With 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.
For 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.
Jump 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.
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!