thomas Jackson, Oscar O’Shea, Lew Hearn, Wilhelm von Brincken, Tenen Holtz, William Pawley, Wm. Moore (i.e., Peter Potter), John St. Polis, Jack Baxley, Walter Bonn, Harry Bradley, Will Stanton.
This follow-up to the previous year’s The Shadow Strikes (1937) is often listed as a sequel, but so much has been changed about the essential setup—perhaps reflecting the fact that this movie was based on a much later novel in the series than its predecessor—that it’s almost as if it’s a completely separate entity linked only by the fact that the two movies’ leading characters share a name and pseudonym.
In this iteration Lamont Cranston is a crime reporter on the Daily Classic (or Evening Classic; both names are used); he also gives a bulletin every evening on the paper’s affiliate radio station, EMOR. The Shadow isn’t the name of his crime-fighting alter ego; it’s merely the nom de plume he uses in the heading of his column and on his radio show, with there being no secret about the fact that his name’s really Lamont Cranston. He never dons his The Shadow disguise to go hunting the bad guys, and we never see that famed shadow on the wall. It’s as if Bruce Wayne ditched the costume, the Batcave and the Batmobile, but still used the Batman moniker for public engagements.
This breach with the character’s tradition is referred to, injoke-fashion, in a piece of dialogue between Lamont Cranston and his newly appointed airhead assistant, Phoebe Lane (Allwyn), fresh from the cookery pages and foisted upon him because she’s the owner’s niece:
Phoebe: “Well, uh, what are you going to do?”
Lamont: “I don’t know.”
Phoebe: “You mean you don’t know?”
Lamont: “That’s right. The Shadow doesn’t know.”
Aside from Phoebe, Lamont has in his entourage (so to speak) his other assistant at the Classic, the incorrigibly lazy Burke (Moore/Potter), and a spunky tame cab driver, Moe (Hearn), whom he uses in place of a permanent chauffeur. His main relationship at the newspaper is with his editor and immediate boss, Heath (O’Shea).
For his amateur but unfailingly successful detective work Lamont is detested by blustering buffoon Police Commissioner Weston (Jackson) and reluctantly tolerated by Weston’s main sidekick, D.I. “Mat” Mathews (Baxley), a cop who has the misfortune to look a bit like Mitch McConnell, although about fifty pounds lighter.
As may already be obvious, in spirit this Shadow outing has far more in common with the dreadful trio of Shadow movies that Monogram would produce a few years later, beginning with The Shadow Returns (1946), than it does with its Rod La Rocque predecessor, The Shadow Strikes. Here we’re very much in the field of B-feature comedy crime rather than low-budget mystery/suspense, and quite a few scenes are played strictly for the laffs. Those scenes tend to be grimly unfunny, in the usual B-feature comedy crime manner, but the dialogue otherwise quite often has some welcome nip to it:
Lamont: “Young lady, you’re impossible.”
Phoebe: “Not if the right man comes along.”
The plot is hokum involving a ring of international spies who’re in this country for nefarious reasons. One of them, Karl Flotow (von Brincken), gives Phoebe a gullibly accepted tipoff that a major city theater is going to be robbed tonight, and, while the cops are investigating, Flotow and his crony, Lenin-lookalike Starkhov (Holtz), murder banker Gerald Morton using an exploding safe. They aimed to get Gerald’s brother and business partner Roger (St. Polis) as well, but failed. Thereafter the plot follows predictable lines, although a welcome addition is a character called Honest John (Pawley), a legendary peterman, fresh out of prison and determined at last to go straight, whom the cops stupidly choose to make their Suspect #1 for Gerald Morton’s murder.
This is a much slicker, far more professionally executed production than its predecessor, with seemingly more of a budget to play with, but, perhaps perversely, I’m far more likely to rewatch The Shadow Strikes than I am this one, which offers little to distinguish itself from other low-budget comedy crime outings of the era.