By 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.
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.
I 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.