Film reviews #428 – The Shadow (1940) 13th November 2020 / The Shadow (1940)Film review #428Director: James W. HorneSYNOPSIS: A mysterious criminal mastermind known only as The Black Tiger is targeting all of the city’s infrastructure and industries in order to make a fortune. The leaders of these organisations call on Criminal scientist and investigator Lamont Cranston to apprehend the Black Tiger. Unbeknownst to them, Cranston is secretly a masked vigilante who calls himself The Shadow, who takes on the villains without any oversight. The police believe The Shadow and The Black Tiger to be one and the same, and so Cranston must thwart the Black Tiger’s operations in secret while he is also pursued in his alter-ego…THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: The Shadow is a 1940 serial composed of fifteen chapters, based on the comics and radio plays of the same name. The plot of the serial follows Lamont Cranston, a criminal investigator/scientist who is tasked with stopping a criminal mastermind known only as The Black Tiger, who is launching attacks on the companies and industries of the city in order to amass a fortune. The plot of the serial is pretty weak: each chapter focuses on a different company or industry that is under attack and Cranston/The Shadow must protect (the target of next week’s chapter is shown in the trailer at the end of each chapter). The structure is quite similar to The Green Hornet, which also focused on various industries under attack by a criminal, and the lead also playing a masked vigilante who is also wanted by the police. There’s no overarching plot or evil plan by the villain other than to just get rich. There’s nothing wrong with villains just being villains, but if there’s nothing to tie the fifteen chapters together in terms of story and consequence, then viewers aren’t going to come back week after week to see how the story continues. Many serials have the same problem, but usually there’s an overarching objective to the serial, such as sabotaging American infrastructure to pave the way for foreign invasion (particularly in the wartime serials of the 40s), but The Shadow is especially weak in this regard.Lamont Cranston, the serial’s lead protagonist, is a little different from the usual good looking, All-American hero. Victory Jory, who plays Cranston, was typically cast as villains, and his appearance lends itself to that. here though, while being the protagonist, he is also the masked vigilante The Shadow, whose appearance is meant to be more villainous. In his disguise, only the top half of his face is visible, and Jory’s piercing stare definitely has a nefarious look. His iconic laugh, known from the radio series, announces his arrival and definitely strikes fear into his enemies. On top of this, Cranston also has another disguise as a Chinese businessman and petty criminal, which he uses to get information from other criminals. The major problem here is that Jory is white, and using makeup to magically “become Chinese” by squinting his eyes, putting in a set of big false teeth and a fake accent is undoubtedly racist, as if everyone can suddenly no longer tell he is white. It is not uncommon for white actors to portray Asian characters in this era (and for some time after), but the racist caricature he adopts here goes beyond the usual makeup jobs and is wildly unacceptable. The character is very similar to the protagonist’s alter-ego Blinky McQuaid in The Green Hornet, who also provided a disguise of a petty criminal for undercover work. All of these different alter-egos and settings in The Shadow just come across as confusing and dilute the story somewhat. The Black Tiger, as mentioned, doesn’t have much in the way of motivation or character: he is suspected of being one of the company directors who are under attack, but the mystery of his identity is a familiar plot device to those who watch these serials. His ability to turn invisible when he enters the hideout to address his henchman is somewhat impressive, but it begs the question that if he can turn invisible, why doesn’t he use these powers to commit crimes himself? The extent of this power is never explained or explored, and makes very little sense. The rest of the cast are so unremarkable and standards of the serial format that they’re not even worth commenting on.The cliffhangers for this serial at the end of each chapter are standard stuff, but there’s quite a lot of destruction in them, as roofs collapse on top of our hero and such. Whether he is caught in an explosion, trapped under debris or crashes off a cliffside, the cliffhangers always end the same way with The Shadow just walking away from all of these incidents which should have killed him. Given that he doesn’t have any superpowers, the resolutions are always a letdown and frankly inexplicable. However, the Columbia Pictures serials often had cliffhangers end this way with the hero simply walking away from certain death with no explanation. Since we never see The Black Tiger, all of his orders come from tiger heads which have light-up eyes whenever he speaks, which are pretty cool effects for the time. The settings aren’t anything too special, and I feel like there should have been more scenes of The Shadow actually in the shadows, rather than the mostly brightly-lit settings we got. The Shadow is not the worst serial I have seen, but it has some major flaws; from the lack of substance in the plot to the racist caricatures, there’s plenty of reasons to give it a miss. The Shadow is a decent masked vigilante with the iconic laugh that viewers would have wanted to hear on the screen, but otherwise there’s not much to see or anything memorable about it. You’re better off watching The Green Hornet, which is practically identical in terms of story and characters, but executed much better.