The End of the Road…For Now

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In the fall of 2012, I launched this blog without any lofty goals. I simply wanted to tap into my creative side of writing that had long been dormant. If only a couple of people enjoyed what I was writing, then I considered it a win. Through the power of Facebook and the podcast community, I found that there were more than a couple of people interested in what I had to say. It was flattering and served as fuel to push me forward.

However, the time is right for some change. Behind the scenes, my wife and I are making a big move onto the next phase of our lives. Relocating to the Kansas City area is just one part of it. Personally, I really want to take a step back from technology, specifically Facebook. I want to take the time to slow down and enjoy the real world a little more and spend a little less time staring at my computer screen. Technology is wonderful but it shouldn’t encompass your entire day.

Therefore, the Monster Movie Kid blog is taking an undetermined break. I had planned on reviewing The Rocketeer and The Phantom first but, after some positive comments on my recent series on The Shadow, I felt it was better to go out with a bang! So, I want to thank everyone for their support. And who knows, inspiration may hit me again come October and there are 31 days of Halloween staring at me! For now, take care and, again, thank you!The End

The Shadow Knows (2012) Is Worth Checking Out Despite The Flaws

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The Shadow Logo Alex RossI love a good documentary, especially when it offers up new information or thrilling images I had previously been unaware of or unable to see. So, when I discovered there was a recent documentary on The Shadow, I quickly ordered it from Amazon. For the most part, the journey was an exciting one. Sadly, the production values keep it from being definitive.

The Shadow Knows was released in 2012 and is a burn-on-demand product. The case is well produced and sturdy with the initial menu screen also looking quite professional. Unfortunately, it’s very early on that the documentary sends me back to the late 80s and early 90s when cheaply produced direct-to-video documentaries were all the rage. But, before we talk of the negative, let’s highlight the positive. Our narrator for this piece is Mike Lyons, who does a good job guiding us through a very detailed journey of The Shadow’s history. From his birth in the pulp novels to 2012, when rumors of a Sam Raimi produced movie was circulating the net. Lyons gives us extensive details on the pulp novels, including countless covers (absolutely stunning artwork) and readings from several stories. He covers all aspects of the radio program as well with lots of audio clips to enjoy, including a couple from the early 30s that I have never heard before. There is a section devoted to the movies and TV pilots as well as the 1994 Alec Baldwin adventure. He spends a little time on various products as well as the comics, especially the original 1940s series and the DC revivals from the 1970s and 1980s. He glosses over the 1960s novels and totally omits the Archie comic book series (which is actually a good thing but should have been mentioned). There is a lot of information in the over two hour documentary, broken into unique chapters which make for easy viewing. Some of the information I knew, other parts I did not. For this alone, I highly recommend The Shadow Knows.The Shadow Knows Documentary 1

However, there are some negatives about this DVD. For starters, the overall quality displays an obviously very low budget. Most of the presentation is visually appealing but there are numerous video clips that have some horrendous pixilation. There is a repeating image from the 1990 movie Darkman, which comes across as implying that’s what The Shadow looks like underneath his scarf. Mike Lyons is good as the narrator but then we have to endure a painful Margot Lane impersonation (voiced by Chris Noel) and a version of The Shadow which just seems off (voiced by Vincent Winans). Then, there is the background music. You’ll hear Tales from the Crypt, The X-Files, Dark Shadows, Superman and even Gone with the Wind. The clips are usually quite random and actually distracting to the topics on screen. I’m sure it cost money to secure those audio clips, so why they just didn’t use some generic mysterious music is beyond me. It would have been more appropriate and less annoying. At a price tag of $20, I do recommend adding The Shadow Knows to your collection as it is definitely worth watching. The producers clearly love The Shadow, so their efforts should be rewarded. However, I just wish they would have had a bigger budget to help make it look more polished. Perhaps a special edition somewhere down the road?

Shadow PulpWith that, my April journey with The Shadow comes to an end. While I have mixed reactions in regards to the early movies and TV pilots, I thoroughly enjoyed the Blu-ray presentation of The Shadow (1994). My ongoing love for The Shadow will continue. I discover “new” pulp novel adventures all the time and I enjoy reading the current ongoing monthly comic book series from Dynamite Entertainment. And, of course, I can never resist listening to the original radio programs that take me back to my childhood and listening to them on records with my father, lights turned out and imagination running wild.

