Looking back at the cliff-hanger serials of the 1940s, I’ve always been curious about Victor Jory’s decision to play the role of the Shadow. Interestingly, Jory appears more often as criminologist Lamont Cranston and in an oriental disguise as Lin Chang, rather than as the iconic Shadow.
Actor Philip Ahn, who later became known for the 1970s TV series ‘Kung Fu,’ plays an uncredited role as Jory’s assistant in the oriental shop. Cranston’s support team also includes Margo Lane, portrayed by Veda Ann Borg, and his driver Vincent, played by a different Roger Moore than the one famous for “The Saint.”
The police view the Shadow as a criminal and even suspect that he might be another villain, the Black Tiger. The Black Tiger has the power to become invisible, though this aspect is mostly discussed within his team rather than being an active part of the plot. Throughout the serial, Cranston must thwart the Black Tiger’s plans without revealing his multiple identities, a task at which he is not always successful. Each episode features a text prologue that fills viewers in on the story so far, which is helpful given that the audience may not be consistent over the 15-week run.
Curiously, the Shadow, a character one would expect to thrive in darkness, mostly appears during daylight scenes. This might be because “day-for-night” filming techniques were not widely used until 1973. Additionally, the daylight filming helped conceal the various stuntmen who performed the physical fights and gymnastics.
Operating on a tight budget, the series makes the most of its resources. For instance, the Shadow’s car is shown regularly disappearing into a hidden garage, a detail that adds a nice touch. However, there are some liberties taken with scientific facts. One misconception presented is that all acids are flammable; in reality, nitric acid, for example, only fumes at concentrations of 68% or higher and does not catch fire.
A peculiar aspect of the story involves seven industrialists who are threatened by the Black Tiger. The suspense builds as it becomes clear that one of them could actually be the villain. However, it isn’t until the 14th episode that they are named, making it difficult to remember who’s who. This issue seems to be a shortcoming of the script, which provides little information to help viewers discern who might be involved in the villainous activities.
Despite its flaws, the serial remains watchable nearly 85 years after its release, and the laugh of the Shadow is something you won’t easily forget.
(2 DVDs 15 episodes, generally 20 minutes long each. Price: varies)
cast: Victor Jory, Veda Ann Borg, Roger Moore (not that one) and Robert Fiske