The Shadow (1994) Finally Brings Our Hero To Life On The Big Screen

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The Shadow Logo Alex RossAfter the three disappointing films released in 1946, The Shadow film franchise would be laid to rest. By 1949, Shadow Comics had ended its run after 101 issues and The Shadow Magazine ceased publication due to a changing environment on the newsstands. The radio program remained strong until its end in 1954. Aside from two failed television pilots in the 1950s, The Shadow was pushed back into the very shadows from which he had emerged in 1930.

As with any good hero, The Shadow waited for the perfect time to return. In 1964, Archie Comics published a new costume-wearing version that only lasted eight issues. There were new novels in the 60s and radio stations began playing the old programs to a new audience. By the 70s, DC Comics had the publishing rights and brought The Shadow into the DC universe with not only his own 12-issue series but appearances in Batman and Detective Comics as well. More comic book series followed in the 80s but The Shadow was still missing from the big screen. That changed with the release of The Shadow in 1994.The Shadow 1994 1

Screenwriter David Koepp was hired to write the screenplay in 1990. Having been a childhood fan of the radio program, he tried to capitalize on aspects of both the pulp novels and the radio program. Alec Baldwin was cast in the lead role of Lamont Cranston aka The Shadow. Long before his television resurgence on 30 Rock and the constant battles with the paparazzi and his ex-wife, this was a time when Baldwin was still a rising star in Hollywood with such films as Beetlejuice, The Hunt for Red October and Malice. Yet, his ever present sarcasm and screen wit are here, contributing to what I think was a very good performance. His Lamont is a playboy in the mold of Bruce Wayne while displaying the inner conflict between his good and evil sides. On the flip side, Penelope Ann Miller played Margo Lane in a way that over-accentuated her sexuality, not quite the Margo I’ve envisioned. Not to mention the fact that she has telepathic abilities that, while contributing to the script, was not necessarily a wanted addition to her character.

The Shadow 1994 3The plot of The Shadow (1994) was by far the best visualization the character ever had on the big screen. From the opening scenes in Tibet, where we see Cranston as a drugged out warlord succumbing to his dark side, to the film noir visuals of New York City where he is now a “wealthy young man about town”, the film is a visual feast. It captures styles we had already seen in two other comic book films, Batman (1989) and Dick Tracy (1990), and it works very well here. Cranston is given a legitimate arch villain to battle in the evil Shiwan Kahn (John Lone), who is much like The Joker to Cranston’s Batman. Shiwan tries to lure Cranston to the dark side while he has dreams of global domination, following in the footsteps of his ancestor Genghis Kahn. Add to the mix scientist Reinhardt Lane (Ian McKellan, The Hobbit and X-Men) and his atomic device, and you have the elements all in place for a battle of wits and mental skills with the innocent New Yorkers at risk of annihilation.

The Shadow is finally seen on screen as he should be. From the sinister laugh to the fedora and red scarf to his side arms and flowing cape, Baldwin really works here as The Shadow. His invisibility is great, including the wonderful scene where his footprints are visible in the water tank. Besides the great visuals, the supporting cast makes this movie even more fun. Johnathan Winters is Wainwright Barth (why they just didn’t call him Commissioner Weston is a bit of a mystery), Sab Shimono is Dr. Roy Tam (an agent of The Shadow pulled right out of the pulp novels), Peter Boyle (Young Frankenstein) is cabbie Moe Shrevnitz aka Shrevvy and Tim Curry is the annoying Farley Claymore, putting in a somewhat uneven over-the-top performance. And, of course, I must mention the great music of Jerry Goldsmith, who adds atmosphere to a film already dripping with it.The Shadow 1994 4

I thoroughly enjoyed The Shadow but that opinion is not held by all. It was intended to be the start of a new film franchise but poor returns at the box office killed that idea. The film has attained a bit of a cult status and just recently had a second and superior Blu-ray release. Not all fans of The Shadow enjoy this film but I think it is by far the best film adaptation to date. Rumors have been circulating of a new film for years but this is a character that I feel is best suited for the past. The only way it would work would be as a period piece. Until such a day arises when The Shadow returns again, this 1994 film is the last and best visual presentation we’ve been given.

Check out the amazing bridge fight scene courtesy of Shout! Factory and do some shopping for the new Blu-ray. Meanwhile, we have one more stop in our Shadow journey this month. Next time, I’ll be looking at a 2011 documentary as well as the current state of the franchise.The Shadow 1994 2

The Shadow Meets The Thin Man

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The Shadow Logo Alex RossBy 1946, The Shadow had become a household word. On radio, Bret Morrison was just beginning his long reign as Lamont Cranston that would last until the show’s end in 1954. In print, the pulp novels were going strong, still three years away from their demise. Shadow Comics had been on the racks for six years with another three left. The Shadow was a consistent success at every turn but the cinema. Rod La Rocque’s two efforts in the late 30s were disappointing. However, Victor Jory’s chapter serial in 1940 was a good adaptation, yet still lacking a little in the mystery department. After a six year absence, The Shadow was poised for a return in not one but three films. Unfortunately, our cinematic roller coaster ride was ready to hit another low point.

Monogram Pictures was one of many low-budget Hollywood studios that would crank out the B movies. But cheap in production didn’t always mean cheap in entertainment value. Most of these movies have fallen into public domain and can be quite fun to watch. If you cut them a little slack, they can be an easy way to spend an hour or so. The Shadow Returns would be the first of three quickly produced mysteries all released within the same year of 1946. In the lead role of Lamont Cranston aka The Shadow was Kane Richmond. He was an established B movie actor who played the lead role in the 1942 chapter serial Spy Smasher, so the role was in good hands, at least in theory. He does a fine job here as the lead actor, just not quite the Lamont Cranston we are familiar with. Barbara Reed plays Margo Lane more like a bubbly society girl with a lot less of the tenacity she had in the novels or radio program. We also get the usual supporting characters of Commissioner Weston, Inspector Cardona (who is now Lamont’s uncle) and cab driver Shrevvie, who all are pretty much on target.The Shadow Returns 1

Where The Shadow Returns fails is in the plot and overall portrayal of the lead characters. Lamont and Margo are written more like Nick and Nora Charles from The Thin Man series. The Shadow seems more like a prop and is not nearly as menacing as he should be. Sadly, there is no clouding of men’s minds or sinister laugh. His look is okay but I’m not sure why they felt he needed a mask. Victor Jory’s appearance was more on target. The plot is a bit confusing as it deals with murders and jewels and scientists. What kills the movie though is the comedy. The Shadow and Margo are not Nick and Nora nor should they be written that way. There is not much mystery, no suspense and very little character development among the suspects. I found myself hoping to get to the end and, when I did, I was glad it was over.

The Shadow Returns 2I really can’t recommend The Shadow Returns but, if you must, it is better than the two La Rocque films. It is available on YouTube, just be prepared for a real let down after The Shadow (1940). If by some chance you really enjoy Kane Richmond’s version of The Shadow, he came back for two more movies, Behind The Mask and The Missing Lady. I reviewed both of these movies last year when they were about to be dropped from Netflix. Check out my thoughts on those two flicks, which are really more of the same.

If you haven’t taken the time to read Nick Sauer’s review of the two television pilots on his blog, Fantastic Television, do so now. As always, it’s a good and quick read. Then, come back here later this week as we leap ahead to 1994 and see what Alec Baldwin does with a bigger budget and a story more true to the pulp novels. Meanwhile, cleanse your auditory pallet and listen to another classic episode of the radio program. This one is called The Creeper from May 29, 1938 and it features Orson Welles.

Nick Sauer and Fantastic Television Knows The Shadow

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The Shadow Logo Alex RossAfter the thrilling 15-chapter adventure of The Shadow in 1940, there would be a lapse of six years before The Shadow returned to the big screen. Kane Richmond would assume the role of Lamont Cranston in series of three films, all released within the same year of 1946. Next week, I’ll be taking a look at all of them, especially the first of that trilogy called The Shadow Returns. However, we’re going to leap ahead to the 1950s first and take a look at two television pilots.

My good friend Nick Sauer runs a blog I’ve mentioned here before, Fantastic Television. As the tag line says, it is the random thoughts of a genre TV addict. He too loves all things related to The Shadow and eagerly offered to help when he heard I was dedicating April to the films of The Shadow. I responded in kind and eagerly accepted his help. He will be covering the two television pilots, starting off with the 1954 attempt starring Tom Helmore as Lamont and Paula Raymond as Margot. Check it out today and then catch the pilot on YouTube. Then, be sure to start following his blog because he will then tackle the next pilot, The Invisible Avenger (1958). Richard Derr plays Lamont Cranston in that adventure, also on YouTube.Invisible Avenger 1

Special thanks to Nick for covering those two “lost” television pilots of the 1950s. Go to his blog today and then come back here next week as we’ll travel back to 1946 and see what Kane Richmond brings to the role. Plus, on the horizon we have Alec Baldwin turning in his 1994 performance and a little known documentary from 2011.

The Shadow (1940) Finally Delivers The Character in a Thrilling Chapter Serial

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The Shadow Logo Alex RossAfter the disappointing first two films with Rod La Rocque, I was more than ready to actually see The Shadow as I knew him on screen. Within the first few seconds of chapter 1 of The Shadow (1940), I knew things were going to be better as I heard the familiar laugh and a mysterious voice say “I am The Shadow”. Over the course of the next 15 chapters lasting more than four hours, we are finally getting something that more closely resembles The Shadow of print and radio.

Before diving into The Shadow, it is best to understand the format of a chapter serial. Back in the 30s and 40s, movie theaters would have matinees every Saturday afternoon. For 10 cents, you could spend the entire afternoon enthralled by what you were watching on the big screen. There would be two movies, a cartoon, a short subject (such as The Three Stooges), a newsreel and a chapter serial. Serials were usually 12 to 15 episodes in length with each episode lasting about 17 minutes. Often, the opening chapter would last up to 30 minutes long, establishing the story and characters. Each episode would end with a thrilling cliffhanger, usually leaving our main hero in jeopardy. You would be lured to return the next Saturday for the next chapter. It would take months to complete the adventure and that is really the best way to watch these stories. They weren’t designed for a four hour consecutive viewing as the plots can often be a little repetitive. However, a well-crafted chapter serial can still be entertaining if watched in blocks and The Shadow doesn’t disappoint.The Shadow 1940 1

While not based on any specific story, The Shadow does give credit to The Shadow magazine. Lamont Cranston is a scientist working with the police to stop the mysterious Black Tiger, a villain who can make himself invisible and is planning world domination. One by one, he gains control over key citizens and their industries. Meanwhile, The Shadow is working to stop The Black Tiger while the police think both men are one in the same. Victor Jory (Cat-Women on the Moon, Charlie Chan in Rio) heads the cast as Cranston and does an amazing job. I would close my eyes and imagine him on the radio, convinced he had to have listened to Orson Welles or Bill Johnstone play the character. While we have the sinister laugh and The Shadow looked the part (cloak, hat, scarf and gun in hand) he did not possess the power of invisibility. Having The Shadow always invisible wouldn’t work on the big screen in 1940, so I am willing to forgive that creative change. Veda Ann Borg (Fog Island) plays Margo Lane, a bit more brash and less a society girl than we normally have Margo portrayed. Straight out of the pulp novels and aiding The Shadow is Harry Vincent (played by Roger Moore, and no, not the same actor who played James Bond). Add to that the characters of Inspector Cardona and Commissioner Weston and you have a very faithful adaptation.

The Shadow 1940 2Now, there are some problems with The Shadow. Being a chapter serial, it can get repetitive if viewed in one long block of time. But, as stated earlier, breaking up the viewing will ease that pain a little. While capturing the thrilling aspects of the character, it could have benefited from being a little more mysterious. Victor Jory does present Cranston’s ability to change his appearance as he adopts the alter ego of Asian Lin Chang. It is not politically correct today but, if you can enjoy Charlie Chan for its’ historical value, you should not be offended here. While we are missing some aspects of The Shadow character, such as the previously mentioned invisibility, it certainly is a much better effort and I can honestly recommend this adventure for viewing. Yes, it is formulaic and not a 100% true presentation of The Shadow from the radio and print but much closer than we’ve seen so far up to this point.

The Shadow is available on DVD through various sources, although none appear to be a legitimate source. It can also be found easily on YouTube. Take the time to check this one out and you won’t be disappointed. Meanwhile, I once again highly recommend checking out Martin Grams’ fabulous book as he has done tremendous research into The Shadow as seen on film.

Next time, we journey to 1946 as Kane Richmond assumes the role of The Shadow for three films.

First Two Shadow Movies A Disappointing Start To The Film Franchise

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The Shadow Logo Alex RossWith The Shadow gaining popularity on the radio and already dominating the newsstands with pulp novel adventures, bringing the character to life on the big screen was the next natural progression. The Shadow was no longer a narrator or host, he was now the central character. However, the first question was just who would this version of The Shadow be. Would it be Kent Allard or Lamont Cranston? Technically, the answer is neither.

The Shadow Strikes 1For reasons that could be as simple as a mistake by the Grand National Pictures film studio, the main character of The Shadow Strikes (1937) is actually Lamont Granston…with a capital G. That really should be your first clue that this is not The Shadow you’ve read about or even listened to on radio. However, he does resemble what The Shadow was becoming on the radio…to a small extent. Here, Lamont is a lawyer hoping to solve the case of his father’s death. In our opening scene, Lamont is shown as having an assistant named Hendricks, who ends up helping him throughout the brief 61 minute movie. Lamont stumbles upon a robbery at another lawyer’s office and, when the police arrive, he assumes the identity of that lawyer. Upon answering the phone, he takes a case that leads him to murder and the usual plot twists one would expect. However, what follows is a rather dull murder mystery that comes across poorly due to a general lack of suspense and an obviously very low budget. Cheap sets and poor lighting just enhance that theory. The odd part really is that The Shadow has so little to do with the movie. He’s there briefly at the beginning and again at the end. There is no clouding of men’s minds, no sinister villains, and no familiar characters. Not even a good sinister laugh. There’s no Margo or Shrevvy. And then there is the billing of Lamont Cranston as Granston. This is not a rights issue as the movie is supposedly based on a Maxwell Grant story called The Ghost of the Manor, which had to be so much better than what we got here. The Shadow Strikes is not a great start to the fight against crime but go ahead check it out for yourself on YouTube. Just be warned that if you have a good knowledge of The Shadow character going in, you won’t find him in this movie.

International Crime 1Jump ahead to 1938 and we have International Crime. Same movie studio and same Shadow (Rod La Rocque). However, Granston is now correctly billed as Cranston but he isn’t quite the same man. Lamont is now an amateur criminologist and detective with a daily radio program. His radio alter ego is The Shadow, apparently a secret to nobody. We do meet Commissioner Weston but still no Margo Lane or Shrevvy. However, we do have a Phoebe Lane but she is definitely no relation to Margo, in name or in character. There is also a newspaper editor that appears to be Lamont’s boss, which seems out of place for the character of Cranston as we’ve known him from print or radio. The plot centers around a safe cracker named Honest John, murder and a mysterious message indicating a crime would take place before it actually did. International Crime is a much better movie from a murder mystery perspective. Production standards are higher and the acting is better but the movie is lacking one character…The Shadow. Again no laugh, no clouding of men’s minds and now, no hat and cloak. In fact, The Shadow here is nothing more than a radio character. It’s clear the writers still didn’t understand who The Shadow was and were told just to use the names as a way to lure movie goers into the theater. A better effort but very disappointing as far as The Shadow is concerned. Check it out on YouTube but just know what you are getting into first.Shadow Strikes 2

The Shadow is played in both of these movies by Rod La Rocque. He had a long running career in silent films and made a transition to sound. Some of his later films included The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) and Dark Streets of Cairo (1941), a low-budget mystery flick with George Zucco. It’s hard to judge him accurately in his role as The Shadow in these two movies because, quite frankly, the two movies leave a lot to be desired and his character really isn’t The Shadow as we know him from radio or the pulp novels. The movies are worth a quick visit as a diversion but nothing more.

Next time, we will take a look at something much better, if not a little long winded…the 1940 chapter serial!